As we continue with our National State Day Celebrations, this week finds us in West Virginia. Who else can we pick but Don Knotts?
Born in 1924 in Morgantown, WV, Don Knotts was the youngest of four boys. Don had a rough youth. His parents were farmers and his mother was 40 when he was born. His father suffered from mental illness, and Don’s birth led to a nervous breakdown. His father died when he was 13 and his mother made her living running a boarding house after that. At an early age, Don began performing as a ventriloquist and comedian at church and school functions.
After graduation, Knotts began college but then enlisted in the army, serving during WWII from 1943-1946. He toured the Pacific Islands entertaining the GIs as a comedian. In 1948 he graduated from West Virginia University with a major in education, a member of the honor society.
Before graduating, Knotts married Kathryn Metz. They would remain married until 1964 when they divorced. After college, the couple moved to New York to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Believe it or not, his first role was in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, and he would become part of the cast from 1953-1955. In 1956, he got his big break on the Steve Allen Show, playing a nervous man. He stayed with the show until 1959. The Tonight Show relocated to Hollywood with Jack Paar as host in 1959, and Don went with him. However, during his time on the show, he had a role in the play “No Time for Sergeants” and then in the film version with Andy Griffith.
In 1960 Andy Griffith was putting together his own sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show, and he offered Knotts the role of Barney Fife, deputy. During his time as Barney, Knotts received five Emmy awards (three during his first five years).
The Museum of Broadcast Communications sums up Barney’s character perfectly:
“Self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong, Barney dreamed of the day he could use the one bullet Andy had issued to him, though he did fire his gun on a few occasions. He always fired his pistol accidentally while still in his holster or in the ceiling of the court house, at which point he would sadly hand his pistol to Andy. This is why Barney kept his one very shiny bullet in his shirt pocket. In episode #196, Andy gave Barney more bullets so that he would have a loaded gun to go after a bad guy that Barney unintentionally helped escape. While Barney was forever frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas that he had of himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn’t have survived anywhere else. Don Knotts played the comic and pathetic sides of the character with equal aplomb.”
Originally, Don was supposed to be the straight man to Andy’s character, but Griffith quickly realized the reverse would make the show more successful. Andy always said he wanted to be done after five years. During that fifth year, Knotts began to search for his next job. He signed a five-film contract with Universal Studios. Then, Andy decided not to quit after season five, but since Knotts was already committed, he left the show in 1965.
From everything I’ve read, it seems like the cast of TAGS got along very well. Although Frances Bavier seemed to take things more personally than others, the actors seemed to enjoy working together. Betty Lynn who played Barney’s girlfriend Thelma Lou described Knotts as “a very quiet man. Very sweet. Nothing like Barney Fife.” Mark Evanier, a television writer, called him “the most beloved person in all of show business.”
Knotts family-viewable films were very popular including It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Incredible Mr. Limpet; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; The Reluctant Astronaut; The Shakiest Gun in the West; The Love God?; and How to Frame a Figg.
One of my favorite roles of Don’s was as the shoe salesman in the Doris Day-James Garner movie, Move Over Darling.
He also returned to Mayberry for several episodes. (Two of his Emmys came from these guest spots.)
Knotts also kept busy on other television shows including appearances on The Bill Cosby Show, Here’s Lucy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and That Seventies Show.
Also, during these years, Knotts tried marriage again wedding Loralee Czuchna in 1974. The couple called it quits in 1983.
He received his second starring role in 1979 as Mr. Furley on Three’s Company. Knotts replaced Stanley and Helen Roper (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) who left for their own spin-off show.
He became the new landlord for the trio upstairs. He would stay with the show until it ended in 1984, racking up 115 episodes. I will admit that I did not enjoy the show, and I felt Knott’s performance was over the top and too stereotyped; I felt that way about the other characters also.
Don and Andy remained close friends throughout their lives. When Andy returned to television as Matlock, Knotts also received a role on the show as Les Calhoun, Matlock’s neighbor from 1988-1992.
Don suffered from macular degeneration, and eventually it caused him to become virtually blind. In 2002 Don married a third time when Frances Yarborough became his wife.
Knotts died in 2006 from pulmonary and respiratory complications from pneumonia related to lung cancer.
Off screen, Knotts seemed to be a very funny guy. His daughter Karen said, “Here’s the thing about my dad. He had this funniness that was just completely, insanely natural.”
He told his daughter his high school years were some of his happiest. His home town loved him too, and a statue honoring him was unveiled in 2006 in front of the Metropolitan Theatre. The statue was designed by local artist Jamie Lester, another West Virginia native.
Don Knotts had a spectacular career. As a young man, he got a job in a chicken factory and spent his days pulling feathers off dead chickens because he was told he had no future in the acting profession. It would have been hard for him to imagine at the time the legacy of performances he would leave—television shows and movies that generations of fans would watch. More than sixty years after Barney Fife put that bullet in his pocket for the first time, viewers continue to watch and love the Mayberry residents as they go about life in their small town. And the fact that the place where he first learned about life cared enough to fundraise and build a memorial to honor him says a lot. Thank you Don Knotts for showing us the importance of humor and following your dreams!
Finishing off our “Men of November” series is Louis Nye. If you watched television in the sixties, you will recognize Louis, but you might not know why.
Born Louis Neistat in Connecticut in 1917, he was the son of parents who emigrated to the US from the Russian Empire and became naturalized citizens in 1911. Louis wanted to get involved in acting but his grades weren’t good enough for him to participate in the drama club. He opted for work on WTIC Radio instead. He also joined the Hartford Players.
The work on local radio led to his decision to move to New York City to work on the radio, often on soap operas. Nye married songwriter Anita Leonard in 1940. Unlike many Hollywood couples, they remained married until Nye’s death.
World War II interrupted his career. He was assigned to run the recreation hall in Missouri. He would entertain troops and was able to meet Carl Reiner, who had a similar sense of humor, and who was also part of Special Services performing in shows across the Pacific.
After the war ended, he returned to New York, getting jobs on television and appearing on Broadway. His first tv role was on The Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949. He appeared on several shows during the fifties but was best known for his work on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show and the New Steve Allen Show. He became close to the entire cast which included Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington Jr., Dayton Allen, Gabriel Dell, and Bill Dana. Nye often portrayed wealthy citizens during the “Man on the Street” sketches. When he took on the role of Gordon Hathaway, the egotistical Country Club snob, saying “Hi-ho Steverino,” Allen often cracked up. When the show moved to Los Angeles, Nye went with it.
His first recurring role was that of dentist Delbert Gray on The Ann Sothern Show in 1960 and 1961. He was very busy during the sixties, appearing on a variety of shows including The Bob Hope Show, The Jack Benny Show, Mike Douglas, The Munsters, Jackie Gleason, and Phyllis Diller. From 1962-66, he would pop in on The Beverly Hillbillies as Sonny Drysdale, the spoiled stepson of banker Milburn Drysdale.
In the seventies, he could be seen on shows such as Laugh-In, Love American Style, Laverne and Shirley, Starsky and Hutch, and Fantasy Island. He was offered a permanent role on Needles and Pins in 1973. The show only lasted for 14 episodes. The series was about the garment industry. Women’s clothing manufacture Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) works with a group of employees including characters played by Nye and Bernie Kopell. It didn’t receive great reviews and many of the writers said it talked about the garment industry but showed very little and was set in one small spot, inhibiting what plots were even available.
During those decades Nye would also get offers on the big screen from time to time but most of the roles were smaller cameo parts. However, he appeared with a lot of celebrities in these epics including Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau, and Jack Webb.
He also recorded several comedy albums using several of his characterizations. One of his most successful LPs was “Heigh-Ho Madison Avenue.” It parodied market research, advertising agencies and post-WWII society. Some of the pieces on the album include “The Gray Flannel Blues,” “The Ten Commandments of Madison Avenue (Plus Big Bonus Commandments),” and “The Conspicuous Consumption Cantata.”
He continued to keep busy in the eighties on a variety of shows including Here’s Boomer, Aloha Paradise, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, and St. Elsewhere.
