Clarissa Explains It All: The Most Fun Kid on TV

This month’s blog series is all about the Teen Scene. We are going to start and end the series with Melissa Joan Hart.

What Ever Happened to Sam From Clarissa Explains It All? - E! Online
Cast of Clarissa Explains It All Photo: eonline.com

Those of you who grew up in the 1990s or, as in my case, had kids growing up in the 1990s, will remember Clarissa Explains It All. My son Shawn loved this show, and I began watching it with him and actually looked forward to tuning in.

Mitchell Kriegman created this show for the Nickelodeon network. From March of 1991 through October of 1994, 65 episodes were produced. As a personal aside, Kriegman also created Bear in the Big Blue House. With kids growing up in the nineties and 2000s, can I say Clarissa Explains It All, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Arthur were a breath of fresh air compared to most of the kids’ programs on television at that time.

Clarissa Darling (Hart) is a teenager who lives with her brother, Ferguson (Jason Zimbler), whom she finds extremely annoying, and her parents, Janet (Elizabeth Hess) and Marshall (Joe O’Connor), whom she likes a lot. She also has a best friend Sam (Sean O’Neal) who happens to be a boy. Clarissa also has a pet alligator named Elvis.

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Like George Burns in his 1950s show, Clarissa often addresses the audience directly. The plots had to do with things all teens are sweating out like first crushes, training bras, getting a driver’s license, cheating at school, etc. Another unusual feature of the show was Clarissa explaining the theme by using a fictional video game or a news segment. Clarissa has pretty liberal parents, so sometimes she has to do her own punishments or life lessons. For example, in one show she mistakenly takes a piece of lingerie from a store. Her parents don’t punish her because it was an accident, so she spends the episode trying to fix the situation.

Clarissa’s character makes the show. Although she is a teenager, she is witty, sarcastic, realistic, and a lot of fun to be around. Kriegman says the role of Clarissa was between two actresses, Melissa and another girl. He thought the other girl really seemed to be “Clarissa,” but he said Hart “was so charming and she just lit up the screen. Because she did that, I could load her up—make her really quirky and different. She could make it play.”

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Clarissa also has a creative fashion look. Her unique style was created by Lisa Lederer who came from the magazine industry. Lederer didn’t want Clarissa to look like a tomboy or a weird girl: she wanted her to be able to express herself. She said, “It felt like what we were doing was creating this girl in a more real way, to represent the way that girls—that people—normally dress.” Her clothes were all about expression. She did influence people. Girls’ clothing at the time was pretty matchy-matchy, but an ABC executive told Kriegman that his daughter came downstairs in mismatched items and leggings. He asked her what that was all about and she said “I’m dressing like Clarissa.”

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Her brother Ferguson is a mischievous guy who is always trying to spy on her. He loves money and is often trying to come up with schemes to get some. Like Alex on Family Ties, he considers himself a loyal Republican. The show emphasized that sibling rivalry was just part of the family’s life, nothing to make a moral of. Kriegman said writers got extra points if they came up with a good sibling rivalry story.

Sam is very bright and loves skateboarding. His parents are divorced. He lives with his dad, a sports journalist because his mother “ran away” to the Roller Derby. Sam is often seen climbing a ladder to her room introduced by the same guitar chord. Kriegman explained that this was a way to get him into the house to interact with her quicker and there was never any connotation that they were in a relationship.

That bedroom set was the most complex one on the show. On the wall there is a They Might Be Giants poster. In Kriegman’s stylebook for the show, he said there was a science experiment in one corner regarding watering plants with club soda, Perrier, and Evian. There was also a dollhouse made by Marshall for Clarissa, as well as a collection of hats, and hubcaps. Kriegman said that he had a specific idea for the look of the room. The designer wanted it to be a girly room and insisted on painting it pink. So, after it was painted, Kriegman informed the designer that now they were using black car paint to paint checkers all over the wall.

Sam and his ladder Photo: imdb.com

As a funny aside, Kriegman made a rule that no purple could be used on the set. No, he was not anti-Minnesota Vikings. The explanation was odder than that. He said he didn’t mind purple, but he had advice from someone in the business who told him to make an executive rule and stick to it, so that was his executive rule. He said it became a bit of a challenge for set and clothing designers to sneak in purple when they could.

Clarissa’s mom is often sought out by Clarissa for life advice. She works at a children’s museum and is an environmentalist and a proponent of vegan and organic food. Her meals were often mentioned in the episodes. Her dad was an architect who often designs very unusual buildings with creative shapes, often tourist attractions. Like the Keatons on Family Ties, Marshall and Janet were hippies in their earlier life. He typically refers to Clarissa as “Sport” and his advice is not as sage as his wife’s.

Part of the fun that surrounds the show came from Kriegman’s background. He was a short story writer and had worked on a variety of shows including Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. He wanted the audience to be able to get into a 13-year-old’s mind to understand the events she was experiencing. One of the writers on the show was Suzanne Collins who went on to write The Hunger Games. Some other writers include Michael Borkow who wrote for Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle; and Friends, Becky Hartman Edwards who wrote for The Larry Sanders Show; Glen Eichler who wrote for the Colbert Report; Peter Gaffney who wrote for The Simpsons; and Alexa Junge who wrote for Friends and The West Wing.

CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL - Sitcoms Online Photo Galleries
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Rachel Sweet sang the theme song which was a melody singing “na na na na na na” with snippets of “Way cool” or “Just do it,” or “All right! All right!” Perhaps she was a fan of Matthew McConaughey. Kriegman said Sweet was a friend of his and he did not give her any direction for the song.

The show was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1994 for Outstanding Children’s Program. It was beat out by Kids Killing Kids/Kids Saving Kids. Avonlea was also nominated that year, and I would emphasize that neither Clarissa or Avonlea was really a children’s program; it was great viewing for everyone. Also, Hart, O’Neal, and Zimbler all received Young Artist Award nominations; Hart won three Young Artist Awards during the run of the show.

