We All Love Gracie: The Burns and Allen Show

I am excited that today is my 100th blog, and I have saved a very special show for the occasion. Today you learn everything you ever wanted to know about the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, one of my all-time favorites.

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The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, which premiered on 12 October 1950, was one of the first comedy series to make the successful transition from radio to television. When George and Gracie started in show business, Gracie was the “straight man,” but George figured out quickly that the audience responded to her immediately. They switched roles and they never veered from the formula again. The Burns and Allen Show was the first domestic comedy set in a real couple’s home and the first television series to depict the home life of a working show business couple.

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CBS was lucky enough to have Burns and Allen on their radio and television networks. In 1930, an NBC executive told them the public would not accept them and Gracie’s voice was too squeaky! William Paley was a huge fan of their comedy and wanted them to try this new medium. The television show was very similar to their radio show. One of the first tag lines for the show was “You’ve HEARD them on radio, now SEE them on television.”

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Ralph Levy was the first producer/director. Previously he had worked on variety shows and sports events. When he and George first met, it was not a great first impression. He thought it was the craziest concept he had ever heard for a show. George considered him a bit of a young punk. They put aside their differences and not only became close friends but greatly respected each other’s business decisions. Ralph would leave in 1953 to work for Jack Benny. When Jack did not have weekly shows, Ralph was working for both comedians, but the jobs became too much for one person.

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Ralph Levy with George and Gracie

The show was broadcast on Thursdays from October of 1950 until March of 1953. From March of 1953 until September of 1958 when it went off the air, it was on Monday nights. Originally, it was staged live and broadcast every other week. In the fall of 1952, they decided on a weekly format. Shows debuting in New York were considered better commercial successes, so the first six episodes were set in the Mansfield Theatre in New York. The West Coast would not see the show until two weeks after the East Coast did. A kinescope was filmed with a 16 mm camera. Duplicates were made, and these shows were sent on kinescopes across the country. In December of 1950, the cast was allowed to go back home to California to film the rest of the series.

In 1951, George would broadcast all over the US with the placement of coaxial cables. George realized filming the episodes would allow for syndication of the show. The show continued for eight years, producing 239 filmed episodes.

Burns and Allen started McCadden Productions. It was named for the street where George’s brother Willy, one of the writers of the show, lived on. Willy was also their manager. They employed more than 300 people and would go on to produce many shows including Mister Ed and the Bob Cummings Show. George truly valued everyone’s opinion and anyone, even the janitor, could make comments and suggestions for improvements.

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It was a grueling schedule to stick to for eight years. George and the writers met Monday morning. Gracie had wardrobe fittings and studied the newest script. They had rehearsals on Tuesdays, and Wednesdays were typically 12-hour days with filming beginning after another rehearsal. Thursday was Gracie’s only day off. The writers met Thursday as well as all day Friday. On Friday Gracie went shopping for her next show’s wardrobe. George devoted Saturday to narrowing down the script to fit the shooting time. On Sunday George and Gracie met with the director at 10 am to go over the script. Sunday afternoon and evening (as well as other scattered times during the week) Gracie studied and memorized the script.

Carnation Milk became a sponsor immediately and would stay with the show for all eight years. Carnation was like another character on the series. Actors were pitchmen for the products and commercial breaks were often part of the show. Gracie had their milk in full view in her kitchen. Their prop man who helped with this for all eight years was Nat Thurman.

George took his writers off to Palm Springs to work on the new show. The head writer was Paul Henning who would later go on to write, produce, and direct many classic sitcoms including The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. The other writers were Sid Dorfman, Harvey Helm, Willy Burns and George. The writers were truly funny.  One day Jack Benny sent George a telegram from London.  It just read “What’s new?” George and his writers took an entire afternoon to answer it. They told Jack everything that was new including restaurant menus.

photo posted on post-gazette.com

Paul Henning

The show would often begin with George doing a monologue with his trusty cigar that would explain the beginning of the plot to the viewers. George frequently spoke to the audience during the show. In later years, he would retire to his study to watch the show on his television, therefore knowing what was going on in his absence. The rest of the cast was oblivious to the fact he could do so.

The first show had a very simple plot which was the key to many of their episodes. Gracie and Blanche want to go to the movies. The boys want to go to the fights. George makes up a complicated card game that doesn’t really make sense. He thought the nonsense rules would confuse the girls who would get mad and quit. Instead, Gracie thought the rules made perfect sense and she won the game, dragging the boys to the movies.

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The Burns lived at 312 Maple Drive in Beverly Hills and their best friends and next-door neighbors, Blanche and Harry Morton, lived at 320 Maple Dr. The sets were copied from the Burns’ actual home. A shot of their real home was used on the show for exterior scenes. George continued to live in the house even when they became quite wealthy and George was still living there when he passed away at age 100.The house still exists today. They were not arrogant people. Gracie continued to wear the same $20 engagement ring George bought for her when they had no money.