His last role was another recurring one where he played Jeff Garlin’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm from 2000-2005. Nye passed away from lung cancer in 2005.
I’m not sure what to think about Nye’s career. I think in the right role, he would have excelled in a television comedy or a big screen epic which he never had the opportunity to do. He was multi-talented and appeared on Broadway, in clubs, and on the radio, and he created comedy albums as well as appearing in movies and television. However, I often read quotes of his where he said he only wanted to be funny at parties and always considered himself a serious actor. He was so brilliant and funny with his 15 accents and wide range of characterizations that he seemed pigeon-holed as a comedy character actor early in his career. I wondered if he was sad that he never had the chance to appear in a classic drama, or if he accepted his successful career for what it was, just being thankful he was in the entertainment industry for his entire working life.
Since we cannot ask him directly, all we can do is tip our hats to him in appreciation for the decades of laughter and entertainment he provided for us. Thank you, Mr. Nye.
The life of a writer is not always an easy one. I want you to know that in order to serve my readers, I took on this challenge with no complaining. Yes, I was willing to sit down and watch 25 hours plus of Partridge Family episodes to come up with my favorite 50.
If you were a kid in the early 70s, you understand how just hearing the theme song transports you right back to that era watching the show with friends on Friday nights.
If you grew up in another era, you are rolling your eyes right now, but I know that you have your own happy place where you go when watching those nostalgic shows that were such a vital part of who we all become.
This month marks 50 years since The Partridge Family debuted. To celebrate, I have listed my top 50 in order. I’d love to hear your favorite episode. Better yet, get the DVDs if you don’t already have them and watch them in this order to see how my ranking matches yours.
You might want to grab a can of Tab, put on a smiley face t-shirt, and bell bottoms while you watch. Happy Viewing!
Danny has a new girlfriend at school. Renee is Jewish, so Danny pretends to be Jewish. When her father wants to call on the family and then invites them to perform, Danny tries to keep his secret from his family.
Shirley is surprised to learn that an old boyfriend is in town to make a speech. It turns out he is now a navy Captain and Keith and Danny are suspicious of his motives for their mother. They overhear him talking about his new boat and old one and assume he is discussing women and Shirley is the old one he can’t wait to get rid of. Danny, Keith, Shirley and Chuck end up at Muldoon’s Point.
To raise money and create publicity, Reuben hosts a contest where the winner can spend a week with the Partridges at their home. The winner? Mrs Doris Nugast, a middle-aged woman. Doris brings a new dimension to the family. She doesn’t want to leave because she thinks the family needs her. She and Keith also end up at Muldoon’s Point.
Shirley’s mother (Amanda) and father (Walter) argue over Amanda wanting a job outside the house. She leaves home and goes to Shirley’s house. Amanda gets a job with a service company, and Shirley hires a maid. Guess who is the maid? Her job and her husband’s attitude about it turns the family into the men against the women. One of the best parts of the show is when Ricky sings a song about grandmothers.
Greg, a former childhood friend of Laurie’s, returns to town and reconnects. Turns out he is now a minister. They go out together and have a great time catching up on their lives. Laurie starts to fall for him and Shirley is worried. After assuming they have eloped, Laurie tells her mom they are not seeing each other as much till she is done with school, but the episode leads us to believe Laurie and Greg might end up together permanently when she graduates.
Keith’s newest girlfriend is a cellist in the school band. Rachel thinks Keith is wasting his talent on rock and roll songs, and convinces him to write a piece of classical music. One of the funniest things is when a bust of Beethoven appears on Keith’s piano. There are a lot of great one-liners in this episode: Reuben mentions that Beethoven is rubbing off Keith because apparently he’s deaf, not better; Danny being a genius, is asked to disappear like Howard Hughes; Danny tells Reuben he doesn’t want to get in a battle of wits with an unarmed man; and he also describes Keith’s tux looking like a nervous penguin. Rachel finally accepts their music makes people happy.
Danny has a promotional plan to show the Partridges conserves energy. The newspaper does an article to show their energy saving ways. It creates a buzz in town. But Danny’s mistake in reading the meter shows the Partridges use more electricity than ever. They spend an entire day without electricity by stealing hair dryers, turning off toothbrushes, etc. They listen to the victrola, make a fire, roast marshmallows and just hang out together. When all is said and done, they are okay, but Reuben ends up on the billboard for being an energy hog. We see the basement for the first time in this episode.
Laurie’s friend Frankie tries out for the school basketball team but is rejected because she is a girl. Laurie runs for homecoming queen so she can speak her mind on discrimination. Keith enters a friend into the competition. He is first runner up and Laurie wins. She makes a speech about disliking gender discrimination before giving up her crown, the school board agrees to look into a girl on the basketball team, and Jerry has to follow through with being homecoming queen upon Laurie’s resignation.
It’s a battle of the sexes as Shirley and Laurie prove to their male chauvinist counterparts to be better able to handle the wilderness. While Laurie and Shirley are perfectly able to take care of themselves, the guys realize they have no blankets, no food, or other camping necessities. They steal some beans from the girls but Reuben realizes his can opener is back in the car. When they get back to the house, Shirley makes them supper – a large pan of baked beans.
Laurie excitedly tells her mother she has been selected to be a peer teacher at school. She is assigned seventh grade English, which just happens to be Danny’s classroom. Things do not go well for either of them. When Danny “borrows” a Hemingway story and Laurie gives him a D, he proves to his mom she is unfair. Shirley goes to school and has Danny’s teacher show Laurie her videotape of her with the class early. Laurie is humiliated. She apologizes to Danny.
It’s role reversal time in the Partridge household as Keith takes home economics and Laurie takes auto shop. Keith’s struggles with cooking make him the target of barbs from the school bully, and things really heat up when Laurie gives the tough a Judo flip. Keith is then challenged to a fight, and must face up to the bully even if it means getting his face turned to hamburger.
Stillman Kelly asks his old buddy Reuben to manage his daughter Dora, who is an aspiring singer. Unfortunately, when she auditions in front of Reuben and the Partridges, her vocal abilities leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, Keith, who has fallen for her, is so taken with her beauty that he doesn’t even notice. However, when he hears a tape of her singing, he soon snaps to his senses and now must try to summon the courage to tell Dora how untalented she is without hurting her feelings. Reuben has to come up with a plan to keep her from feeling embarrassed on stage.
The Partridges attend a lecture given by a mystery writer. The Partridges & author get into a discussion as to whether his stories are realistic. He makes them an offer–they can hide, and he will find them all within 24 hours. They think they win, and he gives them $25,000 for their favorite charity and then they realize he had won and just didn’t tell them.
Keith and Laurie are inspired about a local politician. Shirley goes out with him to discuss political views and they form a close bond. Keith works for his campaign to keep an eye on him. He eventually realizes why he was inspired in the first place and tries hard to get him elected whether he and Shirley get together or not. Richard played by Bert Convy becomes Shirley’s serious boyfriend for a while.
Keith decides he has to be a better role model to his younger brothers and sisters, but it seems like everything backfires. The kids decide to play a joke on him and when he overhears them laughing at him, his feelings are hurt and they have to convince him they truly are sorry.
Danny seems to be getting into a lot of trouble at school, and now decides to drop out. Shirley and his teacher discuss how to prevent this. They decide to let him think he has dropped out, and find out what the real world is like. Eventually, he realizes he can’t get into the type or work he wants to do without an education.
Reuben manages a new twin singing act, but the boys have a crush on Laurie. They won’t perform until she decides which one of them she wants to go out with. She doesn’t want to hurt their feelings but she knows they are too young for her.
Danny goes to see a movie but sneaks in without paying. He is caught, and Shirley imposes a punishment on the whole family by having everyone be totally honest for 24-hours. After holding everyone to telling the truth, Danny lies to Laurie. The boy she really wanted to go out with breaks their date because he got a better offer. Danny, not wanting to hurt her, says the guy broke his ankle. He then realizes why some white lies are necessary.
