September is What a Character month, and today we end our series with a look at the career of Herbie Faye. Faye was born in 1899 in New York City. He began working with Mildred Harris in vaudeville in 1928. Phil Silvers was one of the supporting cast members, and their friendship would prove fruitful for his future television career.
In the forties and fifties, Faye tried his luck on Broadway, appearing in a variety of shows including “Wine, Women, and Song” in 1942 and “Top Banana” in 1951.
He also began a career on the big screen in the fifties. His first film was the movie version of Top Banana in 1954. He would appear in 17 movies; in fact, his last acting credit was the movie Melvin and Howard in 1980. In between, he appeared in a variety of genres including Requiem for a Heavyweight starring Anthony Quinn, The Thrill of It All with Doris Day, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with Don Knotts.
In 1950, at the age of 51, Faye made his first television appearance. He appeared in two episodes of Cavalcade of Stars. You would have also seen him in Our Miss Brooks, The Goldbergs, and Hennessey in the fifties.
When Phil Silvers got his own show in 1955, he hired Faye to play Corporal Sam Fender which he did for 139 episodes between 1955 and 1959. This was a hilarious show and hasn’t lost its charm with time. In addition to the primary characters, there was a group of about a dozen secondary characters who appeared along with Faye. Eventually, the costs became too high, and the show was canceled.
Faye was extremely busy in the sixties. He must have been good at his job because he was cast in more than one show on several of the series he worked for. He was four different characters on The Danny Thomas Show, six on The Dick Van Dyke Show, five on The Joey Bishop Show, two on My Favorite Martian, two on Bewitched, three on The Andy Griffith Show, four on The Gomer Pyle Show, two on I Dream of Jeanne, two on That Girl, four on Petticoat Junction, two on Mayberry RFD, two on Jack Benny as well as 27 other shows all in the sixties. On top of all those appearances, he was part of the cast for two additional television shows: The New Phil Silvers Show from 1963 to 1964 as Waluska and as Irv on Accidental Family in 1967.
In November of 2018, KJ Ricardo spotlighted Faye in her You Tube channel show about The Dick Van Dyke Show. Herbie was Willie, the deli owner who delivered lunch to the comic writers on the show. He appeared in six of the shows. In his first appearance, Rob is trying to leave the office because he thinks Mary is in labor but every time he tries to leave, the Danish cart is in the way. On the third and fourth episode, he starts critiquing the ideas the writers have and making
comments on what works and what doesn’t. They are pretty funny.
He continued his busy career throughout the seventies when he made one-time appearances in eleven different shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Love American Style, Happy Days, and Barney Miller. He made multiple appearances on several other shows including Mod Squad (3), Here’s Lucy (4), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (4), The Odd Couple (6). He also had a recurring role on Doc where he played Ben Goldman from 1975-76.
Faye passed away in Las Vegas in 1980.
Herbie Faye was a very funny guy. He was just an average guy, but he had a way of focusing the viewers’ attention just on him for the brief time he appeared; he made the episodes he was in even better. I guess that is the ultimate definition of a great character actor.
One of my favorite blog series is beginning again today: “What a Character !” Our first character actor is Ruth McDevitt. You might not recognize her name, but the minute you see a photo of her you will definitely recognize this busy television star. Her on-screen personality is perfectly captured in her imdb biography where she is described as “delightfully daffy and quite an apple dumpling of a darling, a cheerfully wizened character.”
Ruth was born in Michigan but she spent most of her early life in Ohio. Her father was the county sheriff and both of her parents were musicians. After graduation, she attended college (some sites give her college as Bowling Green and others Wooster) and after her graduation, she studied at the Toledo Dramatic Academy. She then moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
When she married Patrick McDevitt in 1928, she decided to devote her time to her husband, giving up her career. Her husband was a widowed contractor who lived in Florida, so she made the move south and participated in a variety of women’s clubs and community groups. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1934, and she then returned to her acting profession in her forties. She made her debut on Broadway in 1940 in several shows and later appeared in “Arsenic and Old Lace” in 1942 and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in 1954.
In the thirties, Ruth also began her radio career, taking on the roles of Rosemary’s mother in “Keeping up with Rosemary” and Jane in “This Life is Mine.”