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The edge of the Burns’ swimming pool which was sometimes seen in the live episodes was an eighteen-inch tank of water which was designed to be quickly rolled on and off the stage. Lighting tricks were employed to create the illusion that the shallow tank had depth. George used the pool in his asides to the audience. One time he was supposed to have fallen in, and he showed up dry and made a comment about how quick things happen on television. Later he has to go into the pool again. He once again is seen completely dry, but this time he says nothing and he wrings a bunch of water out of his cigar.

Starting in the fall of 1955, Burns and Allen would often reappear after the end of the episode, before a curtain decorated with the names and locations of the various theaters where they headlined in their vaudeville days. They would perform one of their routines, often discussing Gracie’s relatives.

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The theme music was “Love Nest,” composed by Otto Harbach and Louis Hirsch. It was written for a musical comedy show, “Mary.” There are lyrics, but only the instrumental version was used on the Burns and Allen Show.

Bill Goodwin and Harry Von Zell

Several staff members transitioned from radio with George and Gracie. Bill Goodwin continued to play himself, providing announcing duties. When he left in the second season to host his own show, Harry Von Zell took over the announcing duties. In real-life, Harry Von Zell had written several episodes of Wagon Train in 1957. The writers incorporated it into the show by having Harry pitch George ideas for western-themed shows. That year, George dressed like a cowboy from time to time and would say things like, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”

Bea Benaderet and Larry Keating

Bea Benaderet also moved from radio to television. She was Blanche Morton for the run of the show, but she went through several husbands (Hal March, John Brown, Fred Clark, and Larry Keating). George was extremely creative in his interaction with the audience. Hal March did the first seven shows; John Brown took over the for the next ten months; and Fred Clark was Harry through 1953 for 74 episodes. In a program “Morton Buys Iron Deer/Gracie Thinks George Needs Glasses,” Blanche is holding a catalog ready to hit Harry who spent $200 on an iron deer. George walks on stage and stops the action. He introduces Larry Keating and tells Bea that he is her new husband. They have a small chat about each other’s work. George stops them and says if they are that nice to each other, no one will believe they are married. He gives a cue, Blanche resumes her position, and hits Harry when he re-enters the scene.

Fred Clark, Hal March and John Brown

Bea and Gracie were close friends. Blanche truly loved Gracie and was extremely loyal to her. They laughed continuously. Bea also loved Gracie in their personal lives.

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George and Gracie’s daughter Sandra and son Ronnie also appeared in the show. In later years, Ronnie would become a regular. Ronnie became very popular; he and Gracie often covered for each other with George, and Ronnie was often busy trying to get her out of a bad situation. When he joined in 1955, the show moved back to New York. Harry Morton gets a temporary job there, so the Burns family went too. This change called for new sets, including the hotel where they all were living and Rumpelmayer’s sandwich and ice cream shop.

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Ronnie Burns

In the seventh year, the cast went back to Los Angeles. Fred de Cordova, who had taken over for Ralph Levy, left after three years to direct movies. Rod Amateau was brought on for the final two years.  In many ways, the seventh season was their most creative—this is when the “magic” TV screen appeared.

While the ensemble around them was incredible, the heart of the show was Gracie. Gracie always said that her character believed she was the smart one and everyone else was a little off. There was always a touch of reality in her logic. Gracie played her that way and the audience felt protective of her.

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Gracie was a bit of a perfectionist, but no one worked harder than her. If she had to perform a task on the show, she did it. In a New York Times article, she commented, “It makes me furious to see an actor go through the motion of writing an address on a piece of paper. They scribble it off in a second and you know they couldn’t have written anything.” Whenever Allen performed a task on the show, whether it was writing a name, sewing a handkerchief, or chopping up vegetables, she meticulously performed the duty while reciting her dialogue.

Everyone around her said she never blew her lines and was in almost every scene. George described her work ethic in his book I Love Her That’s Why: “On the set she gives absolutely no trouble and makes no demands. She arrives on time, does the job, jokes with the crew, and in general behaves less like a star than any actress I know.”

During the eight years that the show was on the air, Gracie Allen never appeared in the same outfit twice, and she had three costume changes in some episodes. Gracie Allen chose her own wardrobe. Jane Vogt was the wardrobe mistress for the rest of the cast. Bertha French was the show’s hair stylist and Gene Roemer did make-up. Gracie trusted Gene so much she typically slept while he got her ready.

The writers knew there were a few rules for writing for Gracie. Cheryl Blythe and Susan Sackett sum them up in their book Say Goodnight Gracie!: “(1) She thinks she is smart. (2) Keep her reactions consistent from week to week. (3) Her logic was illogical and her illogic was logical and then her reasoning worked.” Examples of her logic are: “Shorter cars use so much more gas. With a short car, you have to travel further to go the same distance.”  When the delivery boy tells Gracie he’s in a hurry because Mrs. Vanderlip is waiting for a chicken to make sandwiches, Gracie tells him she’ll wait a long time because it took her 2 years to teach their canary to sing.  Gracie keeps her clocks unplugged to save electricity. When she wants to know the time, she plugs it in.  Or take the time she froze a bunch of water; it will save her time when she needs it because she just has to defrost it.

