Make Room for Daddy: The Show That Persevered

As we wind up our salute to fathers during Father’s Day month, we finish with Make Room for Daddy. This iconic show doesn’t get the respect that I Love Lucy did, but it is one of the first iconic family sitcoms. This sitcom had to survive cast changes, network moves, and ratings fluctuations.

Photo: famousfix.com

The show debuted on ABC in 1953. In 1957, it moved to CBS until 1964 when it went off the air. Danny Williams (Danny Thomas), a nightclub singer and comedian, tries to balance his work life with his family life. Danny obviously loves his children but is not an overly affectionate dad and is just as likely to tell his son Rusty, “I love you, you little jerk.”

In March of 1953, Thomas singed a contract for the show and picked Desilu Studios for filming because of their three-camera method. Several of the working titles for the show were “The Children’s Hour” and “Here Comes Daddy.”

The title of the show was from a Thomas family joke. Whenever Danny was away for work, his children had the run of the house. They slept in the master bedroom with their mother, even putting clothes in the dresser there, so when he came home from a tour or a filming, he told them it was time to spread out and “make room for daddy.”

Danny has three children (two in seasons 1-4 and three in seasons 5 and after): Terry (Sherry Jackson and later Penney Parker), Linda (Lelani Sorenson, then Angela Cartwright), and Rusty (Rusty Hamer). The first three seasons his wife Margaret was played by Jean Hagen. They had Terry and Rusty. Louise (Louise Beavers) was their maid. When Beavers passed away, Amanda Randolph took over the role. Terry was later played by Penney Parker. Mary Tyler Moore auditioned for the role, but Danny felt Mary’s nose did not match his as well as Parker’s.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

The show was filmed live before 300 people, so there was a lot of pressure on the younger kids to know their lines. All three children continued in successful acting careers after the show. (Unfortunately, Hamer had a harder time finding good roles as an adult and committed suicide at 42. Cartwright left acting to focus on a career as a photographer.  Jackson continued acting.)

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With Danny Thomas’s connections, you can imagine the quality of guest stars this show was able to feature. Some of the bigger names include Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Durante, Shirley Jones, and Dinah Shore. If you looked at a Who’s Who in Comedy Sitcoms, you would find a huge percentage of them on this show.

Like many shows from this era, the original sponsor was The American Tobacco Company, advertising its brands like Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, and Tareyton.

While the theme song went through variations during the run of the show, it was always a version of “Danny Boy.”

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The show was popular and did well in the ratings but had not made the top 30 after three years. Jean Hagen decided to leave the show.

At the beginning of the fourth season, the title changed to The Danny Thomas Show. Thomas and producer Sheldon Leonard were trying to decide how to explain Hagen’s absence. Divorce was not acceptable and filling the same role with another actress didn’t seem like a good option either. They decided to have her die between seasons.

The emphasis of the show now switched to Danny being a widower. The family moved from their home to an apartment. Danny dated occasionally and almost got engaged to singer before learning she didn’t like children. The ratings were declining with the new format, so it was decided to have Danny marry again.

Mary Wickes played the role of Liz O’Neal, Danny’s press agent from 1955-1957.

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Mary Wickes in the background

At the end of the 1957 season, Rusty becomes ill, and Danny hires Kathy O’Hara (Marjorie Lord) as his nurse. Kathy was a widow with a young girl (Lelani Sorenson). Danny and the kids both fall in love with her and they become engaged in the season finale. ABC cancelled the show, but NBC was looking for a show to take over the spot of I Love Lucy which was ending its production, so they took it over and put it on the schedule for the fall of 1957.

The first episode of the fifth season “Lose Me in Las Vegas” centered on Danny and Kathy who had married an were on their honeymoon. Angela Cartwright took over the role of Kathy’s daughter from Sorenson. Danny adopted Linda. The family moved into a larger apartment. The ratings skyrocketed, and it was the number 2 show by the end of the season.

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Sherry Jackson decided to leave the show during season six, and her absence was explained by her going to a school in Paris. Jackson had a five-year contract which she honored. She and Hagen had been very close, and Jackson wanted to leave when Hagen did, but Hagen only had a three-year contract.

In season seven, Terry comes back, now played by Penney Parker. During the season she gets engaged and eventually marries Pat (Pat Harrington Jr.), a friend of Danny’s. Terry and Pat move to California and are rarely mentioned afterward.