Lester is a new transfer to San Pueblo High, and he already is beginning to develop a reputation as quite the ladies’ man. However, Keith panics when he hears that Laurie has accepted a date with the Lothario. After Danny plants the seed in his head that he might try something with Laurie, Keith goes after them with Danny in tow to make sure his sister’s reputation remains intact, even though he promised Shirley he would butt out. Unfortunately, Keith’s efforts meet with disastrous results as he winds up humiliating his sister. Now he must find a way to make it up to her and he gets Lester to agree to go out with her again. This time Lester is all over her and she has to walk home.
Reuben has a burglar alarm installed in the Partridge home for their security. They keep setting off the alarm accidentally so much that everyone starts to ignore it. When a real burglar breaks in played by Arte Johnson, no one realizes it is a real break in. They begin to bond with him when they realize he was a convict who was used as a hostage by some other prisoners to escape. They convince him to turn himself in and it turns out, the prison employees already knew he didn’t leave by choice after seeing camera footage.
The Partridges start looking at new homes, but first have to sell their current home. Shirley keeps making it difficult for prospective buyers to buy the house so they take it off the market. Just when the kids realize she doesn’t want to leave either, Reuben accidentally signs a contract to sell.
Danny is tired of being a young child. He wants to make his own decisions. His efforts to show he is mature only annoys his family when he calls their accountant to review the books, quits school, calls the girls in Keith’s “black book,” and then wants to double date with Keith. When he does, he realizes he is not ready to be a young adult. Charlotte Rae has a great appearance as the guidance counselor working with Shirley to get Danny back in school.
Shirley has a first date with a pediatrician. At dinner, he orders the food so Shirley does not eat fat, cholesterol, salt, or other negative food items. She tries to discourage him from another date, but he is persistent. After a few dates, she realizes he is a good person but there is no magic. After the papers link their names, his mother comes to visit and he decides to ask Shirley to marry him, but he can’t go through with it because he likes being a bachelor and Shirley is relieved that she doesn’t have to tell him no.
Danny receives a letter from the Draft Board that he’s been drafted into the United States Army. Shirley contacts he Draft Board and tries to convince them that Danny is 12, but they won’t believe her; On top of that, they say the Draft Board doesn’t make mistakes and he is to report. Now the family has to try once again to convince the Army that Danny is too young to serve and he reports as ordered. Danny gets half way through his induction before they realize he truly is 12.
Keith does not have a date for a party after the most popular girl, Joanna Houser (Cheryl Ladd), declines his date request, citing another date, so Laurie sets him up with one of her friends. The next day when the popular girl’s plans fall through, she belatedly accepts the date with Keith. Now he has two dates for the same party. Keith pretends to be sick to get out of the date with Laurie’s friend and talks his friend into taking her out. She realizes what is going on and brings him soup and then Laurie tells him she knew and was happier dating Keith’s friend. Right before he leaves, Joanna calls to cancel her date with him because her original date had plans change.
Classmate Cindy gives Laurie an envelope to give to a teacher. When Laurie does, the teacher says it is the stolen exam answers for math and blames Laurie for taking them. Laurie hopes that Cindy will confess it was her that took them; however, Cindy’s father is the principal and the added pressure is why she cheated in the first place. Laurie is put on trial with her class and finally when it is obvious she won’t reveal the actual culprit, Cindy speaks up.
While parking their bus, Shirley bumps into a car. There is no damage, but when the driver finds they are famous, he fakes an injury for the insurance. Shirley and the family try to prove he is not injured by staying with him 24 hours. Harry Morgan gives a great performance as a crochety man out to get whatever he can from the insurance company. Farrah Fawcett has a guest appearance in this episode. He gets close to the family, especially the kids and when Tracy starts to fall, he jumps up to grab her, giving away the fact that he is not injured.
A talent agent sees Keith and offers him a screen test for a Hollywood movie. He practices his scene and drives to the studio with the whole family. Keith is offered the part. The whole town is excited and is giving him a surprise party but an hour before, he learns that he lost the part. This is an interesting episode because you see a lot of background characters in this one that you have seen before and you understand Keith’s heartbreak that he had his big break and just like that through no fault of his own, it’s over.
Shirley tells the children they have to start being nice to Reuben. She says they have gotten into a habit of insulting him and when his date has to cancel their plans, that insulting was hurtful. However, Reuben didn’t mind. But since he is not used to this new attitude, he thinks it is because they heard he is dying. The nicer they are, the more he thinks he is dying especially when his mother who is quite cheap flies out to see him. His mother is played by the great Margaret Hamilton. In this episode, we realize Reuben and Bonnie Kleinschmidt are quite serious and Mrs. Kincaid is assuming they will get married, and they agree with her.
Reuben sets up an aggressive summer tour schedule. Shirley does not want to go on tour as it is tiring to drive all day and sing all night, so they hire a bus driver. But Danny is suspicious when they find out that he’s an ex-con. Danny spies on him and then when a robbery is committed nearby, calls Reuben who comes to figure out if their driver did it. When Reuben goes to the police station to see if they caught the guy, they realize it might be him and puts him in jail. Eventually Tracy remembers he called from jail and they go retrieve him when Danny and Reuben blame their driver. The robber is arrested but the driver quits until the kids convince him they really want him to stay and since he got a second chance, he gives them one also.
At college, Keith enrolls in a sociology course. He is partnered with an older woman to work on a paper. He finds himself attracted to her despite the fact that she is older. He thinks she has feelings for him and then realizes she is married. When Shirley realizes what is happening, the woman decides to invite Keith to dinner so he can see how much in love she is with her husband, although Keith thinks she is going to spill the beans to her husband about her love for Keith.
Shirley is awarded Mother of the Year by a magazine. The family travel by bus to Sacramento to accept the award. Taking the back road leads them to wrong turns, lost wallet, traffic tickets, a bus breakdown, and other annoyances. All of the setbacks made them late and they show up filthy, just adding to the bad impression she made throughout the day. However, Keith gives a loving speech about his mom and she gets a standing ovation. When they get back home the next day, Reuben shows up unhappy. Their idyllic drive sounded good, so he took the same back roads and encountered a few crises himself.
When Danny is unable to find his birth certificate or pictures of himself as a baby, he is convinced that he is adopted and sets out to find his birth family. He finds the only boy born at their local hospital on that date and is convinced that is his real identity. Finally, his birth certificate arrives. Shirley explains he was born two weeks early in a hospital in a nearby town.
Laurie gets the bad news that she needs braces just as she thinks Jerry might finally get up the nerve to ask her to go steady. However, if that wasn’t bad enough, Reuben informs the Partridges that they have been booked to appear on a high-profile talk show. Things then go from bad to worse when Laurie’s braces somehow pick up radio signals during rehearsals and causes her to play a different tune than what the band is. Her dentist, who was invited to the taping, informs her if she is willing to wear a brace at night she won’t have to worry about picking up signals in her mouth but she’ll have to wear it twice as long. Laurie is thrilled to not have the braces, and Jerry asks her out before he finds out the braces are temporary.
With a hit record on the radio, Keith is starting to be followed and adored by the girls at his school. He is not too happy about it. However, the one girl Janet he does like is not impressed that he is a recording star. He likes her because she doesn’t care about his music, but she also doesn’t care about him. Meanwhile a young girl thinks he is wonderful and Shirley invites her to dinner. When the Janet finally agrees to come for dinner, Keith goes to tell Kathy that she can’t come that night, but he can’t do it. He breaks his date with Janet instead.
The family gets a good review from a famous columnist after one of their recent performances. However, she was seemingly impressed with Danny and declares him a future star. Unfortunately, Danny lets the review go to his head and is seriously contemplating leaving the band, even to the point where he holds auditions for his replacement. Now it is up to Shirley to convince her middle son that going solo is not such a hot idea. After their concert, the columnist shows up in their dressing room and coos over Chris whom she thought was Danny.
Laurie comes home from school excited because her friend Phyllis asked her to be a campaign manager for student body president. The excitement changes to a constant battle when Keith announces he is running for president – against Phyllis. Phyllis lacks confidence and slowly comes out of her shell. Keith realizes she is the best candidate and tells everyone he is voting for her because she’s so qualified and they should too. However, Keith is voted in. The night they learn the results, Phyllis comes in crying. Everyone thinks she knows she lost but she is crying because a cute boy asked her out. When they get the call Keith won, she says not to feel sorry for her because she made a lot of friends and has more confidence. Keith asks her to be his advisor.
