We are winding up our blogs for May, and I have a confession to make. For some reason, I failed to notice that there were five Mondays in May, so when I published my blog last week, I realized that I was short one blog. While scrambling to find a topic that still fit in with the other shows we learned about this month, it occurred to me that this week’s actress appeared on The Ann Sothern Show and I Love Lucy. She was also part of the cast of December Bride and Pete and Gladys. So, today we will learn about the woman behind Hilda Crocker: Verna Felton.
Verna Felton was born in Salinas, California in 1890. Verna entered show business at the young age of nine. Her father died just before her ninth birthday. He was a doctor, but he kept no records of payments due, and there was little cash in his account. Verna had performed at a local benefit for flood victims, where she caught the attention of a road show manager. He offered Verna a job, and after the death of her father, her mother accepted the job on her behalf. Verna grew up involved in theater community.
She was called “Little Verna Felton, the Child Wonder. By age 13 she was performing with the Allen Stock Company that toured the western United States and British Columbia in Canada. By age 20, she had a play written specifically for her by Herbert Bashford called “The Defiance of Doris.”
She continued building her stage resume, acting in a variety of plays.
In 1923 Verna married Lee Millar who conducted the band in the acting troop. He was also a movie actor in the thirties and forties. Verna and Lee were married until his death in 1941. Their son Lee Carson Millar was born in 1924 and would also go on to become an actor who appeared on many of the most popular shows in the fifties and sixties.
From about 1930-1950, Verna could be heard on the radio. Her voice could be detected on a variety of shows including Red Skelton, Hattie Hirsch on Point Sublime, Dennis Day’s mother on his show, and a regular on both The Abbott and Costello Show and The Great Gildersleeve.
After transitioning from stage to radio, it was no surprise that Verna’s career in the forties and early fifties was spent on the big screen.
Television was a natural progression, and, in 1951, Verna had her first tv roles: as a nurse on Amos and Andy and as Mrs. Day on the Enzio Pinza Show. She continued her radio role as Dennis Day’s mother on his television show in 1952.
During the early fifties, you could catch her on many of the most popular shows: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy, Burns and Allen, The Bob Hope Show, The Halls of Ivy, I Married Joan, and Where’s Raymond?
Verna would become best known as Hilda Crocker. She played that character on December Bride from 1954-1959 and again on Pete and Gladys during the 1960-61 season, a total of 182 episodes. She was nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in 1958 and 1959. In both years, she lost to Ann B. Davis for Love That Bob.
Between the two series, she made appearances on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Real McCoys, The Ann Sothern Show, Miami Undercover, and The Jack Benny Show. She also accepted roles on a handful of shows after her life as Hilda, including My Three Sons, Wagon Train, and Dennis the Menace.
Felton had voiced several animation characters for Disney including the fairy godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, and Winifred the Elephant in The Jungle Book.
After voicing these fun characters, it was only natural for her to find a television animation character to play, and she found the perfect one in Pearl Slaghoople, Wilma’s mother on The Flintstones. Pearl looked a lot like Wilma but not as young or slim. She originally had red hair like her daughter which later became gray. She did not care for Fred and didn’t think he was good enough for Wilma and often nagged him to do better.
In 1966 Verna passed away from a stroke. Walt Disney would die a few hours later. About 25% of the movies Verna made were for Walt. Jungle Book, the last movie she made for him would debut a year after the two stars died.
Although Verna’s television career only spanned fourteen years, she appeared in many of the era’s best shows. She did Broadway, radio, cinema, and animation as well and had a very full and successful career. It was fun getting to know Verna Felton a bit better.
Today we get to spend some time learning about one of the earliest sitcoms, December Bride, which aired on CBS from 1954-59. It began life as a radio show in 1952.
The show was created by Parke Levy who wrote the episodes as well and claimed to base Lily on his own mother-in-law. He owned 50% of the program; Desilu, producer, owned 25%; and CBS owned 25%. Harry Morgan said he liked Desi Arnaz very much. They cast rarely saw Lucy and saw Desi frequently but not in a negative way; he just might show up to see how things were going. (As an aside, I remember an interview with Bob Schiller, who wrote for this show along with many others, loved the name of “Parke Levy” and said it sounded like a Jewish housing development in New York.) Levy also wrote the film scripts for My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West.
One fun fact is that both Fred de Cordova and William Asher were directors for this sitcom. Both would go on to long careers; de Cordova would produce The Tonight Show and Burns and Allen, direct My Three Sons, and both produce and direct for The Jack Benny Show. Asher would go on to direct I Love Lucy and Alice and both produce and direct most of the Bewitched episodes.
Spring Byington starred as Lily Ruskin, a lively widow who was looking for the right man.
She lives with her daughter Ruth Henshaw (Frances Rafferty) and son-in-law Matt (Dean Miller) who help her in the search, as does her best friend, Hilda Crocker (Verna Felton).
Lily stays busy writing an advice column for the LA Gazette, “Tips for Housewives.”
Pete Porter (Harry Morgan) is her next-door neighbor who also shows up often. (Next week we will learn about his spin-off from this show, Pete ‘n Gladys.) Pete enjoyed watching Matt and Lily’s interactions which he viewed as positive, unlike his relationship with his mother-in-law which he viewed negatively.
A lot of guest stars showed up including Jack Albertson, Morey Amsterdam, Desi Arnaz, Edgar Bergen, Madge Blake, Barbara Eden, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Kulp, Fred MacMurray, Howard McNear, Isabel Randolph, and Mickey Rooney
The scripts seemed about what you would expect for this era. In one of the funniest shows, Lily fails to deliver plans for Matt and as a result, Desi Arnaz’s family room collapses. In another one, Lily arranges for Pete to take riding lessons because his fear of horses is standing in the way of him earning a huge commission selling insurance to a wealthy ranch owner.
The gold standard for this decade seems to be Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s show and the writing doesn’t measure up to that but seems like a fun show to watch.
Maxwell House Coffee was their sponsor for the entire run of the show.
The show was on Monday nights after I Love Lucy and had top-ten ratings for the first four years. For season five, the network moved it to Thursdays, where it was up against Zorro and The Ed Wynn Show. Ratings declined significantly, and it was cancelled. Fans have noted that the last season’s scripts were not as well written and the show had probably run its course.
Harry Morgan discussed the show for the Academy of Television interviews. He said it was a nice show to work on; he described it as “fluffy and light” and “typical for the time.” He said he enjoyed doing the show, all the cast was wonderful, especially Spring who was an amazing actress, and he became good friends with Dean Miller and Frances Rafferty. He said that it was a well-done show and he had a lot of fun during those five years.
