The Butler Did It

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When we mention the word butler, we usually think of the prim and proper English gentleman, stern-faced, polishing the silver, decanting the wine, and keeping an eye on the staff.

According to the International Butler Academy, there are a few million butlers serving today. They typically take care of travel arrangements, packing, household finances, and other general duties. Salaries vary from $50,000-$150,000 per year, but most include room and board, the use of a car, a cell phone, and 4 weeks of vacation.

When we think about butlers on television, some might come to mind quickly:  Lurch on The Addams Family, Alfred from Batman, Hudson from Upstairs, Downstairs, Benson from Soap, and Mr. Caron from Downton Abby.

Today, let’s look at shows that feature a butler as one of the main characters. This was an interesting blog for me.  I had only seen 1 of these 5 shows, so I learned a lot this week.

Our Man Higgins (1962-63)

Alice and Duncan MacRoberts are looking forward to receiving an unexpected inheritance from Scotland.  You can only imagine what they were hoping for.  Instead, they received a butler, Higgins. Higgins is the proper butler who lends a hand with their adventurous children while they teach him how to relax and have fun. Sterling Holloway played Higgins.  After 34 episodes, the network gave Higgins way more than 4 weeks of vacation.

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The Good Life (1971)

In between I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas, Larry Hagman starred in this show with Donna Mills, David Wayne, Danny Goldman, and Hermione Baddeley. Albert and Jane Miller were middle class citizens, tired of their boring routines.  They got the crazy idea to find work as servants for a wealthy family. Their employer, Charles Dutton, hires them as a butler and cook, not realizing they haven’t been professionally trained.  His wife is constantly trying to find ways to get them fired.  Dutton’s son Nick discovers their true identity and thinks the whole thing is hilarious, so he never gives their secret away.  The network apparently didn’t see the humor Nick did because they cancelled the show after 13 weeks.  In the show’s defense, it was up against All in The Family which scored incredible ratings when it aired.

The Two of Us (1981-82)

Nan Gallagher (Mimi Kennedy) is a television talk show host and a single mother.  She decides to place an ad to hire a nanny and ends up with Robert Brentwood (Peter Cook), an English butler. He is able to use his many talents, including being multilingual and a gourmet cook.  The show also features Nan’s agent Cubby Royce (Oliver Clarke) and her daughter Gabrielle (Dana Hill). The show came in as a replacement in 1981 and the critics gave it high praise.  Most of them wrote about the intelligent writing and the chemistry between the cast.  Unfortunately, when it entered the schedule the next fall, the ratings fell.  After 20 episodes, the network decided to send Brentwood back to England.

 

Mr. Belvedere (1985-1990)

Based on a novel and a movie, Mr. Belvedere debuted in 1985. Christopher Hewitt plays Lynn Aloysius Belvedere, a proper English butler, who previously worked for Winston Churchill and has connections to the royal family. The Owens place an ad for someone to help watch the kids and guess who answers the ad?  Mr. Belvedere has an ulterior purpose. He is recording their experiences in his diary so he can write a novel later. George Owens, played perfectly by Bob Uecker, is a sportswriter and his wife Marsha (Ilene Graff) is a law student.  Mr. Belvedere bonds with the kids no matter how hard he tries not to: teen Kevin (Rob Stone), tweener Heather (Tracy Wells), and grade school age Wesley (Brice Beckham).

Marblehead Manor

Randolf Stonehill (Bob Fraser) is the third generation to own Marblehead Manor which is somewhere in New England. Albert Dudley (Paxton Whitehead) is the third generation to work as a butler at Marblehead Manor. Randolf is the heir to a corn oil fortune. He is married to Hillary (Linda Thorson). The staff at the manor is quite a bunch of eccentrics.  There’s Jerry (Phil Morris) the chauffeur, Dwayne (Rodney Scott Hudson) the handyman, Lupe (Dyana Ortelli) the cook and her son Elvis (Humberto Ortiz), and Rick (Michael Richards) the gardner. To add an even weirder spin, the characters often dress as other people for comic effect.

After watching a few of these episodes, you just might decide to attend the International Butler Academy. It looks like an interesting life.

 

 

Remembering William Christopher

I wanted to pay a tribute to William Christopher, who passed away December 31, 2016, exactly one year after Wayne Rogers, one of his co-workers on the show M*A*S*H.

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Christopher was born in Evanston, Illinois October 20, 1932. Growing up in that area, he attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, the same high school as Rock Hudson.  His family’s genealogy apparently included Paul Revere. Ironically, his grandmother hoped he would go into the ministry like his grandfather who was the founder of the First Methodist Church in Chicago, and in some ways, he did. Christopher went to college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, graduating with a BA in Drama, focusing on Greek Literature. (In the last episode of M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahy wears a Wesleyan sweatshirt.) He participated in fencing, soccer, and the glee club in college.  Connecticut was also where he met his wife Barbara on a blind date.  They married in 1957 and later adopted twin boys, John and Ned.