Ruth also found success on the big screen. Her first movie role was in The Guy Who Came Back in 1951. She would appear in a variety of movies during her career including The Birds, The Parent Trap, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Mame, and Angel in My Pocket.
It was in television that she found most of her fame. Her first appearances were in 1949 when she was cast in A Woman to Remember, The Ford Theater Hour, and Suspense. She continued to receive dramatic roles throughout the fifties. From 1953-54, she appeared in seven episodes of Mister Peepers as his mother.
Ruth began the 1960s in several medical shows and then transitioned to comedies appearing in The Andy Griffith Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Debbie Reynolds Show, I Dream of Jeanne, and Mayberry RFD. She received a recurring role in The Doctors in 1963 as Mrs. McMurtrie. She also became a cast member of Pistols and Petticoats in 1966. She was described as pistol-toting grannie, Effie Hanks. The show was set in Colorado in 1871 where the Hanks family are beloved residents and run things better than the sheriff does. It was canceled after its first season. Ann Sheridan starred in the tv series and she passed away a couple of months before the show was canceled.
The 1970s was Ruth’s busiest decade. She showed up in various dramas including Ironside, McCloud, Mannix, and The Rookies. She popped up in Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie and took part in the medical shows Marcus Welby and MedicalCenter.
However, comedies kept her employed. She accepted roles on My World and Welcome to It, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, Here’s Lucy, Love American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Bewitched, Room 222, and Phyllis. among others.
She accepted a recurring role on All in the Family as Jo Nelson from 1973-1975. Her last starring role was in Kolchak: The Night Stalker from 1974-1975. Darren McGavin plays a newspaper reporter who specializes in solving supernatural mysteries. His only friend was a coworker who also had a column in the paper played by McDevitt. The show supposedly inspired the X Files in part.
Ruth’s last two roles were in 1976 in made-for-tv movies. She passed away the same year from natural causes at age 80.
Whenever I write about these character actors, it makes me happy and sad. I respect them so much and appreciate the depth they add to make our television series better, but I am always disappointed that there is so little information available about their lives and careers. I very much enjoyed getting to know Ruth McDevitt a little better—she certainly was a character and we all benefit from that.
This month’s blogs are dedicated to Your Show of Shows and the stars who made the show such a success. Last week we learned about the career of Imogene Coca, and today it’s Sid Caesar’s turn.
Sid Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York, the youngest of three boys. His parents ran a 24-hour luncheonette. Sid grew up waiting on tables which allowed him to study the accents and mannerisms of a wide range of people and ethnicities. His brother David loved comedy sketches, and the brothers worked on comedy routines together.
At the young age of 14, Caesar traveled to the Catskill Mountains, playing saxophone with the Swingtime Six. Occasionally he performed sketches with his collected accents.
After graduating from high school in 1939, Caesar struck out on his own, pursuing a career in music. He landed in Manhattan where he worked as an usher and a doorman at the Capitol Theater. He played sax at the Vacationland Hotel, a resort also in the Catskills. He was able to audit clarinet and saxophone classes at Julliard.
After a few months, he decided to enlist in the US Coast Guard. He was stationed in Brooklyn, and he played in military revues and shows.
In 1942 Caesar met Florence Levy at the Avon Lodge in the Catskills. They were married the following year and had three children. In November of 2009, Greg Crosby wrote about an interview with the Caesars in the Tolucan Times. He quoted Florence, “I thought he would be just a nice boyfriend for the summer. He was cute looking and tall, over six feet . . . I was in my last year at Hunter College; we were still dating when Sid went into the service, the Coast Guard. Luckily, he was stationed in New York, so we were able to continue seeing each other, even though my parents weren’t too happy about it. They never thought he would amount to anything, that he’d never have a real career or make any money. But we were married one year after we met, in July of 1943.” They would remain married until her death in 2010.
After joining the musicians’ union, Sid played with several well-known bands, including Benny Goodman.
While in the Coast Guard, he was able to collaborate with Vernon Duke, the composer of “Autumn in New York,” “April in Paris,” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” He and Duke put together a show called “Tars and Spars.” Max Liebman, future director of Your Show of Shows, was also part of the show, although not part of the military. Liebman asked Sid to do a few stand-up bits between songs and when the show toured nationally, Sid continued these routines.