I watched the episode about Desi’s family room caving in. Morgan’s description was pretty accurate. The show might not present deep philosophical moments, but it was well written. One of the bright spots was Desi’s butler played by Richard Deacon. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a few hours than watching several of these classic television episodes.
We are right in the middle of our “Men of November” blog series, and today we spend some time getting to know a prolific television and film star, Brian Keith.
Brian Keith (Robert Alba Keith) was born in 1921 in New Jersey. His parents were both actors. They divorced shortly after his birth and at age 2, he moved to Hollywood and made his acting debut in a silent film, Pied Piper Malone, at the age of three.
While his mother was relocating for stage and radio work, his grandmother raised him on Long Island, New York.
His father remarried in 1927, but his second wife, Peg Entwistle, was involved in a tragic incident which is one of the Hollywood legends. She committed suicide by jumping of the H of the iconic Hollywood sign.
After high school graduation, Keith joined the US Marine Corps from 1942-5. He served as a machine gunner and received an Air Medal.
In an interview with the Press and Sun-Bulletin in 1966, Keith related that he had no intention of becoming an actor. He had a passion for a career at sea and wanted to go to school at the Merchant Marine Academy. He said unfortunately, “You can’t be a ship’s officer without passing a few math courses and I came up with a big fat zero in algebra. In fact, no matter how many times I repeated the course, it still came up zero. So, it was goodbye Navy career.”
After the war, Brian decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and made his Broadway debut in 1948 in Mister Roberts. His father played Doc in the same production.
While working on television, Keith also began appearing on the big screen. During his career, he would he would make 65 movies. In the fifties he was in Storm Center with Bette Davis and The Young Philadelphians with Paul Newman.
While continuing to appear on the stage, television was starting to pull him in that direction. He was given his first television role in 1951 in Hands of Mystery. He did a variety of television work in the 1950s, starting off in more dramas and ending the decade in westerns. Last week we learned a bit about Gale Gordon. If you remember, Gale starred in a short-lived series called The Box Brothers, and Brian happened to be in one of those episodes in 1957. From 1955-56, he received a regular role on Crusader, making 52 episodes. He starred as Matt Anders, a journalist who, in the aftermath of his mother’s death in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, travels the world to battle injustice.
Moving into the sixties, Keith continued his western appearances and was given the lead in Sam Peckinpah’s television series, The Westerner. Unfortunately, it only lasted for 13 episodes. Keith said that “only four or five of those were any good, but those four or five were as good as anything anybody has ever done.” He played Dave Blassingame, a cowboy drifter who sometimes does questionable things trying to earn enough money to buy a ranch, but in the end, always does the right thing.
It was also in the sixties that he began his connection with Disney, starring in The Parent Trap in 1961.
During this decade, he was offered a show of his own that he is probably best known for—Family Affair. From 1966-1971, he appeared as Bill Davis, an engineer, who takes in his two nieces and nephew when their parents are killed. Kathy Garver, Anissa Jones, and Johnny Whitaker played the kids and Sebastian Cabot was Mr. French, who helped raise the children. Keith received three Emmy nominations for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, but lost to Don Adams for Get Smart from all three years, 1967-1969, (In 1968 Sebastian Cabot was also nominated for Best Actor and the show was nominated for Best Comedy in 1968 and 1969, losing to Get Smart.)
Brian received the same type of contract as Fred MacMurray did in My Three Sons. It allowed him to tape his work in two-three months, leaving three-quarters of the year for traveling, relaxation, and film work.
During the series’ run, he continued to make films including With Six You Get Eggroll with Doris Day.
When Family Affair ended, it set off a rapid production of shows starring Keith, most of them with short runs. The Brian Keith Show was on air from 1972-74; Keith was pediatrician Dr. Sean Jamison and worked with his daughter played by Shelly Fabares. Keith said he accepted the role because the show was produced by Garry Marshall and it was shot in Hawaii.
In 1974 he accepted the lead in a six-part miniseries, The Zoo Gang about a group of underground French resistance fighters. In 1975 we saw him in Archer, a television series about a detective which also ran only six episodes. Keith described Archer as “an underdog. He gets beaten. He’s no superhuman. He drives a broken-down Mustang. He’s not particularly fond of the finer things in life. Music is noise to him, painting is decoration, sculpture is ‘that stuff’ and he doesn’t read books.”
In 1983, Keith co-starred with Daniel Hugh Kelly in Hardcastle and McCormick. Keith portrayed a retired judge Milton Hardcastle while Kelly was ex-con Mark McCormick. The duo team up because the ex-judge was tired of people getting off on technicalities. The show was on the air for three years.
The following year, he began a stint on The Pursuit of Happiness which only lasted for ten episodes. In a different role for him, he played Professor Roland Duncan who taught at a small college in Philadelphia.
1989 found him on Heartland which was also cancelled after ten episodes. On this show, Keith played BL McCutcheon, an older farmer who loses his farm and moves in with this daughter and her family, a bit of a rural Archie Bunker.
During the 1990s, Keith showed up on a variety of shows including Young Riders, Evening Shade, Major Dad, Cybill, Pacific Blue, and Walker Texas Ranger. He tried his hand at one more sitcom, starring in Walter and Emily. After 13 episodes, the show was finished. Keith is Walter Collins. He and his wife Emily (Cloris Leachman) help raise their grandson while their son Matt travels for his sports writing career.
Keith lived on a 200-acre ranch in Redlands, California. Brian had a lot of hobbies including golfing, swimming, cooking, sailing, horseback riding, spending time with his family, painting, and reading. When asked about whether he wanted to live a long life, he said, “If I live to be a hundred—and I hope I do—I won’t have time to read all the books I want to read or talk to the people I want to know. Not party talk. That’s a waste of time. Real talk.”
While Keith had a successful career, his personal life was not as sunny. He was married three times to Frances Helm from 1948 to 1954, to Judy Landon, an actress who made an appearance on Family Affair from 1954 till 1969, and to Victoria Young, another actress who showed up on The Brian Keith Show as a nurse, from 1970 till his death.
He also suffered from several physical problems. He had been a long-time smoker, and suffered from both emphysema and lung cancer. He had been a spokesperson for Camel Cigarettes in the 1950s but quit smoking in the late 80s.