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Make Room for Daddy might have had the first spinoff of a character not in the cast. In one of the episodes from 1960, “Danny Meets Andy Griffith,” Danny is pulled over in Mayberry and is detained in the jail. Sheriff Andy Taylor is featured in the show, and The Andy Griffith Show was created.

“The Danny Thomas Show” (aka “Make Room for Daddy”) Pat Carroll, Sid Melton circa 1950s Photo by Gabi Rona

For the final two seasons, Danny and Kathy traveled for much of the series. They toured Europe while Rusty and Linda stayed home with Danny’s manager Charlie (Sid Melton) and his wife Bunny (Pat Carroll). Thomas decided to retire from the show in 1964. The show ended on a high note, still ranking number nine.

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Although the show ended in 1964, NBC brought back the main cast of Thomas, Lord, Cartwright, Hamer, Jackson, Randolph, and Hans Conried, Uncle Tonoose, to star in a two-hour reunion special, The Danny Thomas TV Family Reunion.  Having a reunion show was another first accomplished by this sitcom.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

In 1969, CBS created their own reunion special, titled Make Room for Grandaddy. It had such high ratings that CBS put it on the schedule, but Thomas didn’t like the time slot and pulled the show.

In 1970, ABC tried again. Sherry Jackson again was Terry, but her husband now was Bill; what happened to Pat? Terry had a six-year-old son Michael (Michael Hughes) whom Terry left with Danny and Kathy (still played by Thomas and Lord) to join Bill, a soldier stationed overseas. The show only lasted one year. One of the reasons given was that Sheldon Leonard was no longer controlling the scripts and actors, and the show was moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays during the season.

The show was so popular with kids that a comic book series was developed.

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As I mentioned, this show does not get the credit it deserves. While Danny tended to be short-tempered and Kathy was the voice of reason, the scripts for the entire series were well written and realistic. It had an extremely talented cast. Unlike some series, the children really carried the show. The children acted like children, not mature adults, in most ways, but they created great characters and were very funny. Rusty always had a viewpoint on any given situation. Their moments are the ones that make this show so memorable. Many of the episodes center around the kids. A typical example is “Casanova Junior ” : Rusty hasn’t asked a girl to the school dance because he has no confidence. Danny gives him some pointers and now the girls are falling all over themselves to go out with Rusty. The only problem is Rusty, he’s gone from no confidence to treating the girls badly and Danny is not happy about it.

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The show ended in the top ten. It created the first sitcom spinoff of a non-cast member and the first reunion movie. I specify “non-cast” member because December Bride included Pete Porter in its cast, and he talked about his wife Gladys. Later the show Pete and Gladys was created.

Despite the challenges it faced with cast members coming and going, the change from ABC to NBC, and the characters growing up on the show with changed the dynamics of the series, the show continued to garner great ratings and was given a second life in a new series in Make Room for Grandaddy. Along with The Donna Reed Show, it was one of the trend-setting family sitcoms from the 1950s and ’60s.

Go Green, Green Acres That Is

In the 1950s, a lot of the top shows were set in residential or suburban areas:  Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show, and December Bride to name a few.  In the early 1960s, the rural sitcom became the hottest genre.  In 1963 The Beverly Hillbillies was #1, Petticoat Junction was #4, and The Andy Griffith Show was #5. Filmways offered Paul Henning the chance to produce a new rural show with no pilot necessary.  Filmways was created in 1952, and the company was behind many successful shows including The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Pruitts of Southampton, Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, and Cagney and Lacey.

Paul Henning approached Jay Sommers to create the new rural comedy. Sommers based the series on a radio show he had written in 1950 —  Granby’s Green Acres.  Granby was based on a book, Acres and Pains by S.J. Perelman. The radio show only lasted for 13 episodes and starred Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet. Granby was a former banker who moved to the country to run a farm.  He also had a daughter, and the general store owner was a major character, Will Kimble, played in the first episode by Howard McNear. A couple of titles proposed were Country Cousins and The Eddie Albert Show, but the final decision was Green Acres.

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Green Acres ran on CBS from 1965-1971 with solid ratings. It produced 170 episodes, all filmed in color.  Richard Bare directed most of the shows. At the end of each episode, Eva Gabor would say “This has been a Filmways presentation dahling.”

While the Beverly Hillbillies took a family out of the mountains and put them in Beverly Hills, Green Acres went with the opposite scenario.