Caesar left the service in 1945. He and his wife moved to Hollywood. In 1946, Sid was able to reprise his role in the film version Tars and Spars with Columbia Pictures.
Eventually, he returned to New York and accepted the offer of opening act for Joe E. Lewis at the Copacabana. He also received a contract with the William Morris Agency. He was able to perform in a Broadway show, “Make Mine Manhattan.”
In the fall of 1948, Sid made an appearance on Milton Berle’s popular show, Texaco Star Theater. The following year, he and Liebman met with Pat Weaver, VP of television at NBC. The meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. It was very successful but Admiral could not keep up with the demand for new television sets so it pulled the sponsorship and the show was canceled after 26 weeks.
In 1950, Weaver, Liebman, and Company created Your Show of Shows. It started life as a second half of the Saturday Night Review but became its own 90-minute program in 1951. In 1954, a 160 episodes later, it ended so Coca and Caesar could both have their own shows.
Sid’s show was called Caesar’s Hour, a one-hour show with Howard Morris and Carl Reiner from Your Show of Shows as well as Bea Arthur and Nanette Fabray. The show was not a success. In 1958, Sid tried again with Sid Caesar Invites You.
In the sixties, Caesar took stage roles, as well as big and small-screen parts. He had several specials on television, starred on Broadway in “Little Me,” which got him a Tony award nomination. He also was part of the ensemble of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a huge success that earned six Academy award nominations.
Sid appeared in a few television shows during his career but only a handful. A couple of those include That Girl, Love American Style, Laugh In, Vega$, and The Love Boat.
Caesar didn’t write his own material. He often performed long sketches, 10-15 minutes. He relied on body language, accents, and facial expressions. Larry Gelbart called him a “pure TV comedian.” Fabray said he always stayed in character, “he was so totally in the scene he never lost it.” He was able to pantomime many different types of characters: a tire, a gumball machine, a lion, a punching bag, a telephone, an infant, a piano, even a bottle of seltzer. Neil Simon said that “Sid would make it [a sketch] ten times funnier than what we wrote.”
Many of his favorite comic sketches were parodies of films including gangster, western, and spy movies. Gerald Nachman wrote Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. He said, “the Caesar shows were the crème de la crème of fifties television, studded with satire and their sketches sharper, edgier, more sophisticated than the other variety shows.” Historian Susan Murphy agreed, describing Sid as “best known as one of the most intelligent and provocative innovators of television comedy.”
Unfortunately, like many comedians, Caesar had some demons of his own. His stardom ended quickly. He had no interest in the movies. He was using pills and alcohol to help relieve the pressures of headlining and producing a weekly show. In 1977, Caesar blacked out during a stage performance of “The Last of the Red-Hot Lovers” in Canada and gave up alcohol immediately. He discussed his substance abuse to alcohol and sleeping pills in his two autobiographies, Where Have I Been? And Caesar’s Hours. He said at his worst, he “had been downing eight Tuinals and a quart of Scotch a day.”
Later in his career, Sid came back to the movies. He was in Silent Movie and History of the World, Part I with Mel Brooks; Airport 1975, and Grease and Grease 2, playing Coach Calhoun.
In 1983, Caesar hosted Saturday Night Live and received a standing ovation. In 1996, The Writers Guild of America, West gathered Sid and his writers from Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour for a two-hour panel discussion which was broadcast on PBS.
Sid passed away in 2014 after an illness. He left behind an amazing career and a legacy of actors and comedians he inspired. I’ll let his friends have the last word since they knew him so well. Carl Reiner commented at the time that “he was the ultimate, he was the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed.” Mel Brooks agreed and said “Sid Caesar was a giant, maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade. And I was privileged to be one of his writers and one of his friends.”
We were all privileged to watch a master at work. Thank you for the many memorable moments and teaching us what funny honestly looks like.
I devoted this month to some of our favorite actresses from the golden age of television. This list would not be complete without Reta Shaw who popped up in almost every popular program during the fifties and sixties.
Shaw was born in Maine in 1912. She was born into the entertainment business; her father was an orchestra leader and her younger sister Marguerite also became an actress (I could only find one credit for her; it was a 1959 movie titled The Ballad of Louie the Louse.) After graduation, Reta attended the Leland Powers School of the Theater in Boston.