The show continued to have great ratings, but the network canceled the show because they felt Clarissa was getting too old. The cast didn’t have any warning that things were coming to an end. They spent about 70 hours on each episode, so they spent a lot of time together and were very close. Some of the crew helped Melissa with her school projects, and the cast threw a high school graduation party for her. Kriegman said that “adults and kids got together Friday nights after the show was done and had the best party. Everybody was so happy to be with each other.”

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I have great memories watching this show with my kids and repeating one-liners from the show. It had realistic but humorous plots, fun and memorable characters, and interesting dialogue. It appealed to both kids and adults and to boys and girls. Kriegman said that “The idea that you do something 20 years ago, and everybody still remembers it–not just remembers it fondly, but passionately, and cares about it—I just love it. It’s the most satisfying thing in my career.”

The show was refreshing and witty. Clarissa once said, “Maturity is a boring state of mind.” If that’s true, no cast members or television viewers were very mature during an episode of Clarissa Explains It All.

June Lockhart Rocked the Acting Profession

As we check out some of my favorite actresses this month, this week we learn about one of the most prolific actresses on the small screen. With more than 170 credits between 1938 and 2004, June Lockhart had a very successful career.

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Perhaps destiny planned for June to become an actress. Both her parents, Canadian-born Gene and English-born Kathleen Lockhart, were actors and she traveled with them as a young child while they performed. Although she was born in New York City in 1925, she was brought up in Beverly Hills.

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June with her parents
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She was only 8 when she took the role of Mimsey in “Peter Ibbetson” at the Metropolitan Opera.

In 1938, at age 13, June made her film debut in A Christmas Carol with her parents. She appeared in more than thirty movies, including Meet Me in St. Louis, Sergeant York, All This and Heaven Too, and The Yearling.

Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944 ~ June Lockhart, Judy Garland & Lucille Bremer |  Judy garland, Hollywood, Holiday movie
Photo: pinterest.com Meet Me in St. Louis

In 1948, she won a Tony for Outstanding Performance by a Newcomer for her role in “For Love or Money.”

Although her appearances in film and on Broadway would have been a lucrative career n themselves, it was in television that she found most of her fame. In 1949 she accepted a role on The Ford Theater Hour. During the 1950s she would make 56 appearances on drama theater shows. In addition, she was in Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, and Wagon Train.

In 1951 she married John Maloney. In 1959 they divorced and that same year, she married John Lindsay whom she was married to until 1970.

But it was in the television show, Lassie from 1958-1964 that she became a household name as Ruth Martin, Timmy’s (Jon Provost) mother. The show was about the Martin family’s life on the farm and the heroics of Timmy’s dog Lassie.

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The 1960s continued to be very productive for her as an actress. She appeared in a variety of television shows, including the dramas Perry Mason, The Man from UNCLE, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and the comedies Bewitched, Family Affair, and The Beverly Hillbillies.

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Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

She also starred in two long-lasting sitcoms. From 1965-1968 she was Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space. On the show, a family with three children travel with Major Don West to colonize a new planet.  Dr. Zach Smith is a stowaway who tried to sabotage their mission by throwing their ship off course and ends up having to live with the people he thought were his enemies.

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With Bill Mumy
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In an interview with Bill Mumy who played her son Will on Lost in Space, he said that Lockhart always made time for the kids on the set. He said she kept them occupied between takes which she didn’t need to do. He said “she spent a lot of time nurturing Angela’s and my developing thought processes. Teaching us.”

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In 1968 she was offered a role as Dr. Janet Craig for the final two seasons of Petticoat Junction. Bea Benaderet, the star, passed away in 1968, and Janet filled in as a “mother” to the girls.

Although she would not take on any additional regular roles for sitcoms, she continued to keep busy through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. During these decades , she could be seen on Love American Style, Marcus Welby, Adam-12, Police Story, Ellery Queen, Happy Days, Magnum PI, Falcon Crest, Quincy, Murder She Wrote, Full House, Roseanne, Drew Carey, Grey’s Anatomy, and in Beverly Hills 90210 where she had a recurring role, along with 33 other series.

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On Happy Days
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Her last acting role was an animation movie, Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm, in 2016. She passed away in 2019, apparently from old age.

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Lockhart was an interesting person as well as a successful actress. She hosted the Tournament of Roses parade for eight years and the Macy Thanksgiving parade for five years.

During my research, I learned several surprising things about her. She was an Ambassador for the California State Parks system. She won the NASA award for Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for inspiring the public about space exploration in 2013. She served as a panelist with several White House correspondents on a quiz show Who Said That in the fifties. That job provided her with an open invitation to attend White House briefings which she did and said were fun.

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Photo: flickr.com

Her hobbies included gold mining, antique motorcars, lighter-than-air aircraft, and learning about the Old West. She kept medical texts near her bed for nighttime reading. She was a member of a kite-flying club. She also loved old steam engines.

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Her husband bought her a 1923 Seagrave pumper fire engine named “Cordelia Delilah Lindsay” which she drove around even though it got two miles to the gallon. She actually had the largest parking space at the studio.

If all those facts aren’t interesting enough, in an interview with Bill Mumy by the Archive of American Television, he relayed that she loved rock and roll. In 1967, she hired the Allman Brothers Band (then called Hour Glass) to play at her house. She took Angela Cartwright and Bill to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. He also said that “in the 1980s she carried a picture of only one person in her wallet and it was David Bowie.”

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I’m truly impressed that with as busy as she was as an actress, she made time for both her two daughters and her television children, and enjoyed a ton of hobbies as well. It seems she had a joy for learning about new things and continued to add interests to her life. She was a great role model for all of us.

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Get Ready to Be Bowled Over: The Greatest Bowling Episodes

Along with Labor Day this year, September 3 is Bowling League Day. It’s also a good reason for me to put together a list of my favorite bowling episodes. Bowling has been a staple on television since shows first started airing. Let’s look at a few of the best ones.