The premise of the show was that Oliver Douglas  who had been a busy attorney in New York City decides he wants to move to the country to run his own farm. His wife Lisa  does not agree. He buys a farm unseen in Hooterville. We are never told where Hooterville is, and I think everyone has their own idea of which state it might be in. The house and farm are more run-down and dilapidated than Lisa ever imagined in her worst nightmare.  The citizens of Hooterville are a quirky set of characters.

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The debut show was done as a documentary narrated by John Daly, a former newscaster and the host then of What’s My Line.  Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor appeared on What’s My Line later in the fall as a thank you to Daly. As you can see below, Oliver’s mother is horrified by his choice.

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The theme song is memorable and tells the backstory of the Douglases:

Oliver: Green Acres is the place to be – Farm living is the life for me –Land spreading out so far and wide – Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.

Lisa: No, New York is where I’d rather stay – I get allergic smelling hay – I just adore a penthouse view – Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue

Oliver: The chores

Lisa: The stores

Oliver: Fresh air

Lisa: Times Square

Oliver: You are my wife

Lisa: Goodbye city life

Both: Green Acres, we are there

Snippets of country and New York city were shown while the stars sing, and ends with both of them in the same pose as “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.

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Like the Andy Griffith Show, the series worked because of the interaction between these Hooterville citizens who become believable for us. Let’s meet the cast of characters.

Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) – Oliver is intelligent, hard-working, and practical to a fault.  He has to deal with a kooky wife, a disapproving mother (played by Eleanor Audley who was only 5 months older than Albert), and the quirky neighbors that surrounded him. However, Oliver has a respect for the wisdom these people have about farming and rural life.  Despite the fact that he seems to be the only sane person in the valley, it’s obvious he truly has an affection for the folks he lives with.

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Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) – Lisa grew up in a wealthy Hungarian family. Her misuse of the English language is one of her endearing qualities. She has a hard time adjusting to farm life.  In one episode she is using a stapler to fix Oliver’s socks.  While Oliver is telling her how woman for centuries have sewn socks, Fred Ziffel, the most experienced farmer in Hooterville enters the room and tells her he notices she is mending socks; his wife does it the same way. Despite the fact that Lisa did not want to leave the city, she adapts to living in the country quickly and develops an understanding with the neighbors Oliver never attains.

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Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) – Eb is the farmhand who lives with the Douglases.  He comes off as naïve, but we understand Eb is much smarter than he lets on.  He is always trying to get less work for more money.  He calls them Mom and Dad which Lisa loves but drives Oliver crazy.

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Mr. Eustace Haney (Pat Buttram)- Mr. Haney is the unethical and dishonest salesman who originally sold Oliver the farm, which belonged to his family. He is always showing up to sell them something they need at outrageous prices. [Pat Buttram was Gene Autrey’s sidekick in the movies and tv; Smiley Burnette, Charley, who runs the Cannonball, the local train on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, was Autrey’s sidekick in radio and movies and  Buttram replaced him when he moved on.]

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Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) – Sam was a busy guy; he ran the general store, he was the newspaper editor, was the only printer in town, he was part of the volunteer fire department, he was the justice of the peace, and he’s the postman. Apart from Oliver, he was the smartest and most sane person in the valley, and he and Oliver often commiserated about the crazy life going on around them.

Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore) – Mr. Kimball was the county agricultural agent who was supposed to help Oliver adjust to farming. He often loses his train of thought and rarely follows through on the news or information he is supposed to relay.

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The Monroe Brothers – Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield) are a brother and sister team that Alf portrays as brother and brother in order get work. Their projects are never finished on time, and rarely finished the right way.

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Fred and Doris Ziffel (Hank Patterson and Barbara Pepper/Fran Ryan) – the Ziffels were successful farmers.  They had no children, but they had a pet pig that they considered a son.

 

Arnold Ziffel – Arnold Ziffel was their pet pig and one of the most intelligent people in Hooterville. He understands English, attends the local grade school, lives inside in his own bedroom, can sign his name, and is a bit addicted to television watching, especially westerns. A new pig was used each season because they grew so fast. The Union demanded the pigs be payed $250 a day and were trained by Frank Inn. In 1967 Arnold won a Patsy award.

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Some of the other animals featured on the show included Eleanor the Cow; Bertram the rooster; Alice the hen; and Mr. Haney’s dog, Cynthia, a basset hound who had a huge crush on Arnold.