She then headed for the bright lights of Broadway and in 1947 was cast in “It Takes Two.” In 1954 she was Mabel in “The Pajama Game” and later appeared in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, “Picnic”, and “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Her motion picture career overlapped with her television career. She had feature roles in several big-screen successes including Picnic; The Pajama Game; Pollyanna; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; Escape to Witch Mountain; one of my favorites as a kid, Bachelor in Paradise with Bob Hope; and most famously, the cook in Mary Poppins, as well as a maid in Meet Me in St. Louis.
In 1952 she married William Forester, another actor. William appeared in Mister Peepers and The Pajama Game movie with his wife. He was very busy with television appearances during the early sixties. They were married a decade but divorced in 1962; the couple had a daughter.
She appeared in many of the same shows as the other actresses we learned about this month. Her first television role was on Armstrong Circle Theater. Her second role was as a regular cast member of a little-remembered show, Johnny Jupiter in 1953. It was a quirky show about a store clerk named Ernest P. Duckweather who invented an interplanetary television set and developed a friendship with a puppet named Johnny Jupiter.
From 1953-1955 she would appear with Marion Lorne on Mister Peepers as Aunt Lil. She continued receiving both movie and television roles throughout the fifties. In 1958 she received another recurring role on The Ann Sothern Show as Flora Macauley.
She began the sixties with another permanent job on The Tab Hunter Show. This show as about comic strip author Paul Morgan. His comic strip was “Bachelor at Large” and he wrote about his own amorous adventures. Shaw, as Thelma his housekeeper, had a very different view of that life than Paul’s best friend Peter did. When that show went off the air, she was given another spot on Oh! Those Bells. The Wiere brothers, well-known comedians, portrayed the Bell Brothers who worked for Henry Slocum in a Hollywood prop shop. The brothers managed to create a disaster out of the most minor matters. The show only lasted two months.
Throughout the sixties she could be seen on a variety of series; although she certainly excelled at comedy she was just as accomplished in dramas such as Wagon Train, I Spy, The Man From UNCLE, and FBI. Reta also made more than a dozen movies during this time.
However, her sitcom career flourished, and she was kept very busy during the sixties with roles on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Father of the Bride, Lost in Space, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Cara Williams Show, My Three Sons, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Lucy Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Monkees, That Girl, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and I Dream of Jeannie. She had a recurring role on Bewitched as Aunt Hagatha/Bertha. She was featured in The Andy Griffith Show twice, but one of them is one of my all-time favorite episodes, “Convicts at Large” when she plays Big Maud Tyler who enjoys dancing with Barney.
The end of the decade brought her another recurring role as housekeeper on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. On May 1, 2014, Madman Entertainment interviewed Kellie Flanagan who played one of the kids on the show. It must have been a fun show to work on. When she recalled her time with the cast, she said “The set was a very happy set, with parties every Friday night, and I remember that all the ladies were swooning over Mulhare and always disappointed to find out the beard had to be applied every day. His real beard was red, was the reason I remember, and they needed that salt-and-pepper thing. Hope was extremely sweet and kind to us, though I do remember there was a period where we were not supposed to bother her – I think she may have been going through a divorce – I believe she had a daughter about my age. Hope was lovely and her voice is fabulous. Reta Shaw was a delight and Charles Nelson Reilly was hilarious. The dog annoyed me!”
Shaw continued to take on roles during the early seventies and could be seen on The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Here’s Lucy, The Odd Couple, Cannon, Happy Days, and The Brian Keith Show. Her career culminated with her role on Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975.
Shaw lived another seven years and died in 1982 from emphysema.
An interesting note is that Shaw grew up in a family who practiced spiritualism and said she had been “brought up on a Ouija board.” However, I’m not sure if she believed in it as well.
Shaw certainly had a very interesting and successful career as an actress. Although she often took on the housekeeper role, she was not stereotyped into just that slot. She appeared in both television and movies and she took on dramas as well as comedy. It would have been fun to see what she would have been able to do if she had been given a series of her own.
Whenever I see Reta Shaw in an old show, I know I am in for a treat.