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Tom and Jerry

One of the first programs to be set in a bowling alley was Tom and Jerry in “The Bowling Alley Cat” from 1942. It was originally seen in theaters and later debuted on television. A play on the phrase “alley cat,” the animated show is directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

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This is a fun setting to watch the duo’s antics. Jerry hides in a bowling ball and then skates down the alley. Tom slips trying to catch him. Eventually Jerry makes it to the end of the lane and waves from behind a pin. Tom tries to throw a ball to hit him as Jerry has to jump behind different pins to keep from getting hit. Jerry bats one of the balls back to Tom using the pin as a bat. Tom’s thumb gets stuck in a ball as he tries to release it and he is propelled all the way down the lane. Quickly acting, Jerry pulls the pin setter down and Tom looks like one of the pins. Tom drops a ball on his foot at one point trying to get Jerry out of one of the holes. These escapades continue until Tom is sent down the alley again knocking over all the pins. Jerry hops onto the desk and records a strike on his scorecard.

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Ozzie and Harriet

In 1953, in an episode titled “Bowling Alley,” the Nelsons are sitting around the living room. David and Ricky decide to go play basketball. Ozzie and Harriet are discussing how many people have colds. Harriet thinks Ozzie is coming down with one. He feels fine, but then her friend Mary stops by. The girls decide to go to the Emporium shopping. When Harriet asks Ozzie to drive them, honest Ozzie feigns a cold to get out of taking them. His neighbor Thorny stops by and convinces him to go bowling because the high scorer for the day gets a case of Ginger Ale. It’s not Thorny’s night, and Ozzie beats him four games in a row,  winning a whopping $.20. Just as the guys are changing their shoes, Thorny spies Harriet, and they make a quick get-away. Relieved, they get home before her and no one is the wiser. Of course, Ozzie is the high scorer and the next day when the pop is delivered to the Nelson home, Ozzie confesses. He calls everyone he knows to brag about his achievement.  Harriet doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the high score was her game.

 

The Flintstones

One of the most famous bowling scenes is from The Flintstones’ third season, “Bowling Ballet.”  Wilma has her work cut out for her getting Fred off to his job. When the lunch whistle blows, Fred meets Barney to practice bowling. Fred feels he is out of rhythm and his timing is off. After driving into a fence, dropping a rock on a truck at work, and having a bowling ball hit his toe, he decides he needs help. Mr. Slate tells him the employees are betting double that his team will win the bowling championship. That night Fred sees a commercial for the Bedrock Dance Studio airing the promise to help someone get their rhythm back. Fred signs up for classes. A few days later, Fred calls in sick.  The girls spy him ballet dancing in the basement. Wilma assumes he’s been seeing another woman since he’s been gone every night. Betty promises that Barney will follow him that night to make sure it’s not another woman. When Barney calls Wilma and Betty to say Fred is dancing, they assume he’s with another woman and go to check it out. Fred’s secret is out. The night of the big championship, the team faces the Rockland Rockets. Fred’s first ball is a gutter ball.  Barney puts on some music so Fred can bowl while dancing ballet, and he gets a strike. The Water Buffaloes take home the first prize.

 

 

That Girl

That Girl’s “This Little Piggy Had a Ball” episode aired in 1967. The show begins with a group throwing their friend Sharon a surprise party for an award she won.  However, Sharon has been called to Hollywood for an audition, so she chooses Ann to accept the award for her. Don and Ann are supposed to go bowling, so Don agrees to write an acceptance speech for her while they’re there. While Don is writing, Ann reads a bowling magazine and reads an article about a man who bowls with his feet. While demonstrating, she gets her big toe stuck in the ball. No matter what they try, the bowl stays stuck. The owner throws away the magazine because Ann is the fourth person to get a ball stuck on their foot that week. He puts axle grease on her toe but nothing he does helps her. Ann is sure the fire department can help her. The crew was at a fire, and the underwater diver who was at the station cannot find a way to help her either. Ann makes Don take her to the hospital emergency room. The doctor she sees is convinced that his doctor friend set him up and this is a prank.  When he is convinced that she is a real patient, he diagnoses her with an excited toe and gives her muscle relaxers to help her toe come loose. She is supposed to take one every half hour but her neighbor Leon, an obstrician,  realizes she took three in the first hour and he decides to cut off the bottom half of the ball so there is a flat surface and put a cast over the the rest of it, so she can walk, and they sober her up. Rob Reiner and Terri Garr show up at the banquet as acting friends and give Ann a hard time about her cast. Sharon wins the prize, and when Ann goes up to accept the award, the ball and cast fall off.

 

The Odd Couple

In 1974 the question was “To Bowl or Not to Bowl.” Felix and Oscar’s bowling team, the Bon Vivants, are battling the Kingpins for the championship game. This is the first time in five years the Bon Vivants have had an opportunity to be in the final game. The episode begins with Oscar telling everyone they need to practice every night and complaining to Murray and Vinnie about how bad they were. Felix hates the pressure and quits the team. Oscar makes it clear he’s mad at Felix, and Felix tries to get him to talk it over. When Felix still says he won’t bowl, Oscar refuses to discuss it. The other team sticks to the rule that a bowler cannot be replaced. The next night, the boys play poker. Oscar decides to play without competition to teach Felix a lesson. Felix wins the round but since there is no competition, the next round goes back to even and no one wins any money. The guys discuss the fact that Felix always has an ailment when a competition is on the line. They decide his real problem is psychological. Murray brings a healer to talk to Felix whose back is hurting. After the guys leave for the bowling alley, Felix decides to go and bowl with the team. The other team is also short a man because on of their players is getting married, so they decide each of them can substitute someone but they can’t agree on two people they can use. Part way into the game both Felix and the groom show up to finish bowling with their teams. They are down to the final frame. Felix can win with his final ball, but as he gets ready to let it go, his back goes out and the teams start arguing. Felix lectures everyone. He rolls the ball down the aisle while laying down. He wins and the team is so excited they all run off so the losing team can buy them a drink, but they forget about Felix who can’t move and has to crawl off the lane.