Green Acres had its fair share of guest stars including Parley Baer, Robert Cummings, June Foray, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Joyce, Gordon Jump, Bernie Kopell, Al Lewis, Rich Little, Al Molinaro, Pat Morita, Jerry Van Dyke, and Jesse White.

The show was 25% surrealism, 25% satire, and 50% just plain fun.

Some of the running gags on the show were the fact that people, except Oliver, could see the credits running, and Lisa often commented on them. A lot of the jokes were at Oliver’s expense.  He was the only one in town who could not understand Arnold’s grunts. Also, whenever Oliver got passionate about something, he went into a monologue, usually patriotic, and everyone but him could hear fifes playing.

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Lisa’s hotcakes were good for many projects, just not eating. The Douglases had a feud with the phone company because they were supposed to move their phone inside.  Whenever they had to use the phone, Oliver had to climb up a phone pole to talk. Oliver had a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor which was usually breaking down, catching on fire, or falling apart.

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We also had the stark extremes of sophisticated New York living and rural life.  Lisa continued to dress in beautiful gowns and furs.  They slept in a huge, expensive bed, with an elaborate chandelier over their heads, but their closet had no back so neighbors walked in on and off. The fire department marching band often practices at Sam Drucker’s store but for all five years whenever they practice, they only know one song, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.

Although Lisa continues to threaten to move back to New York City, aided and abetted by Oliver’s mother, we know she loves him and will never leave without him.  Despite their arguments, Lisa and Oliver are frequently seen kissing and hints are given about them retiring to their room together. In real life, Albert and Gabor were dear friends and they are both buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Tom Lester, Eb, credited Albert with helping him as an actor and being a surrogate father to him; the two remained close friends until Albert passed away.

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There are many cross-overs with Petticoat Junction and the Beverly Hillbillies. Sam Drucker was featured in both Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Some of the characters visited each other on various episodes. It is funny that Bea Benaderet starred in Petticoat Junction as well as the radio show Granby’s Green Acres which means Green Acres was based on her radio show and was a spin-off of her television show. In 1968, a Beverly Hillbillies Thanksgiving Show united cast members from all three shows.

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With 170 episodes, it’s hard to come up with the best five, but after looking at various polls and tv guide reviews, I will do my best to represent the majority’s votes:

“Music to Milk By” – Eb wants to win a radio contest and he has to listen day and night which cuts into his chores, especially when the cow swallows the radio.

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“I Didn’t Raise My Pig to be a Soldier” – Arnold Ziffel gets a draft notice. Oliver acts as his attorney before the draft board. They are assuming Oliver is making fun of them with the pig and the real Arnold is elsewhere. After a lot of explanations and some time in jail, Oliver convinces them Arnold is really a pig.  The end of the show has Oliver back before the draft board because Ralph Monroe, a woman, who they think is a man, has been drafted.

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“The Hooterville Image” – The town agrees Oliver needs to do chores in overalls. He has been farming in a vest and dress shirt. They finally convince him to become more accepted by switching his attire until they see the overalls Lisa’s dress designer came up with.

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“The Computer Age” – Ralph Monroe joins a computer dating service. Oliver and Lisa disagree on whether that is a good idea. Oliver thinks it is. He also thinks computers are the best way to run a farm. To prove her point, Lisa uses the service to see if she and Oliver would have been paired up.

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“A Star Named Arnold is Born, Parts 1 and 2” – Arnold appears in a play at the local theater. Lisa arranges for an old friend to give him a chance in show business. In the second part, Lisa and Oliver chaperone his trip to Hollywood to star in a motion picture.

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Oddly enough the top four were all from season 2, and “A Star Named Arnold Is Born” is from season 3.

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In Spring of 1971, Green Acres was still pulling in good ratings.  However, the Rural Purge of 1971 got rid of all shows that had country leanings whether they were audience favorites or not.

 

In full disclosure, I loved Petticoat Junction growing up, and I could not stand the Beverly Hillbillies.  I thought Green Acres was okay but if I missed it that was okay too.  As I’ve gotten older, I still love Petticoat Junction, and I still don’t care for the Beverly Hillbillies, but I have developed a much greater appreciation for Green Acres.  If a show was capable of having a sense of humor, this one did.   It never took itself seriously.  Eddie Albert was willing to be the straight guy to the rest of the ensemble. The character interaction worked, and no dialogue came off as too zany.  The citizens might not have always agreed or understood each other’s lifestyles, but they had affection and respect for each other. Lisa’s reading the credits and different characters addressing the audience brought us in on the jokes and made us part of the Green Acres family. Now when I watch the show, I laugh out loud – a lot! I don’t laugh at the characters, I laugh with them. For being a rural sitcom, this show has some sophisticated humor.  If you have not watched the show in a while, you owe it to yourself, as well as the cast and crew who created it, to get to know the folks in Hooterville.