This month’s blog series is “It’s My Show.” Today we are beginning with a show I’ve discussed a few times over the years that had the perfect cast and concept, but it was cancelled after only one season: The Phyllis Diller Show which also went by The Pruitts of Southampton.
The show was created by David Levy in 1967 and was loosely based on the book House Party by Patrick Dennis. Levy was also the creator/producer for The Addams Family which aired from 1964-1966. The shows also shared composer Vic Mizzy who wrote the themes for both series. Mizzy also wrote the catchy tune from Green Acres. The opening theme song had Phyllis Diller dancing, skipping, and singing through the mansion, and the lyrics were:
PD: Howcha do howcha do, howcha do my dear What a LOVELY surprise, nice to see you here.
RG: All the bills have been long overdue my dear.
PD: File them under I.O.U… Howcha do, howcha do, Well HELLO, it’s you! Like my beads, like my dress? Aren’t they marvy-poo? They belong to the internal revenue. And they got us eating stew.
CHORUS: The Pruitts of Southampton,
Live like the richest folk, But what the folk don’t know is that The Pruitts are flat broke!
PD: Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do, my dear
RG: We are out of champagne, and I’m stuck, my dear.
PD: Ask the butler to lend you a buck, my dear. Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do…
The Pruitts, an incredibly wealthy family, live in the Hamptons. After going through an IRS audit, the family realizes they owe so much in back taxes, $10,000,000 in fact, that they were now broke. The IRS agrees to let them continue living in their mansion because they think exposing such a wealthy family’s poverty would cause a lot of repercussions.
Phyllis Diller starred as Phyllis Pruitt. Phyllis lives with her uncle Ned (Reginald Gardiner), her brother Harvey (Paul Lynde), her daughter Stephanie (Pam Freeman), brother-in-law (John Astin), and their butler (Grady Sutton). Midseason, the show was revamped and the family brings in boarders to raise money, including Norman Krump (Marty Ingels) and Vernon Bradley (Billy De Wolfe). They should have been able to raise a bit of money with 68 bedrooms in the house. Other characters included Regina Wentworth (Gypsy Rose Lee), their nosy neighbor and Baldwin (Richard Deacon), the IRS agent. The incredible Charles Lane plays Max.
In addition, there were a lot of guest stars during that single season including Ann B Davis, Bob Hope, Arte Johnson, John McGiver, Louie Nye, Hope Summers, and Mary Wickes.
The shots of the family home were filmed at the Vanderbilt mansion, Biltmore.
The show began on Tuesday nights. At the time, The Red Skelton Hour was one of the most popular shows on television and was tough competition. When the show was revamped, it moved to Friday nights where it was up against Friday Night at the Movies and T.H.E. Cat. If you don’t remember that show, don’t feel bad, you probably remembered very few of the new series that debuted that year.
1967 was not a very profitable year for sitcoms specifically. Besides Phyllis Diller’s show, the season aired Run Buddy Run, Mr. Terrific, The Jean Arthur Show, Occasional Wife, and Pistols and Petticoats. That Girl was one of the few shows to return the following season.
Even though it was named as one of the worst sitcoms ever in several TV Guide listings, critics at the time praised the show. Phyllis Diller was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 1967. Marlo Thomas won, but there was some great competition including Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden, and Barbara Stanwyck.
One reviewer on imdb.com titled their review “The worst thing I have ever seen in my life” and followed up with a review that said, “Just kidding, this show is amazing and hilarious and that is why I gave it a 10/10.”
When Vic Mizzy discussed the show in a Televison Academy interview, he said the director was not any good, the scripts weren’t as funny as they could have been and sometimes Phyllis didn’t know her part. He thought those were the reasons the show failed. He thought it could have been unbelievabley funny.
One day Vic got a large check from England and it turns out the show was a hit there decades after it was aired in the United States.
I watched a couple of the episodes on youtube for this blog. Phyllis Diller was in rare form. Her hair is crazy like always and slapstick was part of her performance. The laugh track was annoying, but the show was funny at times. Pam Freeman was a breath of fresh air. In one of the episodes, Phyllis and her brother-in-law were trying to finance a pizza-making machine. They had to work around the fact that Baldwin from the IRS put a pay phone in the home to keep them from making so many long-distance calls. One of the funniest scenes was when Phyllis and her brother-in-law climb up one of the phone poles to tap into the line to talk to Baldwin pretending to be other people in order to get Baldwin to approve their financing. Phyllis had to come up with a variety of different voices during the calls. You could definitely hear a bit of Green Acres influence in the background music for this show. This was a show that only could have been produced in the sixties.