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Building on his theater experience which began with him playing a groundhog in the third grade, he moved to New York.  Eventually he made his Broadway debut in Beyond the Fringe where he worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Not long after, he moved to California to continue acting.

He began his work in television in 1965 appearing in 12 O’Clock High. For the next seven years, he worked regularly appearing in Hank in 1965, The Patty Duke Show in 1966, 2 appearances in The Andy Griffith Show in 1965 and 1966, Death Valley Days in 1966, four separate episodes of Hogan’s Heroes from 1965-68, Gomer Pyle where he was in 16 episodes from 1965-8, That Girl in two episodes as Chippy Dolan, The Virginian in 1971, Alias Smith and Jones in 1971, Insight in 1972, and 4 shows of Nichols from 1971-2.

Along with his television roles, he appeared on the big screen during this period. His first movie was Fortune Cookie in 1966 where he played an intern, The Perils of Pauline in 1967 as a doctor, The Private Navy of Sargent O’ Farrell in 1968 as Private Jake Schultz, The Shakiest Gun in the West in 1968 as a hotel manager, and With Six You Get Egg Roll in 1968. With Six You Get Egg Roll was Doris Day’s last movie before she moved into television and then retired. After playing so many military and religious roles, this one was out of character as he played a hippie Zip Cloud along with future M*A*S*H member Jamie Farr.wc6

In 1972 he got his big break, being cast as Father Mulcahy in the television version of M*A*S*H. George Morgan, who was cast in the pilot, was replaced and Christopher received the role. Morgan appeared in four series and three movies before the pilot, but only two other series after. M*A*S*H was on the air from 1972-1983, and Christopher was in 213 of the 251 episodes. Fans loved the goodness Father Mulcahy displayed, along with his humanness when the inhumanity of war tried his patience and frustrated him. Some of his best lines from the show included:

“This isn’t one of my sermons; I expect you to listen.”

“Klinger, how’d you like the last rites…and a few lefts!”

“I think the world of Colonel Potter. He’s a good Christian – yet hardly dull at all.”

“Remember what the good book says: Love thy neighbor, or I’ll punch your lights out!”

While he was part of the M*A*S*H cast, he appeared on other series including Columbo and Movin’ On in 1974, Lucas Tanner, Karen, and Good Times in 1975. Like so many of the stars we meet in this blog, he was on The Love Boat in four episodes from 1981-4. He appeared again on the big screen in the movie Hearts of the West in 1975 as a bank teller. He also made a TV movie, For the Love of It in 1980.

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In 1983, the series After MASH debuted, and Christopher reprised his role of Father Mulcahy along with Harry Morgan as Dr. Sherman Potter, Jamie Farr as Klinger and Gary Burghoff as Radar. The show was not a great success and ended after 30 episodes.

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Christopher never had another recurring role in a television show, but he continued to work in the business appearing in Murder She Wrote in 1985, CBS Summer Playhouse in 1987, The Smurfs 6 times from 1984-88, The New WKRP in Cincinnati in 1993, Lois and Clark: Adventures of Superman in 1997, Diagnosis Murder, Team Knight Rider, and Mad About You in 1998. His last television role was in 11 episodes of Days of Our Lives where he played a priest. In 1987 he made his second TV movie, The Little Troll Prince.

During the years of 1975-2011 he also appeared on several game shows, talk shows, and M*A*S*H-related specials and reunions. In 1994 he made his last movie, Heaven Sent.

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He continued his love of theater touring the country with Jamie Farr in The Odd Couple in the mid-1990s. He also toured with the Church Basement Ladies in 2008-9.

Christopher was generous with his time, helping to raise money for the National Autistic Society (NAS).  The organization was near and dear to his heart because his son Ned suffers from autism. He and his wife wrote a book in 1985, Mixed Blessings, about their experience with their son.

 

William Christopher is revealed to be a very nice man liked by everyone who worked with him.  He was married to Barbara for the rest of his life, was a good family man, generous in working with the NAS, and had a full career.

After Christopher died, Alan Alda tweeted “His pals from #MASH miss Bill powerfully. His kind strength, his grace and gentle humor weren’t acted. They were Bill.”

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Jamie Farr summed it up best in his tribute to his friend and co-worker:

We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, “With Six You Get Egg Roll.” We were both cast in the tv series “M*A*SH” at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and in my opinion probably the most underrated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.