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Laverne and Shirley

In another season 1 episode, “Bowling for Razzberries,” the girls are in the championship game in 1976. Laverne dislikes Karen, who gives tours at the brewery and torments her. Shirley convinces her to get even with Karen by beating her team at the company bowling night. Laverne coaches the girls about their abilities during practice. Laverne doesn’t criticize Shirley because she always over reacts and takes it personally. Shirley convinces Laverne to give her some tips and when she does, Shirley quits. Shirley realizes Laverne is coming down with a cold and tries to convince her not to practice with her fever. Leonard shows up with a pink ball and his fingers were stuck in there.  He made a comment about Karen’s body, and she slammed the ball on his hand. On the day of the championship, Carmine stops by to tell them he, Lennie and Squiggy bet on their team to win. Shirley calls the doctor to stop by and see Laverne. The doctor is young and good-looking. Laverne puts on lipstick while he scrubs up. He gives her some cold medicine and tells her she needs bed rest till Monday.  To keep Laverne inside, Shirley hides all her clothes while Laverne is sleeping and joins the team again. A sergeant comes collecting clothes for the needy. Laverne tells her she has no clothes, and the sergeant gives her her clothing, keeping her cape and hat. The Hot Shotz are playing the Big Shotz. Shirley finds and old lady from the brewery to fill in for Laverne. In order to participate in the game, Laverne decides to take the medication which leaves her muscles jerky. She shows up at the bowling alley in the sergeant’s clothing. Laverne gets worse as the night goes on. In the last frame, she needs six pins to win. Squiggy, Carmine, and Lenny carry her in her chair to the lane. She wins the game for her team but is too tired to tell Karen what she thinks of her. She asks Shirley to do it and Shirley congratulates her, using good sportsmanship. The next day, Laverne tries to convince Shirley to go to Karen’s house and give her the “razzberry” Laverne wanted to the night before. Shirley calls her on the phone and does so, making Laverne proud. There are a lot of similarities between this episode and The Odd Couple episode discussed above. That’s not too surprising since Garry Marshall produced both shows.

 

 

Ellen

In “Bowl, Baby, Bowl” in 1996, the cast ends up at the bowling lane. Paige and Spencer decide to meet at the bookstore since it’s located half way between the hospital and her studio. Before Paige gets there, Spencer gets called back to the hospital. To reward the employees for their good work at the store, Ed decides to take everyone bowling. Ed is very competitive and names his bowling ball “Rolling Thunder.” The rest of them are just there to have fun, and they goof around more than bowl seriously. They attract a crowd and in the last frame, despite her lack of skills, Ellen wins. After Ellen beats him, Ed gets mad. He cancels Ellen’s day off. When she tries to talk to him, he challenges her to a game of pool at his house the next day. That morning, Paige shows up at Ellen’s to surprise Spencer with breakfast. Before they can eat, Paige has to go to the studio and Spencer gets a page from the hospital. At Ed’s house, Ellen trash talks while playing pool.  Ed wins, but Ellen is a bad loser. The next morning at the bookstore, Ellen challenges Ed to who can drink the hot coffee the quickest.  After burning their mouths, they decide on a final game of bowling to break the tie. Ed’s young daughter Emily asks to bowl for Ellen in the final frame. After saying no, Ellen gives in and hands her the ball, talking about the fact that winning is not the important thing, how you play is. Emily granny rolls the ball and wins for Ellen. Ed and Ellen call a truce but when Ed’s wife takes the girls to the arcade, the game is back on as those two run to the arcade to beat each other. The show ends with Spencer and Paige finally getting some time together.

 

Modern Family

In “Knock ‘Em Down” in 2015, Jay agrees to sub for Cam’s bowling team. Cam conveniently forgets to mention that it’s an all-gay league. Cam wants to beat his nemesis Martin Sherman. Gloria and Mitchell are bragging about how late they will stay out since they are going out on a night on the town with Haley. Cam and Jay bet them $10 that they’ll be home before they are. As Mitchell and Gloria begin dancing, Cam tells them they’re dancing to the Antique Roadshow theme. When Cam tells Jay everyone has to be gay on the team, Jay says no one will ever believe he is gay. Martin approaches Cam and tells him he’ll beat him again and hopes to see Cam try to throw a chair that is bolted down like last year which hurt his back. Jay dislikes Martin and agrees to bowl. Martin questions Jay’s being gay, so Cam tells him to “up his gay game.” Cam tells Martin Jay is acting a bit weird because he has a crush on Martin. Jay really plays up to Martin to throw him off his game. Near the last frame, Martin tries to ask Jay out and he turns him down which keeps Martin from bowling well. After they win the game, Jay talks to Martin and tells him he turned him down because he’s not gay.  Martin thanks him for revealing it and then has Cam’s team disqualified.

Meanwhile, Phil can’t sell a house in the neighborhood because the house across the street has an obscene statue in the front yard. All the neighbors hate it, including the new neighbors whom Phil and Claire dislike. That couple ask Phil and Claire to go out to dinner, and they can’t find a nice way to say no. Phil and Claire consider the couple a bit “low class.” Phil and Claire are embarrassed that the neighbors they don’t like brought their own wine. But when they wave the waiter over for glasses and he takes it out of the bag, it’s a very expensive bottle that the restaurant doesn’t have. Then they mention their son is going to Julliard for piano playing and composing.  The neighbors say they can tie rope around the statue and haul it away. Phil gets in the car and tries to stop them. As he pulls off, he doesn’t realize he’s in reverse and he backs over the statue. A policeman stops by to talk about the statue; luckily Phil knows him and they aren’t questioned.

Meanwhile, Haley tells Gloria and Mitch that they can’t go out for a few hours because no one goes out till 10 and the band sometimes doesn’t go on till midnight. As Mitchell and Gloria wait to go out they are already falling asleep. They start dancing to stay awake. When Haley comes back with wristbands they are sound asleep. They get up and go to the club with her but realize they can’t stay up any longer and leave.

 

These episodes are a handful of the shows that aired during the 75 years between 1942 and 2015, but they are my favorites. Other shows that featured fun bowling episodes are Happy Days, Looney TunesMike and Molly, Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory, and The Brady Bunch.