One of the best parts of watching the show was seeing the old commercials. I had forgotten the one about Joy dish soap when the dinner guests could see themselves in the plates. It just reminded me it was joyful to see these old shows in their entirety.
It was a fun show to learn about with an outstanding cast and should have been much more successful than it was. Whether the failure came from the director, the scripts, or some other behind-the-scenes issue, I’m not sure. It’s worth watching an episode or two just to see the wackiness that was associated with some sixties shows, but if I have to watch ten episodes of a show, I’ll take That Girl every time.
As we finish up our “Men of August” series, I think I’ve saved the best for last. Today we look at the career of a man who had more than 400 acting credits during six decades: William Schallert.
Schallert was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Edwin, was a drama critic for the Los Angeles Times and his mother, Elza, was a magazine writer and radio host. She interviewed some of the most famous people in the entertainment industry. Being in LA, he went to high school with Alan Hale Jr., Nanette Fabray, and Micky Rooney.
Schallert was also a composer, pianist, and singer. His first love had been music, and he studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg. Unfortunately, he realized that some of the other students were more adept at hearing the music in their heads than he could and that would inhibit his making a living from composing.
William decided to be an actor and registered at the University of Southern California. He left school temporarily to join the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot during WWII. Following the war, he returned to school, graduating in 1946. That same year he was one of the cofounders of the Circle Theater. Sydney Chaplin was one of his friends at the theater, and in 1948, his brother Charlie directed Schallert in a production of W. Somerset’s Maugham’s “Rain.”
From 1947-1951, William appeared in 14 big-screen films, including Mighty Joe Young in 1949. He would go on to accept roles in seventy more films during this career, but for this blog, I’m going to concentrate on his television career, or we could be writing and reading for days.
Schallert married Leah Waggner in 1949. They were together for their entire lives, dying a year apart from each other. Waggner was also an actress and appeared with him in several episodes including The Patty Duke Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
During his career, he appeared in a lot of crime shows and westerns, but he could also do comedy as seen by his appearances on Burns and Allen, Father Knows Best, The Jack Benny Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, That Girl, The Partridge Family, and Love American Style. Some of these were his favorite appearances.
On the Partridge Family, he was able to use some of his music skills as Red Woodloe, a folk singer. The episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, “A Word a Day,” got a huge laugh for Schallert. It was similar to the episode when Rob is convinced that he and Laura got the wrong baby and Ritchie belongs to another family who he invites over and opens the door only to find Greg Morris, an African American. In this one, Ritchie begins using profanity and they assume it’s one of his new friends and invite the parents over to see what type of uncouth people they are and Rob opens the door to find William Schallert, a reverend.
The admiral he played on Get Smart was one of his favorite all-time characters. William said, “The admiral was a charming character.”
From 1979-1981, Schallert was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and was active in SAG issues and committees afterward.
During his six decades of acting, Schallert had recurring roles on eleven different series. The first was The Adventures of Jim Bowie in 1957. This show was set in the Louisiana Territory in 1830 and featured the people that Jim Bowie met there.
In 1958, William became part of the cast of Hey, Jeannie about Jeannie MacLennan, a Scottish woman, who has immigrated to New York and her adjustment to city life.
1959 found him on Phillip Marlowe as Lt Manny Harris. The same year he also began portraying Leander Pomfrit, a teacher on The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis. That role lasted three years.
It was in 1963 that he received the role that made him a household name. As Martin Lane, Patty’s father and Kathy’s uncle, on The Patty Duke Show. The show was on the air for three seasons, producing 104 episodes. Martin was the patient, wise father who knew when to give advice and when to step back and watch a small failure for a learning experience.
He and Patty became very close in real life. In an interview with the Closer Weekly, Schallert discussed their relationship. “When I think of her, she’s family as far as I’m concerned. We had a very close relationship. Whenever I saw her it was always like greeting one of my kids. She just had a wonderful quality and I got to know her over the years and she was admirable in a lot of ways. She really did her best to raise her own kids and she certainly had very little help in her own life to do that, but she was very mature and she did a lot of growing up very fast. People take that kind of thing for granted far too easily, and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for that.”