Keith gave an interview for a magazine and revealed that Laurie has a crush on a classmate, Harry Murphy. Laurie is upset and says it is the wrong name anyway. A motorcyclist, Harry Murphy (played perfectly by Rob Reiner), comes to visit Laurie to see who she is as a joke. Snake likes Laurie but embarrasses her by literally driving his cycle through the halls at school and throwing a rock through the window with a message. When she takes some time to talk to him about this, she realizes he is a nice guy and invites him to take her to her school dance. He is made fun of there and takes as much as he can before dumping the punch all over one of the guys. Laurie explains she doesn’t think they have enough in common to date but he understands she likes him and he respects her.
School finals are approaching and Keith has a problem in one course. America’s heartthrob is failing sex education. The teacher seems to be picking on Keith and it takes some work to find out why it seems like that. After Keith studies for three days so he knows he’ll get an A, he falls asleep the morning of the test in a quiet place at school. He tells the teacher that who finally gives him a new test. He calls Keith and Shirley into his office the next day and Keith assumes he failed and will not be graduating. Mr. Grisby informs him that he aced the test. He says Keith has a great mind but only does enough to get by. Keith says he is the only one who thinks that and is hard on him, but Mr. Grisby says he talked to his other teachers who agreed with him but like Keith and said he did enough so they gave him decent grades. Mr. Grisby wanted to push him to do better than average.
This is a remake of the pilot. The kids have a band and when their singer gets sick the day they are recording, they ask their mother to stand in for her. When a famous manager is in town, Danny goes to his hotel room to try to make him listen to their song. After several attempts that don’t work, he corners him in the bathroom at the airport and plays the song. Reuben realizes it could be a hit and takes on the family as his client. This is a fun first episode and lays out the groundwork for the basis of the show and the personalities of each of the main characters.
This is the first time Bonnie Kleinschmidt’s name comes up. Reuben yells at Danny for telling Bonnie Reuben can get her into show business. Shirley decides Reuben needs a wife and introduces her to a friend she used to work with. When they decide to get married, she wants Reuben to give up managing and join her company. Reuben agrees. The kids are sad but try to support him. When they do their first out-of-town gig without him, everything goes wrong. As Reuben is trying to help them, his fiancé tells him how much kids mess up your life and he realizes she won’t want kids. Next we know, he is at the hotel just in time to straighten everything out.
Shirley meets an old friend Larry and goes on a date with him. The children are worried that she is too interested in him, and even more worried when they see him with another woman (Jaclyn Smith). They try to get Reuben to investigate him only to learn he is quite wealthy. After they tell Shirley he’s a two-timer, he brings the woman to their hotel room and introduces his niece. The kids feel terrible they might have stopped Shirley’s special romance and so Shirley and Larry stage a proposal where she turns him down so the kids are let off the hook.
When Keith is worried that he may not be able to write songs anymore because he has musician’s writer’s block, Danny decides that it’s time for him to become the group’s songwriter. Keith finally has a breakthrough. Unfortunately, the song he writes is the song Danny played for the family before Keith got up. They both claim it’s their song and finally Shirley realizes the walls are thin between their rooms and Danny heard it while he was sleeping. She has Keith write a bad song and Danny claims the song as his the next day but says he is now a bad song writer. When Keith plays it and Danny recognizes it as his, they explain what has been happening. However, Keith says Danny made the original song better so he gives him credit for cowriter.
Shirley enrolls in college using her maiden name so her real name does not draw unwanted attention. She meets someone in her class as a friend, but develops a crush on her. He tells his parents and they do not approve of his dating an older woman. When they come by to visit, Shirley is wearing hot pants that might be their new uniform. They are really distressed to learn she has five kids. The parents are Norman Fell and Ann Morgan Guilbert (or Mr. Roper from Three’s Company and Millie Helper from The Dick Van Dyke Show). She assures them they are only friends and she invites him to dinner where he learns she is part of the Partridge Family. After dinner he asks if he can take Laurie on a date.
Danny wants to lose weight so Gloria Hickey will be his date at her pool party. Shirley puts him on a diet. After a week, he weighs more because of cheating. Reuben teases him about no will power so they decide to tackle their own vices – Danny’s food and Reuben’s smoking. They both drive everyone crazy trying to cheat and complaining about what they can’t have, so Shirley tells them to go ahead and eat cake and smoke. When she does, they realize they need to want to stop on their own and do so.
Danny gets a job writing articles about the Partridge Family for the local newspaper. To be sure his article is a success, he embellishes the truth about the family. The first article is about Keith and how he has a tattoo in a private place and loves girls who wear black armbands and has a crush on his English teacher, the middle-aged Mrs. Damian. Everyone teases him mercilessly and Mrs. Damian reads love poetry to him in class. Things finally pass over and Danny apologizes. Shirley tells Keith as a famous face he needs to get used to people writing untrue things, etc. Danny says he will never do it again except for the second article which was already written and ready to be published. Then Shirley finds out it is about her and goes after Danny till Laurie and Keith give her the same speech she gave Keith. The article says she ran an exotic dancing school, loves men in trench coats and beards. She goes through the same humiliation Keith did before things get back to normal. Even the milk man delivers in a trench coat.
Shirley’s recent boyfriend, the politician, comes to town. He brings his youngest daughter along, played by Jodi Foster. While Shirley and Dick enjoy being together, his daughter has a crush on Danny and he cannot escape her. Laurie and Keith tell him he has to be nice to her for the weekend they are in town. The next day he tries to kiss her and she punches him. Danny goes to Shirley and Richard for help, saying one day she liked him and he didn’t like her and the next day it was reversed. Now he is sure he is in love. They tell him to talk to Julie. He takes her for a soda and they have what sounds like an adult conversation but people around them keep referring to them as just kids. They decide to be friends for now and let the future take care of itself.
Danny has a crush on Gloria Hickey but pretends he can’t stand her. When Shirley finally understands what is going on, she talks to him. He wants to invite her to the class dance but keeps chickening out. Gloria comes to the house and tells Shirley and Laurie she wants to ask out Shirley’s son to the dance and they assure her he will go and has admitted to liking her. Suddenly, they realize she had been talking about Keith. Later she comes over to ask Keith to the dance and Danny is furious at Keith. Danny comes into the room to fight for her and Keith tells Danny he has no interest in Gloria; she is just a little girl. Gloria is humiliated and runs home. Later she comes back to ask Danny to the dance and to thank him for defending her. After a concert for the girl scouts, Keith has his pen ready but all the girls run to Danny for autographs.
Keith wants his own apartment so he can have some peace and quiet to write music. Shirley reluctantly agrees to let him move into a room in the house next door once Reuben reminds her in a year Keith can leave as an adult and there might not be an apartment next door. Having his own place is not what he expects. He gets free rent for light gardening which turns out to be 3 hours a day so he has trouble getting his school work done. Danny charges him for meals and clean clothes. Keith gets peanut butter and jelly sandwiches even though he overhears the family is having soup and roast beef. Shirley figures out what is going on and decides to take food to Keith at the same time he invites a date over. Danny sends him a message by arrow. He hides his date in the closet while Shirley is there, trying to hide any evidence. Later that night he goes home to see if he can use his old room to write a song in because his place is too crowded and noisy. His date invited a bunch of people over. Shirley asks how a simple date turned into a party. He asks how she knew and she lists off the smell of perfume, a pompom under the couch, and a Bolero album on the record player. Keith decides he would like to move home. This episode has a very touching scene between Keith and Shirley when he has to explain he is not ready to live on his own and wants to come home which is not easy for a 17-year-old to admit.