If you can’t find any of these great shows to watch today, gather a few of your friends together and get a game of bowling in. Have a ball! Just keep your toes out of it.

It’s The Professor and a Whole Lot of Other People: Russell Johnson and Guest Stars

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Russell Johnson was born in Pennsylvania in 1924. He had six siblings. His father died from pneumonia when Russ was only 8, and his youngest brother died the following year. He was sent to Girard College, a boarding school for fatherless boys located in Philadelphia. He struggled early in his education, being held back for a year. In high school he made the National Honor Society.

In 1943, he married Edith Cahoon. They would divorce in 1948.

During World War II, Johnson joined the Army Air Corps and received the Purple Heart after his plane was shot down in the Philippines in 1945. Johnson flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Once the war was over, Russ used his GI Bill to enroll in the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood to study acting. While there he met Kay Cousins, and they married in 1949 and were married until her death in 1980.

 

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Johnson’s big-screen career began in 1952. He was a friend of Audie Murphy and would appear in three of his films in the early 1950s. He was in a variety of movies throughout the 1950s, mainly westerns and sci fi classics such as It Came from Outer Space.

 

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Russell began receiving roles on television in 1950. In the 1950s he would be seen on 28 different shows. In 1959 he was offered a role in a western, Black Saddle. Johnson was Marshal Gib Scott. The show was on for one season.

 

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During the 1960s, Russell’s television work increased, and he appeared on 39 series including The Twilight Zone, Route 66, Ben Casey, Laramie, 77 Sunset Strip, Outer Limits, and Big Valley. In 1964 he was offered the role of The Professor on Gilligan’s Island, replacing John Gabriel who was a teacher in the pilot. Roy Hinkley was a genius who made complex inventions from the simple materials he found on the island. As we have learned, most of the cast of Gilligan’s Island was typecast after the show was cancelled, and they had a hard time getting other roles. Johnson discussed this circumstance in a later interview: “It used to make me upset to be typecast as the Professor . . . but as the years have gone by, I’ve given in. I am the Professor, and that’s the way it is. . . Besides, the show went into syndication and parents are happy to have their children watch the reruns. No one gets hurt. There are no murders, no car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun. It’s brought a lot of joy to people, and that’s not a bad legacy.”

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Although he had trouble at first, he did go on to appear in 45 different shows from 1970-1997, including That Girl, Marcus Welby, Cannon, McMillan and Wife, Lou Grant, Bosom Buddies, Dallas, Fame, Newhart, ALF, and Roseanne. He had a recurring role on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law from 1971-1973.

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In 1982, Russell married for a third time. He married Connie Dane, and they were married until his death from kidney failure in 2014.

In 1993, he published his memoirs, Here on Gilligan’s Isle.

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Like so many of the tv icons in the 1960s—Barbara Eden, Adam West, Butch Patrick, David Cassidy, Maureen McCormick—Russell struggled with his alter ego, eventually accepting his role as the Professor. While being tied to one character for 50 years makes it tough to get the roles you want, it’s hard to be critical of a personality that gives such pleasure to decades of viewers and makes you a household name for half a century. Being given the chance to portray a character that America loves is a hazard of the business but is certainly better than never receiving a starring role.

You Never Know Who Might Show Up

With a show like Gilligan’s Island, you would assume it would be almost impossible to have guest stars. After all, they are on a deserted island. Except for the native people who might be living there, where would stars come from? Amazingly, Gilligan’s Island featured many guest stars over the years. Let’s look at a few of them.

Vito Scotti appeared on four different episodes playing Dr. Boris Balinkoff, mad scientist, twice, a Japanese sailor, and a Japanese soldier who does not believe World War II is over.

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Mel Blanc could be heard portraying a parrot several times and a frog.

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Hans Conried visited the island twice as Wrongway Feldman, an incompetent pilot who had crashed on the island years before.

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Kurt Russell was a modern-day Tarzan.

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Richard Kiel, a Russian agent, pretended to be a ghost to scare the castaways off the island so he could have the oil rights. When the cast turns the tables and acts like ghosts, he didn’t stick around long.

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Zsa Zsa Gabor was a rich socialite who falls in love with the Professor.

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Larry Storch is a robber hiding out on the island and pretending to be a doctor.

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John McGiver was Lord Beasley Waterford, famous butterfly collector.

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Don Rickles is con man Norbert Wiley who is hiding out on the island.  He kidnaps Mrs. Howell and later Ginger, planning on getting ransom for each castaway.  After the Professor puts him in jail, Ginger convinces them to let him out for a party.  Norbert steals jewelry and other items from the castaways and leaves the island.

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Phil Silvers crashes onto the island as Herbert Hecuba, arrogant movie producer. He orders everyone around like they’re his servants.  He is not impressed with Ginger’s acting ability, so the castaways write and perform a play to show off her talents. In the middle of the night, Hecuba takes off with their play, claiming it as his own back in the US.

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Sterling Holloway is an escapee from a prison and the owner of a pigeon. The Professor thinks he can get a message back to the States through the pigeon, but when Birdy finds out he is paroled, he sends the bird off first.

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A variety of actors played natives on the show. In all, there were 54 guest stars given credit on the show.

In addition, Bob Denver, Tina Louise, and Jim Backus all had guest starring roles playing people who were look-alikes for Gilligan, Ginger, and Mr. Howell.

I guess it’s a good lesson to always keep up appearances because you never know who might show up when you’re stranded on an island.

When She Tugged on Her Ear, She Tugged At Our Hearts

Today’s topic had me thinking about how much better things are in a group.  Roses are beautiful on their own but pair them with some complementary-colored blooms and everything comes alive.  Juicy watermelon is perfect on a hot, summer day, but combine it with berries, kiwi, and peaches, and all the tastes meld together. One book is a treasure on its own, but put ten together, and you have a library. There’s never a bad choice when deciding between vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream, but someone invented Neapolitan so you could get all three.