 

1917 Was A Very Good Year

This week I was inspired by the blog “Once upon a screen . . .” to take a look at television pioneers who were born in 1917. (For some great articles on pop culture, movies, and television, check out her blog at aurorasginjoint.com.) Let’s get to know 17 of the stars who helped shape the direction of television during the golden age.

Herbert Anderson. Best known for his role as Henry Mitchell on Dennis the Menace, Anderson began his career making movies.  He transitioned to television in 1953, appearing on 61 shows over the years.  He appeared in episodes on such shows as Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, Man from U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, Bewitched, and The Waltons.  One of my favorites is the first season of The Brady Bunch.  The kids are sick and both parents call a doctor.  The girls were used to a woman played by Marion Ross while the boys always had a man, Anderson.  After weighing factors to pick one of them, the family decides to keep both doctors. He died from a heart attack in 1994.

Carl Ballantine. Ballantine began his career as a magician and inspired many famous magicians since.  He began working in Las Vegas and on television as a magician.  Eventually he transferred to movie roles and after appearing in McHale’s Navy on the big screen, took on the same role of Lester Gruber on the television series. He went on to appear on 33 additional tv shows including That Girl, Laverne and Shirley, Trapper John MD, and Night Court. He passed away at his home in 2009.

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Earl Bellamy. Earl Bellamy directed episodes for 101 different television shows.  He is best known for The Lone Ranger and The Tales of Wells Fargo.  He directed 82 episodes for Bachelor Father, one of my all-time favorite sitcoms.  In the 1960s he specialized in sitcoms including That Girl, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and My Three Sons while the 1970s saw him transition to dramas including Marcus Welby MD, The FBI, Medical Center, and Eight is Enough. In 2003 he passed away from a heart attack.

Ernest Borgnine.  Best known of his Oscar-winning role of Marty in 1955, Ernest enlisted in the Navy in 1935 until 1941.  In 1942 he re-enlisted and served until 1945.  After doing some factory work, he decided to go to school to study acting and began his career on Broadway.  He was also in the movie McHale’s Navy and went on to tackle the role in the television series.  He loved working with Tim Conway and in later years they did the voices for Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants. He appeared in 47 different shows over the years, including the series Airwolf which he starred in. Borgnine appeared in the final episode of ER which he won an Emmy for. He was married five times, including a 32-day marriage to Ethel Merman.  His last marriage to Tova lasted 39 years. He died of kidney failure in 2012.

Raymond Burr. Best known as Perry Mason, Burr started his career on Broadway in the 1940s and then appeared in 50 films from 1946-1957. In 1956 he auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger, the DA in Perry Mason.  He was told he could have the starring role if he lost about 60 pounds which he accomplished. He later starred in Ironside, another crime drama and appeared on a variety of other shows.  Burr had many interests including raising and cross-breeding orchids; collecting wine, art, stamps and sea shells; reading; and breeding dogs.  He was extremely generous, giving away much of his money over the years.  He passed away from cancer in 1993.

Phyllis Diller. Known for her wild hair and clothing, Diller was one of the pioneering stand-up female comedians.  She appeared in films in the 1940s, worked in radio in the 1950s, and began her stand-up career in 1955. Her first television appearance was in You Bet Your Life.  She appeared in 40 shows including Batman, CHIPs, Full House, and The Drew Carey Show.  She had her own show titled The Pruitts of Southampton, and in reruns The Phyllis Diller Show that ran from 1966-67.  She recorded comedy albums in the 1960s, wrote several books during her career, was an accomplished pianist, performing with symphony orchestras across the US and taught herself painting which she continued throughout the 1960s and 70s. Her husband Fang was not real, but she used him in her comedy routines.  She died of natural causes in 2012. My first memory of Diller was in the movie Boy Did I Dial a Wrong Number with Bob Hope which my parents took me to at the drive in.