Brian’s son, Michael died from pneumonia when he was eight. In 1997, his daughter Daisy committed suicide when she was 27. Daisy had also entered the acting profession and worked with her dad on Heartland. Daisy’s death and financial problems pulled Keith into a depression and he committed suicide in June of 1997.
Early in his career, Keith established a stereotype as the handsome, burly guy with the gruff voice, but he transitioned into that character who also had moments of warmth and humor.
I love his performance in The Parent Trap, and I like to picture Keith as being Mitch in real life, a guy who loves his kids and his ranch and takes pleasure in a variety of outdoor activities but also savors reading on the porch.
Keith remained close to Maureen O’Hara, his costar in the Parent Trap as well as with Kathy Garver and Johnny Whitaker. (Anissa Jones died from a fatal overdose in 1976 at age 18.)
With more than 166 acting credits, Keith had a full and successful career and brought a lot of enjoyment to generations of fans during his six decades as an actor. He had to endure a lot of heartache off the camera. Both Family Affair and Hardcastle and McCormick are worth watching if you have a free weekend. You can also see a lot of amazing performances of his on the large screen.
It’s the Case of the Missing Character. While it sounds like a Perry Mason episode, it’s not unusual for television shows to suddenly have a cast member simply disappear without a trace, and no one seems to notice. Let’s look at some of our favorite shows where a character simply vanished.
The Brady Bunch
When it comes to disappearing characters, Oliver is often mentioned on The Brady Bunch. Oliver is a cousin who came to live with the Bradys during the final season while his parents were in South America. While it was weird that Oliver was around for a few episodes and then he was gone, someone could easily assume he went back home. However, I thought a bigger vanishing act was their dog Tiger. Tiger was involved in many plots during the first two seasons. When the show returned for the third season, no Tiger. In real life, the dog who portrayed Tiger was hit by a car; it seems as though we could have gotten an explanation about why the family suddenly lost their beloved pet.
The Doris Day Show
I have talked about the plot variations in The Doris Day Show several times in my blogs. The original concept in 1968 was that widow Doris Martin and her two sons left the city to move back to her dad’s ranch. In the second season, Doris drives back and forth from San Francisco to the ranch after getting a job as a secretary at Today’s World magazine. Rose Marie plays Myrna Gibbons her friend at work. In season three, the family moves into an apartment in San Francisco that is rented from the Palluccis who own a restaurant on the ground floor. Billy de Wolfe played their neighbor, a cranky bachelor who doesn’t like noise, especially made by children. However, he has a soft spot and becomes close to the family. In the fourth and fifth seasons, there is no mention of the father, the kids, Myrna, or the Palluccis! Doris is now a single person and is a staff writer for Today’s World.
Family Matters featured the Winslows, a working-class family who lived next door to an annoying kid named Steve Urkel, and it aired for nine years. For the first four seasons, the Winslows have three children: two daughters and a son. During season five, Judy disappears. One source said that Judy asked for more money, and the network called her bluff and wrote her off the show. The Winslows talked about their two children; perhaps they had amnesia and just forgot they ever had a third child.
Ben was Ross’ son from his first marriage on Friends. He was very precocious and cute. During the first season, Ross talks about him all the time, and Ben spends time with both Ross and his ex-wife Carol, living close to Ross. By season two Ross rarely saw him, and did not really seem to spend much time worrying about that. Ben was so neglected on the show that when Ross and Rachel had a daughter, Ben never even met his own stepsister. His last appearance was in season 8. Apparently, Ross’s dad forgot about him too. He mentions Emma being his first grandchild. The character of Ben appears in only 18 of the 236 episodes.
I remember watching “Love and the Happy Days” (a/k/a Love and the Television Set) when it aired on Love American Style in 1972. That episode became the pilot for the television series which began airing in 1974. Several characters were played by different actors in the pilot. Harold Gould played Howard Cunningham and Susan Neher played Joanie. Tom Bosley would take over the role of Howard and Erin Moran would play Joanie in 1974. Marion Ross as Marion, Ron Howard as Richie, and Anson Williams as Richie’s friend Potsie carried over to the new show.
What people might not remember is that in the pilot, Joanie and Richie had an older brother Chuck played by Ric Carrott. When the show began airing in 1974, Chuck was still around until he wasn’t. Gavan O’Herlihy played Chuck originally and was replaced by Randolph Roberts. After 11 episodes he just never showed up again, and none of the Cunninghams ever talked about him. At least on My Three Sons when Mike got married and moved away, the other characters mentioned him from time to time. Like the Winslows, whenever Mr. and Mrs. C mentioned their kids, they only had two.
King of Queens
Although this show was about a married couple, Doug and Carrie Heffernan, Carrie’s sister Sara (Lisa Rieffel) lives with them when the show begins. She is an aspiring actress, but by the sixth episode, she was just not around. Did she get a role in an off-Broadway play? Decide to go to Hollywood? We don’t know, but her father later talked about Carrie being an only child. Apparently, the writers couldn’t decide how to develop her character, so they just didn’t.
We fondly recall many spats in the Swamp between Pierce and Winchester. We also remember both Hunnicutt and Trapper, but do you remember Oliver Harmon Jones? Timothy Brown played Spearchucker Jones, a neurosurgeon who lived with Trapper, Hawkeye and Frank Burns during the first season. But then he just disappears with no explanation after six episodes.
In discussing the sudden disappearance of Jones on an online posting, Larry Gelbart replied “There were no black surgeons attached to MASH units in Korea.” However, research has indicated that there were at least two black surgeons in MASH units during the Korean war. Other reasons given for his removal was that budgetary cuts mandated getting rid of characters, and one source mentioned that the network did not want to deal with his nickname which could be taken as a racial slur. Spearchucker Jones was in both the original novel MASH and the movie which the television series was based on.
Again, this is a show about war; surely, the writers could have found a creative solution for his being gone. Other characters who left the show were involved in crashes or just simply went home.
During the 1960s Mission Impossible was quite popular with its “your mission should you decide to accept it” plots. Dan Briggs played by Steven Hill led the team. Hill didn’t come back for the second season. He was an orthodox Jew and unable to work during the Jewish Sabbath which was making life difficult for the rest of the crew. Suddenly in season two, Jim Phelps is leading the team, but no one talks about what happened to Dan. Come on – this was a spy show; could we not have learned about a mission gone wrong which explained his disappearance. Actually, Briggs resurfaced on Law and Order thirty years later, so perhaps he was just hiding out for a few decades to protect his cover.