This works for our show this week as well.  Look at the work of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner and you will find gems, but put them together and you have a sparkling jewelry box full of wonderful things.

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These performers came together between 1967 and 1978 working on The Carol Burnett Show. Let’s see how that came to be.

Carol Burnett – Carol is a truly versatile performer; she acts, sings, does comedy, dances, has been on the stage, and has appeared on the big screen as well as the small screen. America has always had a love affair with her.

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She was born in Texas and moved to Hollywood with her grandmother. One of her first jobs was working as an usherette.  She received an anonymous gift of money that covered a year at UCLA where she majored in journalism. At one point she decided to switch her major to theater arts and English and planned to be a playwright. She gained some experience performing in several college productions. Her good luck continued when she received another gift – a $100 interest-free loan to move to New York City to try her hand at musical comedy.  She worked as a hat girl and began her acting career.  She married Don Saroyan in 1955. In 1959 she got her first big break, appearing in the Broadway show, Once Upon a Mattress for which she received a Tony nomination. Around this time, she became friends with Jim Nabors; he would be a life-long friend and her daughter’s godfather. When the Carol Burnett Show started, he became the first guest every season and was her good luck charm.

Soon after she began appearing on television and won her first Emmy in 1962 for her work on The Paul Winchell Show. This was also the year she and Don divorced. In 1963, she married Joe Hamilton, and they had three children. Lucille Ball had become a mentor to her, and they also remained friends for life.  Lucy sent her flowers every birthday.  On her birthday in 1989, Carol awoke to the news that Lucy had died.  She received her flowers later that day.

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She did several specials with Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, and Beverly Sills. Carol had a clause that she could decide to do a permanent variety show which would expire in 1967. Carol decided to take advantage of the clause and do the variety show.  The network tried to talk her out of it because they said variety shows tended to be men’s territory.  They offered her a sitcom of her own, but luckily for us, she stuck to her guns.

In 1974, she went back to the stage to star with Rock Hudson in I Do I Do. In 1984 she and Joe divorced.  She would win her second Emmy for her work on Mad About You.

In 1995, she returned to Broadway to appear in Moon Over Buffalo which gained her a second Tony nomination.

Carol was the Grand Marshal for the 109th Rose Bowl Parade. She has written five books. She has remained close friends with many of her costars including her show cast, Jim Nabors, Betty White, Beverly Sills, Julie Andrews.

Not only did she help a young Vicki Lawrence, but other stars looked to her for help as well. Jim Carrey sent her his resume at age 10.

In 2001, Carol married again. Her current husband Brian Miller is a drummer for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Most recently she guest starred on several episodes of Hawaii Five-0.

Harvey Korman – Born in Chicago, Korman served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he studied at the Goodman School of Drama.  He attended classes at DePaul University and the Chicago Art Institute. During 1950, 1957, and 1958 he was part of the Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Door County, Wisconsin.

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His first television role was on the Donna Reed Show in 1960. He also married that year and they had two children. He continued to act on television on such shows as Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, Route 66, Jack Benny, Hazel, Here’s Lucy, and Gidget – 30 shows in all; he also appeared in many movies. You might recognize his voice if you watch The Flintstones; he played the role of the Great Gazoo. His first big break was on The Danny Kaye Show in 1963. With his expressive voice, he played a wide assortment of characters. In was due to his work on Danny Kaye, that Carol recruited him for her show in 1967.

In 1977, he made the tough decision to leave The Carol Burnett Show and star in his own vehicle, The Harvey Korman Show.  The show was about an out-of-work actor Harvey Kavanaugh who lived with his daughter. The critics thought Korman was wonderful in the show, but the show got very low ratings and was cancelled after six episodes. Then he was an out-of-work actor in real life. Dick Van Dyke had taken his place on the Carol Burnett Show so he could not return.

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After his show fizzled out, he went back to movies. In 1977 he divorced his first wife. In 1982 he remarried and had two more children.  Korman continued to make tv appearances on a variety of shows such as the Love Boat, Ellen, and ER. He also made movies. He is probably best known for two of his movies: Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety.  In 1983-84, he appeared in Mama’s Family with Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence. In 2008, he passed away from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm that was diagnosed four months prior.

Tim Conway – Conway was born in Ohio and joined the Army, serving at a radio station. After the war, he studied at Bowling Green State University, majoring in tv and radio. He married in 1961 and they had 6 children.

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He was discovered by Rose Marie and became a regular on The Steve Allen Show. He earned even more fame when he joined the cast of McHale’s Navy in 1962. McHale’s Navy had two different formats.  I was surprised to learn that Joseph Heller (author of Catch-22) wrote one episode but removed himself from the credits when he had an argument with the producer. Conway became very close to Ernest Borgnine and considered him his mentor. Later the two of them would work together in SpongeBob Square Pants as old superheroes.

After McHale’s Navy, he was cast in Rango. A comedy/western, Conway played Rango. He was an inept Ranger, but his father was the head of the Texas Rangers, so he was moved to a very quiet post.  Unfortunately, a crime wave broke out after his arrival. The show lasted for 17 episodes.

Conway got his own show in 1970, but it never really worked and was cancelled after 12 episodes. He played an airline pilot who was not very good at flying. He and his partner owned a decrepit airplane and they were always fighting creditors, barely making a living.

He was on Carol Burnett throughout the years of her show, and in 1975 he became a regular. When the show ended, he kept busy with television shows, appearing in more than 50 shows including Newhart, Larry Sanders, Drew Carey, Ellen, Yes Dear, Hot in Cleveland, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Roseanne, and Ally McBeal. He also performed around the country with Harvey Korman and began making his Dorf videos. In 1984 he married his current wife.

 

Vicki Lawrence –  Vicki grew up in California. When Vicki Lawrence was 17, she wrote Carol a fan letter.  She was entered in a Miss Fireball contest, and someone told her she resembled Carol. She asked for some advice about her performance. Carol not only gave her advice – she drove all the way to watch the contest.  She told her they would talk about her career. A short time later, while Vicki was singing with the Young Americans, Carol offered the inexperienced girl a regular role on her show.