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George gave Gracie most of the credit. Once he commented “You see, to be a straight man you have to have a talent, you have to develop this talent, then you gotta marry her like I did.” The audience liked George because they intuitively realized he adored Gracie.

George was the calm in the middle of the storm around him. Because he always knew what was going on, he remained relaxed when everyone else was confused. And the audience loved the fact that he shared information with them, so they were in on the fun.

Allen announced her retirement on February 17, 1958—effective at the end of the current season. Burns and Allen filmed their last show June 4, 1958.  The plot of the final program was Ronnie fearing he was going to lose his girlfriend to an exchange student. The filming was an emotional experience, although nothing was said about it being Allen’s last performance in the show itself. At the wrap party, Allen took a token sip of champagne from a paper cup, hugged her friend and co-star Bea, and said “Okay, that’s it.” After a brief last look around the set, she said, “And thank you very much, everyone.”

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“She deserved a rest,” Burns said. He explained that she had been working all her life and her lines were the hardest to learn. She had to memorize every word because some lines didn’t make sense.

Although Burns and Allen was never among the top-rated series, it maintained consistently high ratings throughout its eight seasons. The show received a total of twelve Emmy nominations: four for best comedy series, six for Allen as best actress and comedienne, and two for Bea Benaderet as best supporting actress.

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Inspired writing complemented the comic performances, making Burns and Allen an all-time classic. The show holds up remarkably well. The writers purposely kept topical and political humor out of the scripts. They also made sure there were no specific references to the 1950s, so the show did not sound dated in reruns. Their words can say it much better than I ever could, so here are some examples of their creative scripts.

 

Ralph Hanley: I’m here to help you with your income taxes.

Gracie: Oh, we’re glad, we got tired of paying them all ourselves.

 

Ralph: For medical you put down a full-length mirror, $50.

Gracie: That’s right, I got it for my father, so he won’t get pneumonia.

Ralph: How’s that?

Gracie: Well, you see, before he only had a half-length mirror, so when he went outside he forgot his pants.

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George: Would you ever think that such a beautiful mink coat would come from such an unattractive little thing that looks like a weasel?

Gracie: Oh, George, you’re just fishing—you know I think you’re handsome.

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Blanche: I just got a phone call from Lucille Vanderlip and she told me Margie Bates got a beautiful diamond bracelet from her husband.

Gracie: I can’t believe it.

Blanche: Why not?

Gracie: If Lucille’s husband gave another woman a diamond bracelet, you’d think she’d be the last one to mention it.

Blanche: Er . . . Gracie . . . you misunderstood me.

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Gracie: The night before last, George came home from the office feeling terrible.

Blanche: Probably flu.

Gracie: No, he drove the car.

 

My top ten favorite shows are:

#13, March 15, 1951: The Vanderlips are having a party. Gracie was hoping they would invite the Mortons but there is no room, so she and George decide not to go so they can spend time with Blanche and Harry. Once Burns and Allen decline, the Vanderlips call the Mortons because they now have room, so the Mortons happily attend.

#17, February 12,1953: On the train home from San Francisco, Gracie thinks one of the passengers is planning on murdering his wife. She reports it and confuses the cops who believe Harry Morton has killed Blanche who is missing. Blanche actually is off on a shopping trip.

#38, August 3, 1953: Gracie is a witness to a bank heist. Johnny Velvet, the gangster behind the crime (played by one of my favorites, Sheldon Leonard), kidnaps Gracie so she cannot testify in court. After a couple hours, he takes her back because she is driving him crazy. He decides to kidnap George instead, but his men keep nabbing the wrong guy.

#40, August 17, 1953: Gracie is shopping in a department store when she trips. The store wants to settle quickly before it turns into a big lawsuit. Gracie thinks they are trying to sue her for putting a hole in the carpet. The adjustor meets her and assumes the store is in bigger trouble because she now has a head injury.

#79, April 5, 1954: Gracie, known for denting the car, explains the new ding when she tells him an elephant sat on the car. No one believes her. When the circus owner comes to the house to bring her a check for damages, George thinks it’s a prank to convince him, so he tears up the check. George finally realizes an elephant did indeed sit on the car.

#90, August 2, 1954: George and Gracie decide they want to see a movie with some friends. They are having a tough time coming up with a movie that someone in the group has not already seen. They finally find one everyone can agree on, but then someone else stops by to go with the group and they have seen it.

#118, January 3, 1955: Gracie is talking with a woman in the post office. She wants to retrieve a letter she mailed asking her husband for a divorce. She wrote it when he refused to let her mother come visit. Harry Von Zell overhears part of the discussion and assumes Gracie is divorcing George because he won’t let her mother come. He finally convinces George to invite Gracie’s mother. When George learns the actual story, he fires Harry again.

#192, June 4, 1956: George has given his coat to Harry Von Zell to use because he’s taking a date to the Stork Club. George gets locked into the steam room at the club and can’t get out till morning. He tells Gracie why he didn’t come home, but someone returns his coat from the Stork Club, so she thinks he is lying. He has to bring over everyone who had been involved in getting him out of the steam room to convince her he is telling the truth.