Ross Elliott. A prolific actor on stage, film, and television, Elliott appeared in 184 different shows from sitcoms to westerns to medial dramas, all between 1951 and 1983. He passed away from cancer in 1999.

June Foray.  One of the greatest voice actors ever, Foray has been active in the industry since she had her own radio show.  She did off-air voices for many sitcoms including I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Jack Benny, Rawhide, Get Smart, Lost In Space, and Bewitched.  She also appeared in more than 76 animated series.  She is perhaps best known as Rocky in Rocky and Bullwinkle and as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Karen and other voices in Frosty the Snowman. Foray is still alive today.

Zsa Zsa Gabor.  Unlike her sister Eva who became known as Lisa Douglas on Green Acres, Zsa Zsa seemed to make a career out of playing herself.  Of the 80 appearances she made in film and television, 20 of them were as herself. She was a true celebrity.  Crowned Miss Hungary in 1936, she came to the US in 1941 and began her career.  She was known for her extravagant lifestyle and many marriages: 9 with 7 divorces (including one to Conrad Hilton) and 1 annulment.

Sid Melton.  Known to most viewers today as handyman Alf Monroe on Green Acres, Melton began as a film star and went on to appear in 71 shows including Topper, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy, That Girl, Petticoat Junction, I Dream of Jeannie, and Empty Nest. He died from pneumonia in 2011.

Alice Pearce. Although her career was cut short due to illness, I included Alice Pearce because her role as Gladys Kravitz in so memorable.  After spending her childhood in Europe, Pearce started on Broadway and after appearing in On the Town, she was brought to Hollywood to reprise her role in the movie version. She began specializing in comedy in the 1940s. In 1964 she turned down the role of Grandmama in The Addams Family and shortly after was offered the role of Gladys in Bewitched. She was already diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she began her role but didn’t tell anyone and was able to act for two seasons before she passed away from the disease. She received an Emmy for her work on Bewitched.

Gene Rayburn. One of the kings of game shows, Rayburn began his career as an actor, taking over for Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie when Van Dyke began his television show. While he was on numerous game shows as a panelist or host over the years, Rayburn is best known for Match Game which first ran from 1962-69. It was revived again in 1973 and took several formats in the following years.  He died from heart failure in 1999.

Isabel Sanford. Best known as Louise Jefferson, she grew up in Harlem and performed in amateur nights at the Apollo Theatre. Her Broadway debut was in 1965.  After appearing as a maid in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, she was cast by Norman Lear in All in the Family which led to the series The Jeffersons.  When the show ended in 1985, she appeared in a variety of other shows until 2002.  She passed away from natural causes in 2004.

Sidney Sheldon.  A writer and producer, Sheldon created The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart, writing many of the scripts for all three series. After he turned 50, he began a career writing romantic suspense novels.  He died from pneumonia in 2007.

Robert Sterling. A clothing salesman before getting into acting, Sterling was best known for his role as George Kerby in Topper from 1953-55.  His wife, Anne Jeffreys played his wife in the show. From 1943-49 he was married to Ann Sothern. He appeared in 36 shows between 1951 and 1986. He passed away from natural causes in 2006.

Jesse White.  While White was a hard-working character actor, he is best known for his commercials as the Maytag repairman from 1967-88. After appearing in films for many years, he transitioned to television in the 1950s.  His daughter Carole Ita White also became an actress best known for Laverne and Shirley. White appeared in 113 shows, never receiving a regular series.

Jane Wyman. Wyman began working at Warner Brothers at age 16, claiming to be 19. Although she was a successful film star and began in television in 1955 with her own show, Jane Wyman Presents Fireside Theater, she is probably best known for her role on Falcon’s Crest from 1981-90 and her marriage to Ronald Reagan. She died in her sleep from natural causes in 2007.

These are just a handful of television mavericks that influenced television as we know it today.  I was amazed at the variety of different talents each of these stars displayed.  In comparing their television appearances, it’s surprising how many of them overlap and worked on the same shows.  What I found most surprising was that Ballantine, Diller, Melton, Sanford, Sterling, White and White’s daughter all appeared on Love American Style while Bellamy, Borgnine, Burr, Diller, Gabor, Rayburn, Sanford, White, and Wyman all guest starred on The Love Boat.  During my research, I ran across many shows that will become future blog topics.

Another fun fact about celebrating stars born in 1917 is that this week we are traveling to Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday who was also born in 1917.  Happy Birthday Mamie.

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)