After being scolded because they left the kitchen a mess, Chris and Tracy decided to run away from home. Shirley helps them get ready to run away, explaining to the other kids that they all did the same thing and ended up at Mrs. Monahan’s for brownies before coming home. Keith watches the kids go to Mrs. Monahan’s. However, they don’t come home and when Shirley calls, Mrs. Monahan says they left a while ago and should be home. It turns out, they went to Reuben’s apartment building. He calls Shirley in code and lets her know. They cause several mishaps at his place and then Bonnie comes over as a surprise. He decides to get the kids to go home. He says they will play Blackjack and if they lose, he decides what will happen. They keep winning. Finally, Shirley shows up and says she is running away too because she is always the bad guy and she doesn’t have any little kids left to take care of. They explain they wanted to come home an hour ago but thought they should keep playing with Reuben since he let them stay. I liked this episode because we see the relationships that all the characters have. The older kids are truly sad Chris and Tracy are gone for the day and worried. Reuben shows his affection for them. They understand there are consequences for bad behavior and they need to follow rules.
Before launching into this week’s topic, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been following and reading my blog. This week begins my fourth year writing this blog. I was worried I would find enough topics to fill the first year but next year is already outlined, so another year of classic television is on the way. It has been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot.
This month we are looking at crime-solving duos. We start our series learning a bit more about McMillan and Wife. McMillan and Wife began as part of The Sunday NBC Mystery Movie which included Columbo and McCloud. The shows rotated each week, so fewer episodes were produced of each than a typical weekly show.
McMillan and Wife debuted in 1971 and was on the air until 1977, yet only forty episodes were produced. Leonard Stern was the creator, writer, and executive producer of the show; he previously produced Get Smart.
Stewart “Mac” McMillan (Rock Hudson) was an attorney and US Navy veteran who apparently had been involved in some CIA activities. He is now Commissioner of Police in San Francisco. He gets involved in high-profile cases. His wife is Sally (Susan St. James), and her father was a detective for the San Francisco Police Department; she learned a lot from him and helps her husband solve crimes. Sargent Charlie Enright (John Schuck) helps Mac with his cases. Sally and Mac have no children (it’s confusing because Sally was pregnant twice on the show, but the children are never mentioned in the show later). Their housekeeper Mildred (Nancy Walker) also lives with the couple. Mildred’s character resembles the role Thelma Ritter played in Pillow Talk, where Hudson starred with Doris Day. She is a sarcastic, hard-drinking woman and is always ready to offer her opinion, but she is devoted to Mac and Sally.
Once Hudson was cast as Mac, the show got priority in development. Several actresses were considered for the role of Sally, including Diane Keaton and Jill Clayburgh, but Hudson was most comfortable with St. James.
Hudson was 21 years older than St. James, but their relationship worked. Mac is supposed to be in his 40s and Sally in her 20s (he was 46 at the time and she was 25). Sally is self-confident and is not afraid to speak her mind. However, she is also a wife who loves her husband, and one of the running gags on the show is that Mac had dated a lot of women in his past, and when Mac and Sally are out and about, they typically run into some gorgeous woman who says, “Hi Mac.” Sally usually responds with a jealous comment or a withering look. The difference in their ages actually worked well for demographics. Hudson appealed to older viewers while St. James attracted younger viewers.
Often the cases Mac solves happen during events the couple attends. One episode featured a burglary at a charity event they were attending; once they found a skeleton in their house after an earthquake. Another show had Mac abducted by mobsters and replaced with a surgically-made twin replacing him.
An interesting fact is that the interior of their house in the pilot episode was in fact Hudson’s home. In the first regular episode, the MacMillans bought a new house. In the final season, the setting changed to an apartment.
Sally and Mac led a glamorous life. The scripts were well written, and the dialogue was witty and clever. The couple was often compared to Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man movies. Mac and Sally have a lot of their best conversations after they go to bed at night.
Sally was known for wearing a football jersey for her nightgown. The jersey was an authentic 49ers Jersey, number 18, George Washington, a wide receiver. Washington was a four-time Pro Bowler. He made a guest appearance on the show in season four, “Guilt by Association.”
Considering that there were only forty episodes produced, this show had an incredible number of guest stars. I apologize for the long list, but it’s the only way to capture how impressive it is. The stars included sport celebrities Dick Butkus, Rosie Grier, Alex Karras, and Bobbie Riggs.
It also featured a Who’s Who of television sitcom royalty: John Astin, Meredith Baxter, Tom Bosley, Michael Constantine, Bert Convy, Wally Cox, Richard Deacon, William Demarest, Donna Douglas, Barbara Feldon, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Larry Hagman, Alan Hale, Shirley Jones, Stacy Keach, Bernie Kopell, Julie Newmar, Charlotte Rae, Charles Nelson Reilly, Dick Sargent, Natalie Schafer, Susan Sullivan, Karen Valentine, and Dick Van Patten.
The show, like McCloud and Columbo, was quite popular with viewers. The ratings were impressive until the sixth season.
Unfortunately, the last season had too many changes to overcome. St. James decided to leave to concentrate on her movie career. Schuck left to star in the sitcom, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Walker left for her own sitcom, The Nancy Walker Show. Sadly, Walker and Schuck would have been better off staying because both their shows lasted only 13 episodes. St. James starred in a couple of movies, but they weren’t anything memorable. She would go on to star in Kate and Allie in 1984.
On the show, Sally was killed in an airplane crash. Mildred was said to leave to open a diner, so her sister Agatha (Martha Raye) took over her job. Schuck made a few appearances but was said to have been given a promotion to lieutenant which kept him too busy to assist Mac much. The show may have been able to overcome one of these changes but not all of them. Much of the strength of the show was the relationship between Mac and Sally. Walker’s funny bantering and actions provided a comedic relief for the show. When Raye took over, she was just scatterbrained and loud; the appeal of Walker was not part of her character.
It’s wonderful the show lasted five good seasons, but it might have lasted many more if the original cast had been retained. At the other end of the spectrum, Columbo aired off and on until 2003 and is remembered by more viewers.
DVDs were released for all six seasons between 2005 and 2014. With only forty shows in the series, this would be a fun binge-watching week-end show to tackle.
For the month of June, we are celebrating some of our favorite fathers. One of my favorite dads was Carl Betz in his role as Dr. Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show.
Betz was born in Mary of 1921 in Pittsburgh, PA. He came from an upper middle-class family, and his father was a laboratory chemist.
in school, Betz started a rep theater company with several friends. They
performed plays in his grandmother’s basement.
During WWII, he served in the army. He was deployed to Italy and North Africa and left the military as a technical sergeant with the Corps of Engineers.
When he returned to the States, he enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh, majoring in drama. While going to school at Carnegie, he played football and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl against Texas Christian University.
His first job after graduation was a radio announcer. He moved to New York and worked as a doorman at Radio City Music Hall while auditioning for Broadway productions. He received his first part in “The Long Watch” in 1952. He then toured in “The Voice of the Turtle” with Veronica Lake.
his work as a young adult, he said, “Those were good times for the beginning
actor. There were so many summer stock companies. We worked for room and board
and the princely sum of $45 a week. By
eliminating haircuts, we managed to keep ourselves in shaving cream, clean
shirts, and beer.”
Twentieth Century Fox offered him a contract, and he received a number of supporting roles in films. In 1953, he made an incredible six movies.
In 1952 he
married Lois Harmon. They had one son and divorced in 1961.
His first job on television was a soap opera, Love of Life. Throughout the fifties and sixties, he performed in a variety of plays, including “The Seven-Year Itch” and “The Zoo Story.”
In the mid-1950s, he began appearing on television shows, and shows up in reruns on Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Mike Hammer.
In 1958, Carl was offered the role of Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show, and he was with the show until it ended in 1965. The heart-warming show centered around Donna and Alex Stone, a pediatrician, and their two children, Jeff (Pete Petersen) and Mary (Shelly Fabares). Betz continued his stage career in his off time with the show.
Both Carl and Donna were protective of their television children. In an interview in 2011 when Petersen was 66, he discussed his second set of parents. “They made a commitment to Shelley and me as surrogate parents to be on our side and be with us for the long haul. They kept that commitment up to their deaths.”