Night Court had a tough time finding a public defender who could hold their own against Dan Fielding, played by John Larroquette. Ellen Foley played Billie Young for season one and most of season two. When the third season aired, the public defender was suddenly played by Markie Post. Post had been the first choice for the role originally, but she had a conflict with her contract in The Fall Guy. When that show was cancelled and she became available, Foley was simply replaced with no explanation as to why.
If you watched the earliest Star Trek episodes, you’ll see Janice Rand, Captain Kirk’s secretary. Grace Lee Whitney was hired to play Janice. She was supposed to be a romantic interest for Kirk. She was a popular character during the first season, but in season two she just didn’t exist anymore.
There were a couple of reasons for her disappearance. First of all, the network didn’t want Kirk tied down; they wanted him to be free to get involved with a variety of characters the crew met from week to week. Also, the show was too expensive and was forced to make some budget cuts, so she was let go. I understand the reasons why they let her go, but of all shows, couldn’t Star Trek come up with some interesting plot twist to explain her disappearance. Maybe she asked Scotty to beam her up but he waited too long and she’s just floating around somewhere in outer space.
In its first incarnation (April to June 1982), the setting of this show was Millard Fillmore High School in Los Angeles. Diana Swanson played by Lynn Redgrave is an English teacher. Ben Cooper is the school principal, Michael Dreyfuss and Gwen Edwards are fellow teachers, Mr. Brody is the assistant principal, and Mr. Pafko is the janitor. Most of the scenes occurred in the faculty lunchroom and lounge from which students were excluded. When the show returned in February, the school was now Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles with a new cast. Samantha Keating and Michael Horne are teachers, Spud Le Boone is the gym teacher and Shari is the principal’s secretary. What was even weirder is that Diana is now a guidance counselor, but the principal is still Mr. Cooper played by Norman Fell. I would give the writers a big, red “D” because they forgot to include a transition paragraph in their work.
For whatever reasons, sometimes producers think they are perfectly justified in simply eliminating characters without any type of explanation. In never seems like it was a great idea and, in the age of syndication, it makes even less sense. Let me know if you can think of other characters who just disappeared from the airwaves.
The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.
In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.
Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.
In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.
The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.
The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).
Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”
Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”
In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.
Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.
Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.
Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.
Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.
Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?
Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?
Tom: That’s right.
Dick: I don’t understand.
Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.
Dick: So, who’s running the country?
Tom: The morons.
The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.
The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.
The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.
I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.
As we wind up our What a Character series, it seemed fitting to end with Mabel Albertson, perhaps the most recognizable of our character actors. She is often remembered for playing the mother of well-known characters. Mabel was born in Massachusetts in 1901. Her mother, who was a stock actress, helped support the family by working in a shoe factory. Mabel’s brother Jack would also become a famous actor.
Mabel knew she wanted to get involved in the entertainment business at a young age. When she was 13, she played the piano for $5 a performance. She graduated from the New England School of Speech and Expression.
Albertson began working in stock, vaudeville, and night clubs and appeared with Jimmy Durante. Eventually she moved to California where she became involved with the Pasadena Playhouse where Charles Lane got his start.
Mabel married Austin Ripley, and they had a son in 1926, but their marriage soon dissolved. Mabel decided to pursue a career in film. Although she would have credits for 27 movies during her career, her film career was not what she hoped for. So, she switched gears and tried out radio. During the 1930s, she co-starred with Phil Baker on The Armour Hour and from 1936-37, she was in Dress Rehearsal with Pinky Lee. She also did some writing for the show.
In 1937 Mabel married writer Ken Englund who adopted her son George. He began writing for Paramount Pictures and later would be hired by RKO, Columbia Studios, 20th Century Fox, and The Samuel Goldwyn Company.
Although her husband’s career was made on the big screen, her career really took off when television made its appearance. Her first role on the small screen was on the Chevron Theater in 1952. During the 1950s, she appeared in 21 different shows. Although many of her roles were on the playhouse and theater shows, she also showed up on Burns and Allen, Topper, December Bride, Bachelor Father, JackBenny, and Have Gun Will Travel. In 1955, she was offered a role in Those Whiting Girls. She played the girls’ mother. The show was on the air until 1957.
Mabel became the “face” of television sitcom mothers. She played Phyllis Stephens, Darrin’s mother on Bewitched and often said “Frank, take me home, I’m getting a sick headache.” Her husband wrote several Bewitched episodes (season 1, episodes 25 and 30).
She played Mabel, Paul Lynde’s mother-in-law on The Paul Lynde Show; she was the mother of Marilyn’s boyfriend on The Munsters, as well as Alice’s mother on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Fans of That Girl will remember her as Don Hollister’s mother, and she was seen on The Andy Griffith Show as Howard Sprague’s mother. Her last mother role was on the New Dick Van Dyke Show as his mom.
Her greatest success was in the 1960s when she appeared in 39 television shows, including Perry Mason; Ben Casey; My Three Sons; Hazel; Ozzie and Harriet; The Wild, Wild West; Daniel Boone; Gomer Pyle USMC; Love American Style; and Gunsmoke. A review for her performance on Gunsmoke is posted by jlthornb5110 on imdb.
The review states that her role of Kate Heller is one “of the standout episodes of the series with Miss Mabel Albertson giving what is nothing less than the performance of a lifetime. Beautifully written by Kate Hite, this is a powerful presentation and one in which Albertson truly shines. The climax is absolutely soul shattering and among the most dramatically emotional ever filmed for television. Miss Albertson plays it with a sensitivity and an incredible insight you will never forget. The character of Kate Heller is heartbreaking but quietly strong, a survivor of the psychological brutality of loneliness in the old west and the violence that was part of existence. Mabel Albertson gives the character everything she has within her, brings her to life, and makes her one of the most unforgettable personalities to ever appear on Gunsmoke or any other television series in history.”
She was offered a role as a permanent cast member in The Tom Ewell Show in 1960. The premise of the show is that real estate agent Tom Potter played by Ewell must learn to live in a household of females including his wife, his three girls and his mother-in-law Irene played by Albertson. Even their dog, Mitzi, was a girl. Although Mabel’s brother Jack would be best remembered for his role on Chico and the Man, he appeared on this series with his sister in 1960. The series aired 32 episodes before it was canceled.
I’m not sure where she found time for Broadway during this decade, but she was in The Egg in 1962 and Xmas in Las Vegas in 1965.
While her career began to slow down in the seventies, she was still quite busy, appearing in The Doris Day Show, Ironside, Marcus Welby, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among others. She appeared in an episode of Arnie with her brother in 1970. She also worked with her daughter-in-law, Cloris Leachman, in the movie Pete and Tillie in 1974.