#213, October 29, 1956: Gracie misunderstands a conversation, thinking that the Mortons are moving to Pasadena. Gracie decides she and George will move too and tries to sell their house. As a subplot, Ronnie’s fraternity initiation requires him to say the exact opposite of what people expect to hear for a day. Having Gracie and Ronnie there all day truly confuses George.

#219, Ronnie is dating a girl he met at the store where he works. He leaves his coat at her house and her mother drops it off for him. Gracie assumes the mother is Ronnie’s girlfriend. She decides to get Ronnie fired from his job so he is no longer working with the older woman. She also mentions his seeing an older woman to his real girlfriend, not knowing who she is. Luckily, George sees this on his study television, so he is able to straighten out the mess.

If you have never seen the show, you might want to check out some of these on YouTube. There are also numerous DVD collections from their show specifically to sets of golden age classics variety packs. You can also catch their show on Antenna TV from 5-6 am every weekday, 4-5 am Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well as 9 pm Saturday night and 11 pm Sunday night.

Do We Have Reservations? Yes We Do.

February has finally arrived.   Some of us are getting a bit tired of winter, so this is a popular month for travel to a warmer destination.  If you aren’t able to physically get away, stay home and watch the February Sweeps, the only time you’re guaranteed new episodes of your favorite show for a month straight.  This week I decided to look at sitcoms set in hotels or resorts.  I did not discuss Fantasy Island or The Love Boat because I thought we could talk about them another time.

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Based on the length of many of these shows, the hotel business is a tough one to be successful in. Let’s look at a bunch of shows that didn’t last too long.

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Stanley was a show starring Buddy Hackett and his girlfriend played by Carol Burnett that aired in 1956. Stanley ran a newsstand in the lobby of a New York City hotel. The hotel owner was played by Paul Lynde.  The show was cancelled in March of 1957, supporting the philosophy that no news is good news.

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Happy starred George and Gracie’s son, Ronnie Burns. Ronnie was married to a woman played by Yvonne Lime and they were co-owners and managers of the Desert Palm, a ritzy resort. Included in the cast was their Uncle Charlie and the co-owner played by Doris Packer.  Happy was their son who commented on what was going on, sort of like Family Guy’s Stewie.  It was a summer entry in 1960, but 9 months later it gave birth to a cancellation which made the cast not Happy.  I don’t know why, but apparently viewers could accept a talking horse or a talking car, but not a talking baby.

Another show that began as a summer replacement was Holiday Lodge in 1961. Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, two comedians from Canada, played social directors at a New York state hotel. They tried to provide entertainment but always ran into trouble, including being taken off the air after a few episodes.

The Bill Dana Show was interestingly based on the character Jose Jiminez developed by Dana for the Steve Allen Show and later brought to the Danny Thomas Show.  In 1963 The Bill Dana Show portrayed Jiminez as a bellhop at the New York City Park Central Hotel and the show centered on him trying to get used to life outside Mexico. Often his dream sequences took him into bizarre situations.  The most interesting fact about this show might be that the house detective was played by Don Adams who went on to star in Get Smart. Jimeniz’s dream became a nightmare when the show was cancelled after 42 episodes.

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One of the most controversial shows to air on television in the 1970s was Hot L Baltimore debuting in the fall of 1975.  Many stations refused to air the show because it was lewd and racy.  Norman Lear, the producer behind All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons developed the concept based on a play. The cast was made up of a desk clerk, his girlfriend, the manager, a hooker, an unemployed waitress, a dying man, a gay couple, and an eccentric woman. After four months, the waitress was not the only one unemployed because the show was done.

The Last Resort was developed by MTM in 1979, the company that created The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis. The resort, set in the Catskills in upper New York, included a bunch of college students working their way through school. It featured a stereotyped crew including the brilliant premed student, a bookworm, a snob, an overweight clumsy guy, the pastry chef who left her wealthy husband to pursue her career, a Japanese chef, and a maitre’d who ran the place like a drill sergeant. It was cancelled after three episodes. Retooled, it came back in December only to be finished for good in March when the last resort of The Last Resort was no more.

Checking In must be in the running for the shortest show to appear on television. In 1980, Marla Gibbs, playing Florence the maid on The Jeffersons, got her own show, transferring to a hotel in New York City where she was the head housekeeper. She answered to a snobby manager played by Larry Linville who would later become Frank Burns on M*A*S*H. The rest of the cast included an assistant, a house detective, a maintenance supervisor, and a bellboy. After several weeks, the hotel was shut down and Florence went back to working for The Jeffersons.

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The Golden Girls was one of the most beloved shows in television, but I’m guessing few people remember The Golden Palace which debuted in 1992.  After Dorothy got married, the other three characters decide to invest in a hotel in Miami. Only two employees are left at the hotel:  a manager and a chef. After 24 shows, no one was left at the hotel.

In 1999 Payne, a remake of the British show Fawlty Towers hit the air.  Set in a California inn, Whispering Pines, the hotel was owned by Royal Payne and his wife Constance.  It went on the air in March.  At the end of April, the network ended its Payne by taking two aspirins and cancelling the show.