As Alex, Betz was the voice of reason. When anyone got too worried, he gave advice and put things in perspective. He had a fun side to him and could always see the humor in situations. He was a caring doctor and had fun in life, realizing death and illness were always lurking around the corner. He often made fun of Donna and the kids but in a loving way, not cruel. His comments typically illustrated that things were not as dower as they appeared. But when there was an emergency or a serious situation, he was calm and collected and took charge.
Carl continued to take roles during breaks in taping for The Donna Reed Show. In 1964, Betz received amazing reviews for his performance as the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in “The Night of the Iguana.”
During his time on the show, he ironically married Gloria Stone, and they would remain married until his death in 1978.
In 1967, he starred in Judd for the Defense where he played an attorney. Clifton Judd, a lawyer based in Texas, would travel across the country to defend a client. Many cases involved labor unions, draft evasions, civil rights, and murder. The series featured a number of guest stars, including Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Norman Fell, Beverly Garland, Ron Howard, Ted Knight, Cloris Leachman, Ruta Lee, Gavin MacLeod, Vera Miles, Tom Selleck, and Dennis Weaver. The critics gave the show great reviews, but the ratings were always a struggle. In 1969, ABC cancelled the series and that same year, Betz won the Emmy for Outstanding Performer by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series.
Once the series was cancelled, Betz continued in plays and also picked up several television appearances on a variety of shows, such as Love American Style, Medical Center, McCloud, The Mod Squad, Ironside, The FBI, Mission Impossible, BarnabyJones, and Quincy ME. Since he handled comedy so well on The Donna Reed Show, I was surprised to learn that most of his career was spent on drama or crime shows.
In 1977, Betz was diagnosed with lung cancer. He kept the illness a secret until November when he was hospitalized. He died in January of 1978, 56 years young. Ironically, thinking about celebrating fathers, my dad also died at age 56.
From all accounts, Carl Betz wanted to be an actor from a very young age. Fortunately, he was able to spend most of his life in the entertainment business. Unfortunately, his life ended much too early, and his career was cut short. Any time someone can spend their life pursuing their passion, it’s a life well spent. Happy Father’s Day to one of our favorite dads.
There was no specific category for the Wild Wild West when it first debuted in 1965. Part western, part spy, part thriller. Now, it would be called steampunk. Westerns had been extremely popular through the 1950s and into the 1960s, but in the mid-1960s, the spy genre was gaining ground. Creator Michael Garrison combined the two. Secret Service agents Jim West (Robert Conrad) and Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin), work for President Ulysses Grant and travel the country by luxury train, the Wanderer. Oh yeah, and they have a ton of technology to make the job more exciting. Artemis is a master of disguise. Like James Bond, they had clever gadgets on hand, beautiful women in the wings, and delusional, but brilliant, enemies to fight against.
The series debuted in 1965 and ran for four seasons, resulting in 104 episodes. Unfortunately, Garrison died a year into the show and didn’t live to see its completion. The show was filmed at CBS Studio Center. The 70-acre lot was used for Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Gilligan’s Island as well.
The theme song was written by Richard Markowitz. The intro had an animated sequence that continued to be filled in throughout the show. This was quite unique to this program.
Conrad claimed to be the 17th actor to audition for the role of James West. Originally, Rory Calhoun was announced as the co-star. Conrad wore three-inch heels to hide that he was only 5’8”. The casting office was not allowed to hire women over 5’6” for the show. The first few episodes used stuntmen, but Conrad felt that it slowed production down too much, so he volunteered to do his own stunts. During season three, he fell from a chandelier and hit a concrete floor, leaving him with a concussion and weeks of hospitalization for dizziness.
Ross played over 100 different characters during the run of the series. He sketched out the ideas for the characters himself and then worked with the make-up artists to get the right look. During the fourth season, Martin broke a leg when he dropped a rifle, stepped on it, and rolled his foot over it. When the shell ejected, it burned his eye. Ross also suffered from a heart attack in 1968. Several other agents “filled” in for Martin while he recuperated.
Considering the show was only on for four years, it featured a number of guest stars including Ed Asner, John Astin, Jim Backus, Ed Begley, Victor Buono, Jackie Coogan, Yvonne Craig, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Elam, Norman Fell, Bernard Fox, Mary Frann, Beverly Garland, Alan Hale Jr., Boris Karloff, Richard Kiel, Ted Knight, Harvey Korman, Martin Landau, Sue Ane Langdon, Peter Lawford, Ida Lupino, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Phyllis Newman, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Pat Paulsen, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, Pernell Roberts, Katherine Ross, William Schallert, Vito Scotti, Ray Walston, Jesse White, and Keenan Wynn.
The train was also a co-star of the show. The spies had two different trains. The first was used for season one when the shows were filmed in black and white. It was a Sierra Railroad No. 3 which was not built until 1891, a mere technicality I guess. The Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works built it in New Jersey. Footage was shot in Jamestown, California. This same train was the Cannonball in Petticoat Junction.
The shows filmed in color featured a train decorated with green and gold and it was full of fun gadgets. This one was built in 1875 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. It was used in many films over the years.
Both these trains are on display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. They were only featured in exterior shots. The interiors of the trains were designed by art director Albert Heschong with set decorator Raymond Molyneaux. It reportedly cost $35,000 in 1965. To put this in perspective, the average house in 1965 cost less than $4,000! The train was as resourceful as West and Gordon. A remote control under the table could immediately lock the door. A statue turned upside down unlocked a wall safe. A telegraph set was hidden in a book on the desk. Pistols could be fired by activating a fireplace switch. The pool table had exploding balls while cue sticks could fire bullets.
Many of the above-mentioned stars were villains in the show. The most famous villain was Dr. Miguelito Loveless played by Michael Dunn. He had a recurring role, appearing on ten episodes. He always managed to escape at the end of the show. West and Artemis never did catch him and a TV movie filmed later relays that he died in 1880 from ulcers brought on by the stress of his plans always being foiled by West and Gordon.
Like Batman, Jim West always seems to have the right gadget at his disposal when he needs it. Some of his more fun props included a sleeve gun as well as a gun concealed in his heel. He also occasionally carried a blowtorch in his heel. Passkeys were stored under his lapel. He kept a variety of fuses sewn into hems in his clothes. To descend into a pit or be hoisted up on a roof, he had a hand-held motor-driven winch. Glass cutters which often are useful were available. Wires placed in his hat had many uses. Battery-powered drills helped the boys escape metal cages. His kit bag held a large balloon. A miniature player made villains think shot guns were being fired. Of course, every smart secret service man wears a bulletproof vest and is always equipped with tear gas or smoke bombs. They even had a cigar that would produce smoke when thrown on the ground and a coin that exploded when exposed to heat.
There typically were two fights in each episode choreographed by Whitey Hughes. Following the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence was formed. Violence on television was listed as one of the problems, and The Wild Wild West was cited as a violent show. So, despite high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth season as a concession to Congress over television violence.
However, the show was then released into syndication and at one time was listed on 99 different local channels, so the violence on television was not curbed by its cancellation.
Several books and comic books were created based on the show. In 1979, the two stars returned to television with a movie, The Wild Wild West Revisited. In 1980, they showed up again in More Wild Wild West. Rumors existed that the duo would do a reboot of the series, but Ross died in 1981 so it never came to fruition.
A movie was made in 1999 based on the original show, but it was not received well. Will Smith later expressed regret for his role in the film. The Golden Raspberry (Razzie) is awarded to the worst films. When the 1999 film was awarded five Razzies, Conrad accepted them on behalf of the movie to show his displeasure with the remake.
The show’s success primarily stemmed from the fact that Artemus and West trusted each other completely, and their banter and technological gadgets made the show a pleasure to watch. We’ll let the characters have the last word:
Artemus Gordon: “Naomi. ’My sweetness’. That’s what Naomi means in Hebrew, did you know that ?”
Naomi Buckley: “Really ? And what does Artemus mean ?”
James West: “It means ’He who wastes little time‘.”
Fashion trends tend to come and go, but series about the world of models and clothing designers come and go even quicker. Let’s look at a few of the series that centered around the fashion industry.