Her family continued to attract talented actors. Her granddaughter-in-law was actress Sharon Stone.
In 1975, Mabel was forced to retire. Her memory was beginning to fail, and she was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She passed away from the illness in 1982.
Like Milton Frome, I was both sad and disappointed to learn how little information there was about Mabel Albertson. I thought I would learn more about her working relationships considering she had a fifty-year career and played iconic mother roles on so many well-loved shows.
As we wrap of this edition of What a Character! series, my hope is that you recognize and acknowledge these actors when you see them when tuning in to your favorite classic shows and remember how much they contributed to our television history. Personally, to keep Mabel’s memory alive, I think any time we are having a family situation, I will turn to my husband and whisper, “Frank, take me home, I’m getting a sick headache.”
This month we are in the midst of the series, “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Today we take a look at another sitcom whose cast was primarily female.
From 1965-1966, Gidget starring Sally Field was on the air. When it was cancelled after only 32 episodes, producers were scrambling to find another vehicle for Field. Harry Ackerman, with co-producers Bernard Slade (who would create The PartridgeFamily and just passed away last week) and Max Wylie came up with The Flying Nun. They based it on a book published in 1965, The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. Beginning on ABC in September of 1967, the show continued through the fall of 1970, resulting in 82 episodes.
I did read that Patty Duke was the first choice for the show, so I’m assuming when she turned it down, they asked Sally Field. Apparently, they were trying to find a show for Field, but this show was not created for her. Field also turned it down, thinking it was a silly concept, so the producers went to their third choice, Ronne Troup, who would play Polly on My Three Sons. Troup began filming the pilot. Sally’s stepdad, Jock Mahoney, told her she should reconsider because she might not get another chance in show business if she didn’t accept the role. When Sally informed the producers that she had changed her mind, Troup was let go.
In the hour-long pilot, we meet Elsie Ethrington. Elsie, who grew up in Chicago, is arrested in New York during a protest. We learn that the rest of her family has chosen medicine for their vocation. (In a later episode, we meet one of her birth sisters who is a physican played by Elinor Donohue.) Elsie goes to Puerto Rico. She is impressed with the missionary work her aunt has been doing, so she ends her relationship with her boyfriend, a toy salesman, and becomes a nun at the Convento San Tanco, taking on the name Sister Bertrille. In one episode, Sister Bertrille watches home movies of her life and what we are actually seeing is footage from Gidget.
One day Sister Bertrille, who is only 90 pounds, realized that the heavily starched cornette on her head, allowed her to be able to “fly” as the high winds picked her up. As she tried to explain to several people, “when lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.” Of course, a nun flying around town caused quite a stir. Field said she was humiliated by her directors as she was hung from a crane and moved around the set like a prop.
The Reverend Mother Placido (Madeleine Sherwood) runs the convent. She is kind, but strict. Sister Jacqueline (Marge Redmond), who sees the humor in most situations, becomes good friends with Sister Bertrille. Sister Ana (Linda Dangcil) and Sister Sixto (Shelley Morrison) are also friends of hers. The other major characters are Captain Gaspar Fomento (Vito Scotti) who is a police officer that the nuns keep from learning about Sister Bertrille’s flying ability and Carlos Ramirez (Alejandro Rey) who owns a casino and is a ladies’ man. Ramirez was raised by the nuns, and they constantly try to reform him. He will not be reformed, but out of appreciation, he always tries to help them, and Sister Bertrille is constantly involving him in zany schemes or asking him to finance some plan of hers.
This was the
first (and perhaps only) sitcom to be set in Puerto Rico. Although the pilot
and opening and closing credits were shot in Puerto Rico, the show was shot at
Warner Brothers Ranch in Burbank, California.
were worried about how Catholics would react to the show. They asked the
National Catholic Office for Radio and Television to serve as an advisor. The
show actually was popular with Catholic religious leaders who felt the show
“humanized” the image of nuns.
The show was also popular with viewers of every other religion. The first two years, it aired Thursday nights, competing with Daniel Boone. The sitcom was sandwiched between Batman and Bewitched. Although it was declared a hit immediately, the ratings eroded during the two years.
The producers had a hard time deciding on a focus for the show. During the second season it contained more slapstick comedy. The third season it went back to the warm and fuzzy feelings it used in the first season. For the third season, the network moved the show to Wednesdays and put it up against The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour which insured its cancellation. It didn’t help in the third year that Field was pregnant. She mentioned in an interview that “you can only imagine what a pregnant flying nun looked like,” and the crew had to hide her behind props and scenery.
Critics never took to the show, but the public kept it on the air three times longer than Gidget. Many fans remember the series fondly. The plots were often heart-warming. In “With Love from Irving,” a pelican falls in love with Sister Bertrille. When Sister Bertrille is forced to go to the dentist for a toothache, Dr. Paredes puts her under hypnosis. The doctor gives them a suggestion that whenever they hear “red,” she and the Reverend Mother will switch personalities. In another show, Sister Bertrille wants Carlos to finance an expedition to find a bell that sunk long ago that was supposed to go to the convent because their old one is rusted and they can’t afford a new one. Carlos uses the opportunity to woo a young woman, but Sister Bertrille tags along. The girlfriend gets thrown overboard, but the bell is found in the end.
Relying on uplifting morals (pun intended) and Field’s delightful and talented performances, the show continued on the air. Marge Redmond was nominated for an Emmy as supporting actress. Unfortunately, she was up against Marion Lorne, who won it for her role of Aunt Clara on Bewitched.
TV Guide ranked the show number 42 on its worst tv shows of all times list in 2002. However, it continues to do well in syndication and has an international fan club.
While the show was on the air, it sold a variety of merchandise, including paper dolls, lunch boxes, trading cards, view master reels, a board game, and a doll.
Sally Field released a soundtrack LP with songs from the series in 1967. Dell Comics came out with four comic books based on the series in 1968.
I must admit I was not a big fan of the show. However, I have gone back and watched quite a few episodes for this blog, and it is better than I remembered it. Although the concept does sound as silly as Field thought, the show is charming and can be quite funny at times. Although it might not be in your top 25, it probably deserves a second look if you have not seen it for a while.
As I finish 1980s Rewind today, I chose a heart-warming show that followed the typical formula by standing it on its head, Who’s the Boss. The show was created by Martin Cohan and Blake Hunter. Cohan was a producer and writer for The Bob Newhart Show and wrote for many other shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hunter wrote and produced episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati.