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Compared to some of the shows, Whoopi! might have seemed successful, lasting an entire season.  Set in the Lamont Hotel in New York City, a one-hit wonder musician played by Whoopi Goldberg decides to put her money into a hotel and run it the way she sees fit.  She has an assistant from Iran, a brother who is a conservative Republican, and his girlfriend who is white but acts more African American than the black members of the hotel. Of course, these three characters give her much controversy to deal with.  The network, acting as referee, blew the whistle and cancelled the entire thing after one year.

In 2008 Do Not Disturb debuted.  If you missed it, don’t feel bad.  It debuted on Fox and featured The Inn, a hip Manhattan hotel.  The staff is not as competent as they appear to their guests. The manger is arrogant, the head of human resources is loud and tactless, the front desk clerk is an aging model who does not want to be a desk clerk or older, the reservations clerk is a famous musician wannbe, and the head of housekeeping has problems at home. The network, not wanting to disturb the viewing public, pulled the plug after three shows. Larry, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, would go on to star in Modern Family in 2009.

Before you begin to think shows about hotels are doomed, let’s check in with four successful shows that knew how to make a profit.

From 1996-2001 The Jamie Foxx Show on WB featured Jamie Foxx as a musician who moves to California to work at his aunt and uncle’s (played by Ellia English and Garett Morris) hotel, King’s Tower.  He has two co-workers played by Christopher B. Duncan and “Fancy” played by Garcelle Beauvais. He is interested in Fancy, but she doesn’t feel the same until the final two seasons when they become engaged. The show aired 100 episodes before the network finally got reservations.

Disney’s Suite Life of Zach and Cody set in the Tipton Hotel ran from 2005-2008. The twins lived in the hotel because their mother was the lounge singer.  Somewhat like Eloise at the Plaza, the boys got into mischief and interacted with other employees including the wealthy heiress London Tipton, the candy counter salesgirl Maddie Fitzpatrick, and the manger Marion Moseby.  In 2008 the show sailed off, literally, and became Suite Life on Deck running until 2011.

With 184 episodes, Newhart debuted in 1982. With its quirky cast of characters, it became a big hit. Set in Vermont, Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who buys the hotel and runs it with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). Their handyman George Utley (Tom Poston) and their maid Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) make life both easier and more difficult at the inn. Later Dick becomes a local television celebrity working with Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) who marries Stephanie.  Larry, (William Sanderson) his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss) and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad) are memorable characters.  Darryl and Darryl never speak until the final episode.  That finale has the best ending ever in a television series when Bob Newhart wakes up in bed, tells his wife he had a really weird dream, and we see the wife is Suzanne Pleshette, his wife Emily from The Bob Newhart Show in which he played a psychiatrist from 1972-78. This series delightfully captured the life in a small New England town until 1990.

While Newhart is hard to top, my favorite hotel sitcom is Petticoat Junction which featured the Bradley Girls from 1963-1970. Kate (Bea Benaderet) ran the hotel with her three daughters Billie Jo, (Jeannine Riley till 1965, Gunilla Hutton until 1966, and Meredith MacRae until 1970), Bobby Jo (Pat Woodell until 1965 and Lori Saunders through 1970, and Betty Jo (Linda Henning), along with her Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). The Shady Rest is near Hooterville, so we get to know a variety of town folk including Sam Drucker who runs the general store; Floyd and Charley, who run the Cannonball train; and Steve Elliott, crop duster, who is Billie Jo’s boyfriend first but later marries Betty Jo; and we run into the Ziffels and the Douglases from the show Green Acres. It’s a charming and heart-warming show loaded with loveable but zany characters. It ran for 222 episodes, even surviving the death of Bea Benaderet, who was replaced by Janet Craig (June Lockhart), a woman doctor who moves into the hotel. The amazing Charles Lane shows up throughout the series as Homer Bedloe, a railroad employee whose sole mission is shutting down the Cannonball.

If you can’t physically travel this month, take some time and watch a season or two of Newhart or Petticoat Junction, and you can still get away and experience life in a small-town hotel.

 

 

A Bachelor Party For Everyone

Each month I would like to take a look at one of my favorite sitcoms.  November’s show is Bachelor Father which ran from 1957-1962. Bachelor Father is one of my all-time favorite shows. With its sophisticated writing, realistic relationships, and elegant lifestyle, I can find something new each time a re-watch an episode. Before Steve Douglas (My Three Sons), Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show), Bill Davis (Family Affair), Phil Drummond (Different Strokes), and Danny Tanner (Full House), Bentley Gregg took on the responsibility of raising his niece after her parents were killed in a car accident. Somehow he was a lucrative lawyer in Beverly Hills, raised a respectful and intelligent niece, participated in civic affairs, and never let any of it cramp his dating life, well rarely. Part of his success can be attributed to Peter, his houseboy who was the “Mother” of the family and kept the household running smoothly.