Love That Jill (1958). While Love That Bob was about a photographer who did take models’ photos from time to time, Love That Jill was about the heads of two rival Manhattan model agencies (played by real life married couple Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling). The show only lasted three months. Jill Johnson runs a top modeling agency, putting her in direct competition with one headed by Jack Gibson. Jack is not above trying to steal her clients, but Jill, with the help of her secretary Richard (Jimmy Lydon), holds her own. Jack also tries to steal her heart, and when they are not fighting about business, Jack and Jill find time for romancing each other. Some of the models on the show were Betty Lynn as Pearl, Polly Rose as Myrtle, Barbara Nichols as Ginger, Nancy Hadley as Melody, and Kay Elhardt as Peaches.
Diana (1973). Diana Rigg (previously Emma Peel on The Avengers) was a divorced woman seeking new life in America. She was a fashion coordinator at Butley’s, a fashionable Fifth Avenue department store, where she was in charge of merchandising and advertising. Her brother has rented an apartment for her, but numerous other people seem to have keys to it as well which leads to some interesting situations. Some of the other characters included commercial model Holly Green (Carol Androsky), Butley’s president Norman Brodnik (David Sheiner), Brodnik’s wife Norma (Barbara Barrie), copywriter and office mate Howard Tolbrook (Richard B . Shull), and window dresser Marshall Tyler (Robert Moore). After four months, Diana switched jobs when her series was cancelled.
Needles and Pins (1973). This show was set in New York’s garment district. Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) owned the Lorelei Fashion House which created women’s clothing. His brother and partner was Harry (Louis Nye) and their designer was Wendy (Deidre Lenihan) who came from Nebraska. Other characters included Sonia the bookkeeper (Sandra Deel), Charlie, a salesman (Bernie Kopell), Max a fabric cutter (Larry Gelman), Myron the patternmaker (Alex Henteloff), and Julius Singer (Milton Selzer) who was their competition in the industry. Apparently, the cast had a right to be on needles and pins because the show only lasted half a season.
Veronica’s Closet (1997-2000). Veronica is the best romance expert around. Unfortunately, her expertise only works for others. If the details about this show and its characters seem confusing to you, you are not alone.
Veronica Chase (Kirstie Alley) owns a lingerie company called Veronica’s Closet. After divorcing her husband of many years (after discovering that he has been cheating on her), she throws herself into her work. She is aided by her best friend, Olive (Kathy Najimy); Josh (Wallace Langham), her secretary whom everybody says is gay but he says he is not; and Leo (Daryl Mitchell) and Perry (Dan Cortese), two other employees.
Ok, get ready to pay attention. At the end of the first season, she took in a partner who died and the dead woman’s inept son took control of the company, wrecking it. In the next season, Alec Bilson, her previous partner’s ex-husband, bought the company from his stepson and decided to work with Veronica, or Ronnie as she is called. And while she didn’t like the arrangement, she liked him. In the third season, after Ronnie and Alec had a fight, he left abruptly and died in an accident, but before he did he married a girl named June who inherited his fortune which included Veronica’s Closet, and she drove Ronnie up the wall.
Apparently, the network felt there were too many fatal accidents and cut the show before another character was killed. While this show lasted three seasons, it actually was almost like three different series.
VERONICA’S CLOSET, (top, l to r) Daryl Mitchell, Robert Prosky, Kirstie Alley, Alan F. Smith, Kathy Najimy, (sitting) Wallace Langham, Dan Cortese, 1997-2000
Just Shoot Me (1997-2003). Hot-tempered journalist Maya Gallo (Laura San Giancomo) got herself fired from yet another job when she made an anchorwoman cry on the air with some gag copy on the teleprompter. Unable to find a job anywhere else and facing eviction, she is forced to go work for Blush, her father’s (Jack Gallo played by George Segal) fashion magazine. Maya’s father was a workaholic while she was growing up and has been divorced four times. Their time working together provides them the opportunity to heal their relationship, and Jack eventually turns over the company to his daughter. Personality conflicts quickly ensue with high-strung ex-model who can’t accept the fact that she has aged and her fans have forgotten her, Nina van Horn (Wendie Malick), philandering photographer Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni), and wise-guy secretary Dennis Finch (David Spade).
This show won its time slot most seasons which is amazing because the network moved it around quite often. The first six episodes were shown in one month. The next season it was given a great schedule on Thursday night between Friends and Seinfeld. When Seinfeld ended its show, Just Shoot Me was moved to Tuesday. For the fifth season, it was moved back to Thursdays between Will & Grace and ER where it remained for two years, getting high ratings. However, for the seventh season, several characters left the show, and it once again aired on Tuesdays. The ratings never recovered and it was cancelled.
Ugly Betty (2006-2010). This show was based on a Colombian telenovela, “Yo soy Betty, la fea” published in 1999. A young and wise woman named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), from Queens, goes on a journey to find her inner beauty. The only problem is that it’s hard for an unattractive woman to find her beauty surrounded by tall skinny models at a fashion magazine, but Betty doesn’t let this stop her or her positive attitude towards her work.
When publishing mogul Bradford Meade puts his son Daniel (Eric Mabius) in charge of his Mode magazine, he hires Betty to be Daniel’s new assistant — mostly because he knows that she may be the only woman in Manhattan with whom the younger man won’t sleep. Betty’s hard work and determination earn Daniel’s respect, as she helps him find his way through hurdles of the fashion industry. Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Becki Newton, Michael Urie, Mark Indelicato, Vanessa Williams, and Judith Light also play characters on the show.
This is the other fashion show that made it more than three years, and it was also moved around the schedule. The first three years it had its highest ratings on Thursday nights. When ratings dropped after season 3, it was moved to Fridays. Fans protested and the show moved to Wednesdays airing with Modern Family and Cougar Town, but it never recovered its previous high ratings and was cancelled. In the finale, Betty accepts a job in London, and Daniel leaves the magazine.
Lipstick Jungle (2008). A look at the lives of Nico Reilly, the editor-in-chief of Bonfire magazine (Kim Raver), Wendy Healy, former president of Parador Pictures (Brooke Shields), and Victory Ford, a fashion designer (Lindsay Price) — three of “New York’s 50 Most Powerful Women,” according to The New York Post. I’m not saying they are shallow, but apparently there was not much to look at because the show only lasted 20 episodes. Andrew McCarthy, Paul Blackthorne, and Robert Buckley also were part of the regular cast.
This was another series based on a novel, Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Although the show debuted during the year a major writer’s strike was taking place, it never picked up any substantial ratings and was cancelled.
That Girl (1966-1971). While That Girl was not technically about on the fashion industry, Anne Marie is known for her incredible wardrobe. In a blog about fashion series, I felt it had to be included.
A young girl who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress may not sound like revolutionary television, but this was 1966, and Marlo Thomas was an “unlikely pioneer in a flip coif and a Technicolor minidress.” She said this was the first show where a single, perky career gal learned to navigate the big city. She based the concept on her life about a girl who graduated from college, whose parents wanted her to get married while she wants to be an actress. Fans watched the show to see how Ann Marie would fare in the big city, but they also tuned in to see what she was wearing. Thomas personally chose her entire wardrobe for the show and wore many current designers’ creations. One of the designers she chose was Marilyn Lewis.
Six years before the show debuted, Lewis and her husband Harry ran a restaurant chain called Hamburger Hamlet. She decided to launch a ready-to-wear line of clothing. She could not sew but wanted to design quality apparel. She named her collection Cardinali, and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman couldn’t get enough of her designs. Marlo Thomas, along with other celebrities such as Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale, and Dyan Cannon also bought her outfits. A feature on Marilyn Lewis provided the following details about the designer in 2007:
As a girl growing up in Cleveland, Lewis invented the name Cardinali in homage to her absent father. She was told that he was living in Italy, and at 5 she rechristened herself Cardinali. In her first year of designing, Lewis created a 35-piece collection of suits, dresses and gowns. Her clothes, which Cameron Silver, who owns the Los Angeles vintage boutique Decades, will be showcasing in early June, are a mix of hard and soft: a tweed maxi skirt paired with a floral chiffon blouse, a wool jersey turtleneck halter gown with a plunging back. And Cardinali loved accouterment — a wool bouclé winter coat has a bag and hat to match; a floaty summer day dress comes with its own attached scarf. There is a metallic jumpsuit that Dyan Cannon wore on her first date with Cary Grant, and there is a demure silk gown with ruffles that Nancy Reagan ordered in red. Perhaps Lewis’s most famous designs were worn by Marlo Thomas in the TV show “That Girl.” The chiffon floral dress with its matching frilly umbrella that Thomas twirls during the opening credits says everything about being young and enthralled by Manhattan.