Instead of the successful senator who hires a housekeeper like The Farmer’s Daughter, on this show Angela Bower (Judith Light), an advertising executive, hires Tony Micelli (Tony Danza), a former baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals) to be her housekeeper. Instead of Uncle Charlie like My Three Sons, the show has Mona (Katherine Helmond), Angela’s mother giving wise advice and sarcastic comments. Tony has a daughter Samantha (Alyssa Milano) and Angela has a son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro). All together they form one typical family unit. The show was on ABC for eight years from 1984-1992, so viewers literally watched the kids grow up. Tony is laid back and flexible, while Angela is a bit more uptight and organized. Angela and Tony functioned as parents on the show, but they also had the possibility of a romance between them.
After a shoulder injury, Tony is forced to change careers. He wants his daughter to experience a better life. The Bowers live in Connecticut in an upscale neighborhood. Originally, the show was titled “You’re the Boss,” but it was changed to plant a question of who really ran the house. However, viewers all realized that the kids were really the bosses.
The cast jelled very well together. They had their differences of opinion, but they grew close and experienced the normal family ups and downs when five very different people spend so much time together. Mona’s wit and targeted observations kept things light and funny.
During most of the series, Tony and Angela try to avoid the romance developing between them. They both date other people. They also become best friends, relying on each other as a husband and wife would. They often discuss issues the kids are having. They both “parent” each of the kids. They both grow and change during the course of the series. Angela becomes less tense and risks opening her own firm. Tony enrolls in college. Producers always seem to waiver “between should they get together or not.” Shows like Castle, That Girl, and Friends struggled with keeping the magic alive and keeping the show realistic. Somehow the producers and writers for Who’s the Boss kept the tension and potential romance alive for seven years. During the last season, they realize they are in love with each other.
There were many stars who appeared on the show during the years including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Mike Tyson, and Leslie Nielsen. One of the episodes was when Robert Mandan appeared on a few episodes as Mona’s love interest. Mandan had played her husband on the show Soap.
The theme song lyrics were written by creators Cohan and Hunter. Titled “Brand New Life,” the music was composed by Larry Carlton and Robert Kraft. Three different versions were used over the years: Larry Weiss sang it from 1984-1986; Steve Wariner from 1986-1989; and Jonathan Wolff from 1989-1992.
Early reviews were lukewarm. Critics liked it but they were a bit dismissive of it being a real hit. Viewers didn’t agree. They loved the show. During its tenure, the show was nominated for more than forty awards, including ten Primetime Emmys and five Golden Globes. From 1985-1989, it ranked in the top ten.
The show aired on Tuesday nights for the first seven years. In the fall of 1991, the network moved the show to Saturday nights against The Golden Girls. The ratings went down after the move and the network decided to cancel the show. There was a great debate about whether Tony and Angela should marry in the finale. Sam had married earlier in the season and Tony and Angela admitted they were in love. However, Danza was opposed to the marriage and there was a concern that if a wedding took place, it might affect the syndication options. Instead of a wedding, Tony and Angela break up. But in the last scene, Tony is at Angela’s house applying for the job of housekeeper, very similar to the very first episode of the show.
The show created a spinoff but in a far-reaching definition of spinoff. In one episode, Leah Remini was a friend of Sam’s, a homeless model. Beginning and ending in 1989, the show Living Dolls starred Remini, Michael Learned, and Halle Berry.
While Tony went back to school during the series, Danza emulated him in real life. He graduated with an education degree. He wrote a book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. He taught English at a school in Philadelphia.
The cast of Who’s the Boss was a close-knit one, and they still keep in touch almost twenty years later. Light commented that they are all still close and she said she probably kept in touch with Tony the most. “He checks in all the time just to see how the kids are doing, he’s very sweet.” Danza once discussed how emotional it was for him to give Milano away as a bride on the show. “She was like my little girl, you know. She started on this show when she was 10. Now she’s 19, we married her off. I mean, it’s easy to get emotional, it really is.”
Milano was also very close to Light. A couple of years ago, the two stars ran into each other for an event, and Milano tweeted, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing Judith Light. Nothing.”
They were all saddened by the death of Katherine Helmond in March of 2019. Danza also discussed Helmond in an interview. “Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming and profoundly funny.” After her death, he commented that “She was such an influence on me. No matter what problem I had, I could go to her. Very few people could match her. She was a consummate professional. She never made a mistake and she always got the laugh. She was the sexy older lady who could keep up with the young people. She just had a way about her.”
Light also discussed Helmond. “She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world and will be deeply missed.”
Her television grandchildren also remembered her fondly. Milano paid the following tribute to her: “My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were!” Pintauro said she was “the best TV grandmother a boy could ask for. Even still, I’m just as devastated as I was when I lost my real grandma. A beautiful soul has left us for the next chapter, may you make them laugh Katherine!”
This is another one of those undervalued shows. Although there were some really great shows on television during the mid and late 1980s, some of the top-rated shows on in this decade included Knot’s Landing, Charles in Charge, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Facts of Life. Who’s the Boss was a much better written and acted show than any of these. The show combined the best elements of sitcoms and created a fresh approach to a family comedy.
In this monthly “Behind the Scenes” series, we are learning about the people who work behind the camera and help make the show more realistic. It was very hard to find information about wardrobe designers. What these jobs look like vary by show. Some shows have actual designers like Marilyn Lewis on That Girl or Jean Louis on Green Acres, who we learned about in previous blogs. Some shows have a dresser who helps take care of costumes and keeps them in good condition. I could not find anyone listed in the wardrobe or costume departments for The Partridge Family. Perhaps they only had shoppers who purchased the items for the cast each season.
One thing I noticed and liked about The Partridge Family that was similar to My Three Sons was that each cast member got a wardrobe for the season, and they wore the same items on various episodes. You can definitely get a feel for their favorites by how many times they appeared throughout the year. I think this makes the characters more realistic. Like us, they only have so many clothes in their closet, and they wear them over and over, unlike current shows where the wardrobes are new for each episode.*
I chose to look at the clothing for The Partridge Family for a few reasons. Obviously, I can relate to them since I had those same items in my closet during that time. I can remember wearing bell bottoms, flowered or checked shirts with pointy collars, and carrying macramé purses. My favorite outfit during this time was a pair of bell bottoms with maroon and navy flowers that I wore with a navy blouse with a pointed collar and cuffs with buttons on them. I also remember a pink and white gingham skirt and blazer that I wore with a black bodysuit. My favorite skirt had a black background with jewel-toned flowers all over it. It had a slit up the side of the skirt, and I wore it with a black top. Another reason, I picked the Partridges to analyze style was because there were a variety of characters to dress—teens, older adults, kids, as well as a singing group.