Starring John Forsythe as Bentley Gregg, Noreen Corcoran as Kelly, and Sammee Tong as Peter, the series debuted on CBS in September 1957, airing alternate weeks with The Jack Benny Show.  In 1959, the show moved to NBC, and the final season in 1962 it aired on ABC. The program was based on a radio episode, “A New Girl in His Life,” which was heard on General Electric Theater in May of 1957. During the show’s run, 157 episodes were filmed, all in black and white. While there was a revolving cast of beautiful women on the show, the other regulars were Kelly’s best friend Ginger played by Bernadette Withers, Kelly’s boyfriend Howard Meecham played by Jimmy Boyd, and their dog Jasper.

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The character of Bentley Gregg was based on two well-known Beverly Hills bachelors.  Their names were combined for this character. No serious thoughts were given to creating a steady relationship for Bentley by the writers because he had an aversion to marriage, so Kelly was the only permanent woman in his life.

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John Forsythe was born Jacob Lincoln Freund in Penns Grove, NJ the son of a Wall Street businessman.   He later moved to Brooklyn and went on to school at the University of North Carolina. After college he was hired as the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed a contract with Warner Brothers in 1943. Eventually he moved his family to California in order to give them a stable home life. He starred in two other sitcoms in the 60s, The John Forsythe Show in 1965-66 and To Rome with Love in 1969-71. He is best known as the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels and the role of Blake Carrington on Dynasty. He died April 1, 2010 of pneumonia at 92.

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Noreen Corcoran was suggested by Ronald Reagan for the character of Kelly, because he felt she was believable as a typical 13-year-old. She began appearing in films in 1951 and was on various television episodes before getting the role of Kelly. After the show ended, she made a few appearances on shows including Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley and appeared in the movie Gidget Goes to Rome. In 1963 she released the musical single “Love Kitten.” In 1966 she began an 11-year association with the Lewitzky Dance Company. She passed away January 15, 2016 of cardiopulmonary disease at 72.

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Sammee Tong had been a stand-up comedian. Forsythe insisted that Tong be a major character on the show, and the banter between Bentley and Peter was similar to that of Steve Douglas and Uncle Charlie or Bills Davis and Mr. French. Although “Peter” spoke broken English, Sammee Tong spoke excellent English. Tong’s first film was Happiness Ahead in 1934. He appeared in more than 30 films and 40 television programs between 1935 and 1965. He was a good friend of Mickey Rooney’s and played his friend on the sitcom Mickey which was cancelled in 1965. By that time Tong was deeply in debt due to a gambling problem, and he committed suicide October 27, 1964 at age 63. His last appearance was posthumously as Cook in the 1965 film Fluffy.

Some of Bentley’s women were played by actresses who would go on to become famous including Whitney Blake, Donna Douglas, Barbara Eden, Sally Kellerman, Sue Ane Langdon, Joyce Meadows, and Mary Tyler Moore.

Male guest stars included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bill Bixby, Ronnie Burns, Richard Deacon, Joe Flynn, Howard McNear, Sid Melton, Ryan O’Neal and Harry Von Zell.

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Harry Ackerman produced the first season and was replaced by Everett Freeman for the rest of the series’ life when Ackerman went on to work for other sitcoms, including Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The show was sponsored by American Tobacco which made Tareyton cigarettes and American Home Products which marketed Anacin, Dristan, and the Chef Boyardee line.

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The show was filmed at Revue Studios and produced by Forsythe’s Bachelor Productions. The episodes were filmed at 4024 Radford Avenue in Studio City and the exteriors were shot at 120 Colonial Street, Backlot at Universal Studios. The end of Colonial Street was also known as New England Street. In the photo below, the house at the right was the Bachelor Father house.  The Cleaver house from Leave It to Beaver was across the street. The Gregg family lived at 113 Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills.  Bentley’s office was Room 106 in the Crescent Building on Crescent Drive in Los Angeles.

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The theme song, “Bachelor Father” was written by David Kahn and Johnny Williams, today known as John Williams, the famous movie composer.

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Vincent Dee was the costume supervisor, Florence Bush was the hair stylist, and Leo Lotito Jr. was the make-up artist.

Dialogue From Bachelor Father

Season 2 / Episode 1: – Bentley and the Finishing School

Kelly Gregg: Peter, I cleaned my room.
Peter Tong: What you tryin’ to do – ruin your reputation?

Season 5 / Episode 36: – Bentley Takes it Easy

Bentley Gregg: [regarding his upcoming home vacation] First and foremost, I’m going to do absolutely nothing.
Peter Tong: If you get tired doing nothing, I’ll be glad to help out.
Bentley Gregg: It’ll be nice to have an expert around.

Season 4 / Episode 33: – Kelly’s Charge Account

Kelly Gregg: I’ll have you know I walked right through Kessler’s this afternoon, and all I bought was a hair net. I just wanted the thrill of signing for something.
Peter Tong: You be careful. Remember, charge account like ocean. One step too far – you go under.

Season 4 / Episode 2: – Kelly Learns to Drive

Bentley Gregg: Don’t you think that you’ve been vacillating enough?
Peter Tong: That depend.
Bentley Gregg: On what?
Peter Tong: What vacillating mean.