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Vicki was mentored by both Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett, and her talent blossomed during her years on the variety show. In 1974, she recorded the hit song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

In 1983, she was offered her own show based on one of the Carol Burnett skits, Mama’s Family.

She hosted Win, Lose, or Draw and has appeared in stage performances. She spends most of her time now giving speeches for women’s groups and charities.

Lyle Waggoner – Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Waggoner was the heart throb of the show. He sold encyclopedias door to door. To jump start his career, he appeared in summer stock. He received roles in a lot of bad sci fi and beach party films. His career might have been different because he was in consideration for Batman, but the part went to Adam West. He was hired as the emcee of Carol’s show but progressed to being a part of the ensemble playing in a variety of skits. He left The Carol Burnett Show in 1973. He was offered a role in Wonder Woman in 1975. His career never picked up after that. He now runs a rental trailer company which is the largest one in Hollywood. He has been married more than fifty years, and he and his wife have two sons.

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The Carol Burnett Show

The show was the best and the last variety show to be on television. Carol wanted to develop her own cast. She handpicked her costars. She hired The Ernie Flatt Dancers to do all the choreography. The head male dancer for the run was Don Crichton.

Artie Malvin was the musical writer. Carol used a live 28-piece orchestra conducted by Harry Zimmerman for the first three years and Peter Matz for the final eight years. She had a guest star on every week, often a singer.  Some of the performers included Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Lena Horne, The Carpenters, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ray Charles.  Steve Lawrence was on 25 times and Eydie Gorme performed 13. Unfortunately, when the show went into syndication, it became a half-hour show, and the musical numbers were cut.

Sonny and Cher taped next door and Carol often popped in on their taping and Sonny and Cher visited her show.

Some of Carol’s favorite guests included Bernadette Peters, Alan Alda, Roddy McDowell, Paul Lynde, Bob Newhart, Rita Hayworth, James Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Vincent Price, the Smothers Brothers, Donald O’Connor, Lucille Ball, Rock Hudson, Mickey Rooney, Betty White, and Nanette Fabray. The only guest star Carol was not able to book was Bette Davis.  She demanded too much money.

The Carol Burnett Show received 22 Emmy Awards during the 11 seasons it was on the air. Harvey Korman was nominated for six of those and won four. Lawrence also received five Emmy nominations and one win.

Bob Mackie was her favorite designer, and he designed all the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show. Typically, he had to design 60-70 outfits per week, adding up to 18,000 over the course of the show.

For the first 3-4 minutes of each show, Carol appeared in a Bob Mackie creation and took questions from the audience. Some of these are the funniest parts of the show.

The cast would rehearse every day, and they did two tapings on Friday.  If the first taping went fine and they got what they needed, they would let Tim Conway improvise on the second taping and many of his unrehearsed moments made it into the show.

The show aired on Monday nights up against Big Valley and I Spy. In Season 5, they were moved to Wednesday nights up against Adam-12 on one network and Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father on the other. In 1972, they made their final move to Saturday nights. The final year they faced some stiff competition against The Love Boat.

Some of her favorite regular skits were Stella Toddler where Burnett played an older character who always seemed to get tripped, whacked by something, or knocked down; Mrs. Wiggins who was an inappropriately dressed and incompetent secretary to Mr. Tudball; a woman who watched commercials on tv —  a cast member showed an item each week that drove the woman crazy; Marion from Canoga Falls in “As the Stomach Turns”; Chiquita, Burnett’s imitation of Charo; Nora Desmond, a has-been silent film star and her butler Max; The Old Folks where Burnett and Korman talked on the porch reminiscing; and Shirley Dimple, based on Shirley Temple.

Carol loved the parodies they did of old movies.  Some of the original stars loved them, and some were quite unhappy with the comedies. Her favorite was “Went with the Wind” with Starlett O’Hara, Rat Butler, and Mr. Brashley. The curtain rod in the dress was conceived by Bob Mackie. Coming down the stairs, Starlett replies to Rat’s compliment on the dress, “Thank you.  I saw it in the window and couldn’t resist.” The dress is now at the Smithsonian Museum. She also liked “Pillow Squawk”, a Doris Day parody.

She was always complimentary about her entire cast. One of her quotes was “When you play tennis, it’s important to play with a better player because it makes your game better.  Well, Harvey made my game better. I miss him dreadfully. And Tim Conway, God bless him, is just genius when it comes to improvising, coming up with stuff that we never rehearsed.”

These compliments were returned by her costars. Harvey Korman was quoted as saying, “We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away.”

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Of course, everyone watches to see how Tim Conway makes Harvey Korman laugh during their skits.  Apparently, Tim had a knack for improving the scripts and throwing in lines and action that Korman didn’t anticipate. Here’s Tim Conway on Harvey Korman: “He was one of the brightest people I’ve ever met, but the man could not tie his own shoes . . .  I would put him on constantly . . . We were on an airplane and we refueled in Arizona. Taxing on the next runway, I said, ‘Harvey, I don’t know if the guy put the gas cap back on. It was on the wing and now it’s not.’ Harvey got worried. So, he got up and went to the pilot and said, ‘Your gas cap’s not on.’ The pilot just looked at him.  There is no gas cap.”

One of the memorable parts of the show is the opening and closing theme song.  She always ended the show with “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started, and before you know it, comes the time we have to say so long.” Then she tugged her ear. She would tug on her left ear which was a message to her grandmother that things were going well, and she missed her.

No matter how many years go by, the show remains a timeless comedy.  It has a balance of silliness and savvy. It’s hard to believe that the generations growing up in the 1980s and 1990s have never seen a variety show.  I love to catch reruns of this show.  I laugh out loud through the show.  Thank you, Carol for spending time with us. The show currently can be shown on Me TV at 10:00 pm with Mama’s Family airing at 8:00 pm.

The Passing of a Pop-Culture Parent

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In memory of Florence Henderson, who passed on away on Thanksgiving, I just wanted to spend some time reviewing her career.  It’s hard not to call someone lucky and successful who became a multimillionaire (10-15 million depending on the source), is well known all over the world, and beloved by many fans. But, after researching her career, I wonder if she had been able to do it over, would she have chosen to take on the role of Carol Brady?