The clothes The Partridge Family members wore fit with the times. They were a great representation of the clothing of the 1970s. In That Girl, Ann Marie’s wardrobe was almost like another character. Many people paid special attention to what she wore. In shows like The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family, clothes were appropriate to the time and trendy, but they didn’t take center stage. They just reflected what everyone was wearing and made the characters more realistic.
So, what were the fashions during this time? There was not “a” predominant style in the 1970s. Walking down a city street, you could observe Indian block print dresses, tie-dye shirts, hip-huggers, mini skirts in bold patterns, and peasant type dresses in muted colors.
There were tons of options for dresses: long or short, single pastel or bold multi colors, solid or patterned, sleeveless or long-sleeve, jumpers or long, flowing skirts.
Men’s pants might be worn low or higher waisted. They might be cuffs or bell bottoms. They might be corduroy or denim.
Teen Girls and Young Adults
The Hippie themes carried over from the 1960s into the early 1970s. Many people were wearing bell bottoms, maxi dresses, granny dresses often trimmed with leather or lace, peasant blouses, and ponchos. There was not a hemline for the era; both maxi and mini-skirts were popular.
Culottes debuted in the mid-1970s. Colors tended to be earthy in nature: apple green, mauve, tangerine, mustard, and copper. Neutral solid colored pants were always appropriate, but jeans began to gain popularity in the mid part of the decade. Denim also showed up in jumpers. Accessories included chokers, dog collars, headbands, floppy hats, and jewelry made of feathers, shells, and leather.
Peace signs showed up in a lot of jewelry. Make up tended to look natural with just a hint of blush or lip gloss. Later in the decade, the disco look would bring in shimmery and bolder colors. Along with leather or macramé purses, younger women carried blue suede or tapestry printed bags. Sunglasses were often worn.
Laurie’s clothing was never too revealing or wild. She typically wore dresses to school and on dates but could also be seen wearing solid colored pants with blouses or tunics. She wore a lot of orange. For most of the series, she had long hair parted in the middle.
The photo above shows Laurie’s polka dotted skirt and top. We can also see Danny’s blue and yellow striped top. He had a variety of striped tops he wore as did Chris. The patterned bold-colored shirt Shirley has on was one of her favorites. She wore it on 6 or 7 shows during Season 2.
Older women tended to wear pleated skirts with blazers or pantsuits. Dresses tended to hit the knee or a bit longer. Long skirts were also in vogue—some with loud patterns and colors. Sweaters and sweater vests were commonly worn with pants and skirts. American pride colors of navy, white, and red were popular as were pastels like baby blue, mint green, or bubblegum pink as well as neutrals in the camel or gray family. Polka dots were often added to blouses or dresses.
Everyone had at least one robe and some nightclothes were more casual for wearing around the house. Scarves were often worn with tops or dresses. Make up often included a pinky or peachy blush, green or blue eye shadow, and orange lipsticks.
Most women tended to wear more gold than silver. Bangles, button earrings and hoops were go-to pieces. Flower brooches could often be seen on blazer lapels. Quilted handbags with large wooden rings worked for purses.
Shirley wore a lot of skirt and blazer outfits in pastel shades in Season 1. This made sense because she had been working as a bank teller until they became singing stars. She also wore knit short-sleeved tops with scarves often.
During the other three seasons she wore a lot more pantsuits, often with blazers.
Many times she wore a pin on her lapel, and, in one episode, the plot concerns a pin Danny found and gave her. Her favorite colors seemed to be red, white and blue or pink.
Teen Men and Young Adults
Polyester was the primary material for pants and tops. Bright colors were quite popular early, but by 1975, more neutral colors had taken over, especially browns. Shirts had pointy collars and often were flowered or had geometric patterns or paisleys. Blue jeans were popular with everyone but especially teen males.
Denim would be made into jackets and suits also. Approaching the mid-1970s, bottle green, peacock blue, black, and purple would be seen in shirts. Often, they were Henley type shirts or long sleeves with round necks. Leather belts were quite common. Small round sunglasses with mirrored lens were popular with younger men. Guys often wore necklaces.
During the first season, Keith tended to wear long-sleeved shirts. They were often flowered or patterned. His favorite was a purple, acqua, yellow, and green shirt with a pointed collar that he wore in at least 8 episodes during Season 1.
Later he switched to solid colored tops with round necks and long sleeves, usually in shades of brown, blue or marroon. When Keith Partridge began wearing puka shells, their sales skyrocketed.
Solid pastel suits and sports coats were often worn. Many sports coats had checks or stripes.
Cardigan sweaters in brown, blue, or yellow were often worn over long-sleeved dress shirts.
Dress shirts were available in solid colors in every shade of the rainbow, as well as wild prints.
Rueben often wore sports coats with stripes. His favorite cardigan was a tan one with a bright blue dress shirt underneath.
Birkenstocks were introduced during this era. Boots were very popular. Go-go boots were still often worn with mini dresses, but lace-up granny style boots of leather were worn with longer skirts and dresses. Sandals were very popular with pants as were clogs. Earth shoes also made their debut in the 1970s in colors like navy, gray, burgundy, and cocoa. I have to confess I still have my navy blue earth shoes from seventh grade, and they are still comfortable.
Longer hair was the norm for teen boys and girls, but short hair was not out of place. Young girls parted their hair in the middle. Bangs were also part of many hairstyles.
Older women and men tended to wear their hair shorter as well; women in their 50s and 60s would often put their hair in a bun. Pony tails and braids were ways to corral hair during hot weather. Afros were popular styles too. Shag haircuts were coming into vogue during the middle of the decade.
Kids’ fashions tended to be more mini versions of their parents and older brothers and sisters.
Girls wore matching pants and tops or dresses to school and jeans or other pants for play and after school wear. Often a scarf was worn on the head and tied under the chin that matched the dress. Boys wore solid short-sleeved shirts or striped shirts. Quarter zippers were often featured. They also had long-sleeved shirts like the older boys but in more solid colors or stripes.
When I was in fourth grade, we were allowed to start wearing pants to school but only if they had a matching tunic top, so that’s what my sister and I got for Christmas gifts that year. For weekends we wore jeans but not to school. It wasn’t until I moved to Wisconsin in 8th grade that I saw kids wearing Levis to school.