Season 3 / Episode 5: – Kelly’s Idol

Peter Tong: Hello, Mr. Gregg. You’re home early.
Bentley Gregg: Peter, I’ve just spent eight of the most miserable boring hours of my life with one the most beautiful girls in this town.
Peter Tong: Sometime even Mickey Mantle don’t get to first base.

Fun Facts

Jimmie Boyd (Howard) recorded the 1952 Christmas song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

Ginger’s last name changed three times during the run of the show.  She was referred to as Ginger Farrrell, Loomis, and Mitchell.

Ginger was played by Bernadette Withers. Jane Withers was her aunt, and Jane was best known as Josephine the Plumber.

In Episode 5 of Season 4, Linda Evans (then Linda Evenstad) played one of Kelly’s girlfriends who had a big crush on Bentley. She would later play his wife on Dynasty.

During the five years of the show, Bentley had five different secretaries: Vickie, Kitty 1, Kitty 2, Suzanne, and Connie; could he have been related to Murphy Brown?

Some of the episodes can be seen on youtube.com. Antenna TV had Bachelor Father on its schedule but it was replaced in 2015. We can only hope they will bring it back soon and that the show will finally be given its due and released on DVD so we can once again enjoy the Gregg family and friends.

Below is the list of episodes by season.

Season 1

  1. Bentley And The P.T.A. (9/29/1957)
  2. Bentley versus The Girl Scouts (10/6/1957)
  3. Bentley And The lady Doctor (10/13/1957)
  4. Date With Kelly (10/20/1957)
  5. Uncle Bentley keeps His Promise (10/27/1957)
  6. Bentley And The Baby Sitter (11/3/1957)
  7. Uncle Bentley And The Aunts (11/10/1957)
  8. Bentley And The Revolving Housekeeper (11/24/1957)
  9. Bentley And The Talent Contest (1/5/1958)
  10. Bentley, The Homemaker (1/19/1958)
  11. Bentley And His Junior Image (2/2/1958)
  12. Uncle Bentley Loans Out Peter (2/16/1958)
  13. Bentley And The Social Worker (3/2/1958)
  14. A Sister For Kelly (3/16/1958)
  15. Waiting Up For Kelly (3/30/1958)
  16. Woman Of The house (4/13/1958)
  17. Peter falls In love (4/27/1958)
  18. Bentley’s Prospective Son-In-Law (5/11/1958)
  19. Bentley’s Clubhouse (5/25/1958)
  20. Uncle Bentley And The Matchmaker (6/8/1958)

Season 2

  1. Bentley And The Finishing School (9/14/1958)
  2. Parent’s Night (9/28/1958)
  3. Bentley Leads A Dog’s Life (10/12/1958)
  4. Bentley & the Teenage Siren (10/26/1958)
  5. Bentley & Peter’s Teacher (11/9/1958)
  6. Bentley And The Wedding Bells (11/23/1958)
  7. Kelly’s Mad Crush (11/7/1958)
  8. Bentley’s Big Case (12/21/1958)
  9. Bentley’s Economy Wave (1/4/1959)
  10. Decisions, Decisions (1/18/1959)
  11. Bentley And The Kleptomaniac (2/1/1959)
  12. A Phone For Kelly (2/15/1959)
  13. Bentley, The Proud Father (3/15/1959)
  14. Bentley’s Aunt Caroline (3/29/1959)
  15. Bentley, Man Of Steel (4/12/1959)
  16. Bentley And The Motorcycle (4/26/1959)
  17. Bentley The Star Maker (5/1/1959)
  18. Bentley, The Organizer (5/10/1959)
  19. Bentley And The beauty Contest (5/24/1959)
  20. Bentley, The Hero (6/7/1959)

Season 3

  1. Peter Meets His Match (9/17/1959)
  2. Bentley & the dog Trainer (9/24/1959)
  3. The Case Against Gisele (10/1/1959)
  4. Bentley And The Gullible Guitarist (10/8/1959)
  5. Kelly’s Idol (10/15/1959)
  6. East Meets West (10/22/1959)
  7. Bentley And Grandpa Ling (10/29/1959)
  8. Kelly, The Golddigger (11/5/1959)
  9. The Rescue Of Rufus (11/12/1959)
  10. A Key For Kelly (11/19/1959)
  11. Bentley’s Double Play (11/26/1959)
  12. Bentley And The Brainy Beauty (12/3/1959)
  13. Bentley Plays Cupid (12/10/1959)
  14. Kelly’s Secret (12/17/1959)
  15. Bentley Goes To Washington (12/24/1959)
  16. Kelly, The Politician (12/31/1959)
  17. Bentley, The Gentleman Farmer (1/7/1960)
  18. Bentley And The Combo (1/14/1960)
  19. Bentley And The Bartered Bride (1/21/1960)
  20. The Blonde Issue (1/28/1960)
  21. Bentley And The Majorette (2/4/1960)
  22. Bentley, The Model Citizen (2/18/1960)
  23. The Fishing Trip (2/25/1960)
  24. The Fortune Cookie Caper (3/3/1960)
  25. Kelly And The College Man (3/10/1960)
  26. Kelly, The Career Woman (3/17/1960)
  27. Bentley’s New House (3/24/1960)
  28. Bentley, The Stage Mother (4/7/1960)
  29. The Woman’s Angle (4/14/1960)
  30. Bentley Meets The Perfect Woman (4/21/1960)
  31. Bentley And The Travel Agent (4/28/1960)
  32. The Very Friendly Witness (5/5/1960)
  33. Bentley And The Blood Bank (5/12/1960)
  34. A Man Of Importance (5/19/1960)
  35. Bentley And The Beach Bum (5/26/1960)
  36. Where There’s A Will (6/2/1960)
  37. Bentley’s Birthday Gift (6/9/1960)