Florence’s life was a far cry from The Brady Bunch; the only similarity was having a huge number of people under one roof.  Her father didn’t marry until his late forties and he married a woman 25 years younger than him. He was a tobacco sharecropper and alcoholic and life was not like a sitcom. Florence, growing up in Indiana, was the tenth child to come along, and her father was close to 70 by the time she was born. Her mother and father divorced when she was a teen and then her mother moved to Cleveland, Ohio to work, and Florence did not see her until she was there for a musical performance. Her father passed away the same time she began a Broadway show. She had to choose between keeping the job and attending her father’s funeral, and she took the job and dealt with the guilt for many years.

During her career she was in eleven Broadway shows. She had a very interesting career.  She was the first woman to fill in as host for the Tonight Show during the transition from Jack Paar to Johnny Carson. She then became a Today girl on the morning show, presenting the weather and light news in 1959. Although she appeared in various commercials, she is best known for promoting Wesson Oil which she did from 1974-1996. Her last appearance before her death was at a taping of Dancing with the Stars which she had competed in along with Maureen McCormick, her daughter Marcia, on The Brady Bunch. (Dancing with the Stars photo credited to ABC News)

 

After her iconic role as Carol Brady, she became the queen of one episodes.  She appeared in three episodes of her friend Angela Lansberry’s Murder She Wrote, three shows on Fantasy Island, four times on Dave’s World and ten episodes of The Love Boat, the most of any star. However, from 1975-2016, she worked on 31 shows where she appeared in one episode only. Some of these shows were classic sitcoms such as Alice, Roseanne, Ellen, King of Queens, and 30 Rock. Some were dramas including Medical Center, Hart to Hart, and Ally McBeal. Some were children’s or animated shows such as Scooby-Doo Mystery, Inc.; The Cleveland Show; Handy Manny; and Sofia the First.  However, the most by far were sitcoms that didn’t leave a lasting impression and many are probably quite forgettable.  During those years she appeared on Good Heavens, 3 Girls 3, Glitter, Free Spirit, Night Stand, Samantha Who, Happily Divorced, Trophy Wife, and Instant Mom.

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Towards the end of her life, she seemed to find a comfortable place pursuing interesting and wide-ranging activities.  She and best friend Shirley Jones did a series of concerts together, she hosted a couple of shows on the Retirement Living network, and did a lot of interviews.

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In 1968, she agreed to play the role of Carol Brady but had not heard anything about the show being picked up and was set to star in The Song of Norway being filmed in Norway.  She left for the musical still thinking The Brady Bunch was a no- go.  However, she later found out it was indeed debuting in 1969. They had to film the first six episodes without her and she did her taping later. Appearing as Carol Brady from 1969-1974 gave her the role of a lifetime.  The Brady Bunch has never been off the air since it debuted which says a lot about the show. Many generations of fans admired her and gave her thanks for being a mother figure to them. Some dreamed of being part of a family like the Bradys and obviously Florence could relate, with her background.

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The role made her a national symbol and a lot of money, but you have to wonder what it cost her professionally. It was surprising that both Florence and Shirley Jones became America’s mothers on Friday nights after both being given their start by Rogers and Hammerstein earlier in their careers. They also both wrote “tell-all” books about their lives in show business in 2012 and 2013. Both of these women have been busy their entire lives because they were willing to change along with the times and continue to explore alternatives.

In an interview with Tavis Smiley in 2011, Florence reflected on being Carol Brady: “I’m okay with that.  I think you have to cherish your past because if you don’t cherish your past and love this moment, you have no future. I know a lot of actors hate it when they’re identified with a role. I know what I’ve done in my career . . . I received tremendous affection from people all over the world.”

In a joint interview conducted with Shirley Jones and Florence Henderson, Shirley recalled that her agent told her not to do The Partridge Family.  He said that if she was successful, she would be locked into the role forever.  She wanted a series so she could be home to raise her children, so she took it. She did admit that her agent was right. Even though she had done 20 movies before The Partridge Family, she was forever known as Shirley Partridge. However, she took said at least it was a show she could be proud of and an entire family could watch it together without anything shocking taking place.

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After being The Fonz, Henry Winkler was so typecast that he went into directing and producing because he couldn’t get out of the Fonz’s shadow. I’m not sure why this happens to actors. I think it has something to do with the television being in our homes and we begin to relate to these characters as if they’re real people.  We don’t want anything to ruin the fantasy of the character and how genuine they have become to us. Actors in movies seem to be able to move from role to role without the same obstacles as television stars.

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I guess if you have to be typecast in a role, the role of Carol Brady is not a bad one to identify with. In a recent interview, Florence talked about that fact and if she has to be Carol Brady forever, at least the show “represents what everyone wants in life, and that is a loving family, unconditional love, a place to make mistakes, to get angry, to be forgiven, and to forgive. (photo below credited to Closerweekly)

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Florence Henderson had four children and many grandchildren and became the type of mother and grandmother she portrayed on television rather than the role model she grew up with. That is certainly a success in any field. Not only did she have close relationships with her own family, but she stayed close to her “Brady family” for the past five decades. If that was not enough, she influenced generations of viewers who hopefully took something of Carol Brady and incorporated it into their idea of what a mother should be like.

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I am in that generation who lived for Friday nights to watch The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, wanting to be part of their families, even if it was from a living room across the country.  Along with many viewers from that generation, I was sad to learn of Florence Henderson’s death and did feel like someone special from my life had passed away. Certainly my realization of the ideal mother was based partly on Carol Brady, Shirley Partridge, Donna Stone, Kate Bradley, and even Bentley Greg and Steve Douglas.  With each of their passing, it does feel like losing a family member.

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Thank you Florence for your positive outlook, your energy, your wide range of interests, your honesty, and your willingness to take on parenting a whole generation of baby boomers. Rest in peace.