Olive green, gold, and brown were popular for boys. Girls also wore those colors but had more options with blues, pinks, purples, yellows, and bright colors to choose from. Girls wore colored knee socks with their dresses and skirts to school. Mood rings were a big hit in this decade.
Most of Danny’s shirts were short-sleeved tops in solid colors. His favorite was a solid brown top. Many of his shirts had a zipper in them.
One of Danny’s favorite outfits was a gold top with pants of brown, orange, and gold stripes.
Chris dressed much like Danny.The shirt Tracy is wearing below is very similar to shirts Laurie often wears. Tracy often wore pants with pastel tops. We didn’t see her or Chris or Danny at school, but I’m guessing she wore a lot of tops and skirts.
The clothes of the 1970s were identifiable but were not locked into one style. They were comfortable and natural for the most part.
Women still wore a lot of dresses and skirts, although pants were becoming very popular even for school and parties. There were many options for someone purchasing outfits in this decade for lengths, colors, designs, and prints.
Shoes and hairstyles also could be based on what the individual liked; there was not a “wrong” look. The Partridge Family gives us a great example of what the fashion was like during this time.
Their wardrobes were accurate and trendy but did not overshadow the characters. By concentrating on what each of the characters wore, we were able to learn a little more about them.
*All photos from pinterest.com unless otherwise noted.
With this blog, we begin a new series about the people who work behind the scenes to make the characters come to life for us. We are starting with the costume department. The costume or wardrobe designer is one of those people who help make the character real for us. While the job description varies from show to show, the costumer designer typically is in charge of the clothing and accessories. They read the script and determine what type of clothing is needed for each episode. Some shows bring in designers to create the clothing like Norman Miller on Dynasty, some shows send out shoppers to purchase ready-made clothing like My Three Sons, and some combine the activities. On Burns and Allen, Gracie Allen had a shopping day each week, and she picked out her own clothing.
Costume designers typically use clothing to develop a character as they evolve throughout the series.
One of the television shows that is known for its incredible wardrobe is That Girl. Costume designers for the show include Florence Albert, Suzanne Smith, Fern Vollner, and Phyllis Garr, the mother of actress Teri Garr.
Ann Marie moves from small-town Brewster to New York City to pursue her acting career. Her clothes reflect her youth and her fascination with fashion and life in the big city. Marlo Thomas was the force behind every decision of her show. For clothing, she secured the design services of Marilyn Lewis.
Marilyn was raised in Cleveland by her grandmother. Marilyn was interested in fashion, and she sketched designs and did a bit of modeling in Ohio. After her grandmother passed away, she moved to California where she hoped to become an apprentice to an established fashion designer.
In Hollywood she met Harry Lewis and fell in love. Harry was an actor who appeared in a variety of television shows and movies, including Key Largo throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Harry had dreamed of starting a chain of restaurants where actors could feel comfortable hanging out. As an actor, he also had a goal to play Hamlet. Combine the two aspirations and you have the birth of Hamburger Hamlet.
They opened the first restaurant in 1950 with $3500 and sold the chain of a dozen eateries in 1997 for $33 million.
They also created a separate restaurant called Kate Mantilini’s Dinner House which they sold, bought back, and then opened a second one, so each of their kids had their own. Kate Mantilini was Marilyn’s uncle’s mistress in the 1940s.
Harry realized that his wife put her dreams of working in fashion design on hold for him, and in 1966 he bought her a dress factory. About this time, That Girl was in the planning stages. The choice of Marilyn as designer for the show was both surprising and expected. She was far from an established designer when Thomas hired her to design for Ann Marie. At the same time, Marlo was trying to step out from her famous father’s shadow and earn respect for creating her own show. A show about a girl leaving her teaching career and forgoing marriage to move to a large city and live alone and pursue a career is not out of the ordinary today, but it was in the mid-1960s.
Lewis was the
perfect choice for designer. Lewis described her clothing as having a “whispering
signature.” She went on to say that “California gives me great light, so I use
color.” Lewis named her line Cardinali. Her first batch of designs included 35
suits, gowns, and dresses. Saks Fifth Avenue was her first customer, selling
her clothing for $300-$2400 per piece. Today those items would cost
Color was definitely an important element in 1960s clothing. Women weren’t afraid of color. You could find deep jewel tones, bright neons, and bold patterns galore.
Marilyn used the best fabrics she could import from Italy. Her early pieces included a wool boucle coat with matching purse and hat and a flowing summer dress with a scarf. Similar items can be seen on That Girl. She said she designed her clothing for a career girl who got dressed up at night. Similarly, Ann Marie dressed practically, but pretty, during the day and chose more glamorous looks for evening.
While looking at one of her ruffled chiffon party dresses, Lewis described it as “sexy and discreet at the same time. Always the contrast. And that’s me. I always have a little reserve in me. But never so much that I won’t wink at you and get the job done.” Ann Marie definitely picked up on that design vibe.
Her clothing on That Girl is also a contrast. While Ann’s wardrobe evokes the classic style of the 1960s, it is also timeless, and many of her outfits could be worn today.
very successful in her Cardinali line. She was worn by many celebrities, as
well as California first-lady Nancy Reagan and socialite Betsy Bloomingdale. Her
clothes had a European flair not found in other American designers.
Ann Marie’s wardrobe was anything but boring, and Lewis strove hard for that look. She once commented that “There would be no true boredom if a woman would realize she could paint herself like an artist painting a canvas. It would be a tremendous lift to her spirits.”
During the height of her popularity in 1977, Lewis walked away from the fashion industry. But her design features are still influencing women. Marlo Thomas also continued to be regarded as a fashionista.
After the demise of That Girl, she went on to become McCall’s Director of Women’s Interests, a role that allowed her to become a model for sewing patterns that sold for $1.50 under the name “Marlo’s Corner.” She also wrote a monthly column for their counter book.
Though Lewis was hired to help create the character of Ann Marie, she ended up creating so much more. It’s hard to estimate how many girls growing up in the era of That Girl changed their entire fashion sense watching the show. Every girl dreamed of moving to the big city, getting their own apartment, and having an incredible wardrobe.
Great design is timeless, and Cardinali design was definitely great. The fashions from this era will always have a place in a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. The pieces combined comfort with beauty and color. Ann Marie’s fashion sense evolved with her character as she gained more confidence. We evolved along with her.