Season 4

  1. Kelly, The Matchmaker (8/26/1960)
  2. It Happens In November (9/7/1960)
  3. Jasper The Second (9/15/1960)
  4. Kelly Learns To Drive (9/22/1960)
  5. Trail Separation (9/29/1960)
  6. Mystery Witness (10/6/1960)
  7. A Crush On Bentley (10/13/1960)
  8. Peter Gets Jury Notice (10/20/1960)
  9. Hilda The Jewel (10/27/1960)
  10. How To Catch A Man(11/10/1960)
  11. Bentley Cracks The Whip (11/24/1960)
  12. Bentley And The Big Board (12/1/1960)
  13. Dear Bentley (12/15/1960)
  14. Bentley And The Lost Chord (12/22/1960)
  15. Ginger’s Big Romance (12/29/1960)
  16. Bentley The Angel (1/5/1961)
  17. Bentley Goes To Europe (1/19/1961)
  18. Bentley And The Woodpecker (1/21/1961)
  19. The Greggs In Rome (1/26/1961)
  20. The Greggs In London (2/2/1961)
  21. The Greggs In Paris (2/16/1961)
  22. Encore In Paris (2/23/1961)
  23. There’s No Place Like Home (3/2/1961)
  24. Bentley Swims Upstream (3/9/1961)
  25. A Man Among Men (3/16/1961)
  26. Peter’s China Doll (3/23/1961)
  27. Bentley And The Counterspy (3/30/1961)
  28. Peter Plays Cupid (4/6/1961)
  29. Bentley And The Great Debate (4/13/1961)
  30. Bentley And The Nature Girl (4/20/1961)
  31. Bentley’s Mad Friends (4/27/1961)
  32. Hilda Rides Again (5/4/1961)
  33. Kelly’s Charge Account (5/11/1961)
  34. Bentley Builds A Pool (5/18/1961)
  35. Bentley Slays A dragon (5/25/1961)
  36. A Favor For Bentley (6/1/1961)
  37. Kelly Gets A Job (6/8/1961)
  38. Kelly’s Tangled Web (6/15/1961)
  39. Bentley’s Barbecue (6/22/1961)
  40. Drop That Calorie (7/6/1961)

Season 5

  1. Kelly’s Graduation (9/21/1961)
  2. King’s English (10/3/1961)
  3. Rush Week (10/10/1961)
  4. Kelly And The Free Thinker (10/17/1961)
  5. A Party For Peter (10/24/1961)
  6. Never Steal An Owl (10/31/1961)
  7. Bentley’s Catered Affair (11/7/1961)
  8. House At Smuggler’s Cove (11/14/1961)
  9. Peter’s Punctured Wedding (11/21/1961)
  10. Star Light, Star Not So Bright (11/28/1961)
  11. Bentley And The Time Clock (12/5/1961)
  12. Birth Of A Song (12/12/1961)
  13. Deck The halls (12/19/1961)
  14. The Law And Kelly Gregg (12/26/1961)
  15. How To Throw Your Voice (1/2/1962)
  16. Kelly, The Yes Man (1/9/1962)
  17. Gold In Them Hills (1/16/1962)
  18. How Howard Won His “C” (1/23/1962)
  19. Pinch That Penny (1/30/1962)
  20. Blossom Comes To Visit (2/6/1962)
  21. Bentley And The Homebody (2/13/1962)
  22. Summer Romance (2/20/1962)
  23. Hong Kong Suit
  24. Will Success Spoil Jasper? (3/6/1962)
  25. The Twain Shall Meet (3/9/1962)
  26. Strictly Business (3/13/1962)
  27. On The Old Camp Ground (3/20/1962)
  28. A Visit To The Bergens (3/27/1962)
  29. The Richest Cat (4/3/1962)
  30. Bentley Goes To Bat (4/17/1962)
  31. Kelly’s Engagement (4/24/1962)
  32. Kelly, The Home Executive (5/1/1962)
  33. Blossom Time At The Greggs (5/8/1962)
  34. What Men Don’t Know (5/15/1962)
  35. Marry Thy Neighbor (5/22/1962)
  36. Bentley Takes It Easy (5/29/1962)
  37. Boys Will Be Boys (6/5/1962)
  38. Divided House (6/12/1962)
  39. Peter, The Medicine Man (6/19/1962)
  40. Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight (6/26/1962)