The Cardinali archive is currently stored in the Lewises’ condominium near Century City. Marilyn and Harry rent out their home in Beverly Hills and live in the 5,000-square-foot penthouse, with its breathtaking views of Los Angeles. The condo is decorated with Hamlet memorabilia, modern art and posters from Marilyn’s third career, as a movie producer. Her documentary, “Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol,” was critically acclaimed, and “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” which starred Helen Mirren, was on Showtime in 1998; Mirren won an Emmy for her performance. “As usual, when I became a producer, my husband thought I was crazy,” Lewis said in her apartment, as she presented each piece of Cardinali. “As usual, I never had doubt, but Harry always has the doubt for me. Luckily he trusts me. I could never have done any of this alone. Harry was always my producer.” She paused. “And I still can’t figure him out after all these years.”
With the fashion industry such an influence in our pop culture, it’s hard to believe that there have been only a few sitcoms about the design and modeling business. Although, I must admit that while I’m writing this, I realize that the only one of these shows I watched before I researched this blog was That Girl. Maybe the fashion business is too cut-throat to be funny, or maybe the fashion trends would date the show too much. While That Girl was one of my favorite shows, I will also admit that one of the reasons I watch today is to watch all those adorable outfits Anne Marie wears.
The Partridge Family (ABC) later seasons (1971 – 1974) Shown from left: (top) Brian Forster, Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough; (front) David Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey
Ask any girl who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies and they will tell you their favorite night of television was Friday. We looked forward to watching The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style, but the first hour of the night was the only “can’t miss” one. Boys coming of age in that era might have a tough time deciding between Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, but almost every girl will tell you Keith Partridge beat out Greg Brady hands down. Like most nine-year-olds in 1970, I had a huge crush on Keith Partridge. Watching the episodes today takes me right back to that time, and I feel like a kid on Friday night again.
The Partridge Family aired from 1970-1974, and the concept was based on the Cowsills. The Cowsill family grew up in Rhode Island, and by 1967 the band consisted of siblings ages 8-19 and their mother. Although the group no longer includes all the siblings, they still tour and record.
I still enjoy watching the episodes today. Even though the show is filled with nostalgia as far as clothing and interior décor, the problems faced by the Partridge Family were primarily the same problems faced by all families with kids and many of the shows have a timeless appeal. I’m not sure that anyone not growing up during that time period realizes the impact of the Partridge Family. I still have the Partridge Family game, we had trading cards that were collected and the back of the cards put together formed a puzzle. I had paperback books featuring the Partridge Family and lots of kids had albums, lunch boxes and other collectible memorabilia. Danny is often referred to as a brat, but I like the character of Danny Partridge. Then again, I liked all the Partridge Family members.
However, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is the unbelievable guest stars that the show was able to attract. Of course, Shirley Jones was a well-liked and famous movie star and she had a lot of connections in the industry. However, the names of the people who appeared on an episode of The Partridge Family during those four short years is incredible. I counted more than 50 looking at various shows over the years. Let’s look at some of those guest stars.
Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, from the Wizard of Oz both made appearances. Ray Bolger played Shirley Partridge’s father on several shows. Margaret Hamilton is Rueben’s mother.
Two Dick Van Dyke Show cast members were featured: Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Sorrel and Ann Morgan Guilbert, Milly Helper. Amsterdam provided Danny with some bad comedy material in the first season. Guilbert is married to Norman Fell in the show and they visit Shirley when their son Keith’s age develops a crush on Shirley which he mistakenly thinks is reciprocated.
In addition to Ann and Morey, there were a lot of previous sitcom stars on the show. John Astin from the Addams Family, plays an eccentric millionaire. Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, plays a judge which he also portrayed in the movie, Move Over Darling, starring Doris Day and James Garner. Rosemary DeCamp played Shirley’s mother. Rosemary had been featured on lots of tv shows. She was on Love That Bob and was Ann Marie’s mother on That Girl. Arte Johnson from Laugh-In was in two episodes, one as an artist who paints a nude on the family garage when they are out of town. Harry Morgan, a sitcom veteran, played, a man faking whiplash in the first season and appeared again in 1972 as another character. William Schallert who was Patty Lane’s father on The Patty Duke Show stars as a folk musician whose career has taken a nose dive. Ronne Troup who played Polly on My Three Sons was on the show as the fourth season began as their neighbor complains about their music.
Not only were the past tv stars featured but a lot of up and coming stars showed up. MeredithBaxter gifts a million dollars to the Partridges and they find they don’t enjoy being wealthy. Bert Convy played one of Shirley’s serious boyfriends on three shows. Norman Fell is the father of a young man who gets a crush on Shirley when she goes back to school using her maiden name. He later married Helen and was Stanley Roper on Three’s Company. Pat Harrington Jr. appeared the first season and came back as someone else three years later. While he was in hundreds of tv episodes, he is probably most often recognized as Schneider from One Day at a Time. The Partridges try to set up Ann Jillian with their delivery boy to build up his confidence. If she had dated him, she might not have ended up a waitress on It’s a Living. Gordon Jump who was a veteran tv guest star, best known as Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati, was on seven episodes as different characters. Richard Mulligan appeared in one show as Shirley’s boyfriend but also came back for another episode two years later; we know him as Burt on Soap and Dr. Westin on Empty Nest. Annette O’Toole plays Keith’s girlfriend in the second season; later her marriage with Nash doesn’t work out on NashBridges. Rob Reiner, who will soon be “Meathead” on All in The Family, appears as Snake, a rough biker with a heart of gold who likes Laurie. VicTayback who we know best as Mel on Alice appeared as three different characters on three different shows, Nancy Walker is the mother of Shirley’s date before she was Rhoda’s mom in later years.
Three of the five Charlie’s Angels showed up on different shows: Farrah Fawcett was a “pretty girl” the kids hire to try to get Harry Morgan to reveal that his whiplash is not real. Cheryl Ladd is the popular girl Keith wants to take to the dance after promising to take Laurie’s friend. Jaclyn Smith plays the niece of Shirley’s boyfriend. When he buys her a ring for graduation, the kids assume she is his fiancé and take matters into their own hands.
We had big stars from different genres including Johnny Cash playing himself and introducing the first concert the family is performing in Vegas. Richard Pryor talks the Partridges into playing for his charity event, and Bobby Sherman plays a singer, Bobby Conway. This episode actually turned into a spinoff for a short time.
Many famous or soon-to-be-famous movie stars can be spied on episodes including JackieCoogan who replaced Ray Bolger as Shirley’s father on two later shows. Jodie Foster and Danny have a love/hate relationship when their parents are dating. Lou Gosset Jr., producing a charity event with Richard Pryor, asks the Partridges to fill in when a group cancels. MarkHamill is Laurie’s boyfriend before he even knew Princess Leia. Charlotte Rae, a bit out of her typical character, plays a doctor.
I could continue, but every blog has to end sometime. It is amazing how many famous people were willing to appear in a new sitcom not only once but up to seven times as seven different characters. It says a lot about the reputation of the show. Let’s finish up with some fun facts about the show.
Shirley Jones was recruited to be Carol Brady but passed and took The Partridge Family
Partridge had passed away in the first episode, but his first name is never mentioned on the show.
Rueben Kincaid’s middle name is Clarence.
When the Partridges are asked to replace another musical act for a charity event put on by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr., the group that cancelled is the Temptations.
When Laurie gets braces, she can hear radio signals in her mouth, and it interferes with her performing. The music she “hears” in her mouth is The Rolling Stones.