When the Patty Duke Show ended, Schallert began doing voiceover work in commercials and with his warm and friendly manner, it was a lucrative career for him for two decades, including the voice of Milton the Toaster for Pop Tart commercials. He said it was wonderful, “All you had to do was go in there and do it, you didn’t’ have to put makeup on, you didn’t have to learn anything. I also had a knack for timing.”
Although he had a successful voiceover career, his acting career was far from over. He would show up as a regular cast member on five more series before his career ended: The Nancy Walker Show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Hour, The Waltons, The New Gidget Show, and The Torkelsons. I especially loved his casting in Nancy Drew. When I read those books as a grade-school kid, he was exactly as I pictured Nancy’s dad Carson Drew in my mind.
His last role was on Two Broke Girls in 2014. In that year, he announced he was suffering from peripheral neuropathy and had to wear leg braces some but also had to rely on a wheelchair most of the time. He passed away two years later from an undisclosed condition.
It sounds like Schallert had an amazing life. Growing up in Los Angeles and learning from his parents about theater and radio must have been a lot of fun. He said those connections led to a lot of opportunities like going to Shirley Temple’s birthday parties. Then he started a theater at a young age, worked in television from 1951-2014, appeared in more than eighty movies, had a successful voiceover career, raised four great kids and enjoyed a long-lasting marriage. What a legacy to leave behind.
This month we are looking at some of our favorite sitcom stars. With roles in more than eight popular sitcoms, Jerry Van Dyke has to be in the mix.
Jerry was born in Danville, Illinois in 1931. Van Dyke started his comedy stand-up career in high school performing for local nightclubs. In 1954 he joined the US Air Force Tops in Blue, performing at military bases around the world. During this time, he also played the banjo in his shows. After his military time was up, he married Carol Jean Johnson; they would divorce in 1974.
Dick Van Dyke was his brother, and Jerry’s first television appearance was on his brother’s show where he fittingly played Rob Petrie’s brother Stacey.
In 1963 he made his movie debut with two movies: The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and Palm Springs Weekend. He was also made a member of The Judy Garland Show which was cancelled after its first season. I’m not sure if there were behind-the-scenes issues with this show or not, but it seems like it would have been more successful at that time. What I was able to read was that it went through a lot of personnel changes; had to compete with Bonanza; and that while viewers loved Judy, they did not love the format or Van Dyke.
Jerry made a few more television appearances in the early sixties on Perry Mason, The Cara Williams Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and McClintock.
In 1965, Jerry was offered the role of Dave Crabtree on My Mother the Car. The premise of the show is that Dave buys an antique car only to realize his dead mother talks to him through the radio, and no one else knows it’s happening. This show is often cited as the worst sitcom of all times, but it certainly has some strong competition. Somehow viewers suffered through 30 episodes before the show was put out of its misery. I’m not sure if it was a blessing or a curse, but Jerry turned down the role of Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island for this show. Luckily, this show didn’t seem to have too much negativity on his career, while Bob Denver was typecast to the point that he never really had much of a career once the show ended.
When the show ended, Jerry made appearances on That Girl and Vacation Playhouse before being offered another leading role. He was cast as Jerry Webster in Accidental Family. He aptly plays a nightclub comedian who was a widower with a small son Sandy. After buying a farm to raise Sandy, he hires Sue Kramer (Lois Nettleton) as governess and, of course, there is some romantic tension. This show only lasted for sixteen episodes before ending.
After showing up on Good Morning World and Gomer Pyle, USMC, Jerry was offered another lead role as Jerry Brownell, a physical education teacher, on Headmaster. This was an Andy Griffith vehicle where Andy played the principal at an elite California private school. After fourteen episodes, Jerry was back to guest appearances which he made on Love American Style, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
In 1977 he married again, this time to Shirley Ann Jones, and they were together until his death.
1979 brought him another regular role on 13 Queens Boulevard. The show was set in a New York apartment complex and explores the relationships of the residents. It just never clicked with fans and was given the boot after 9 shows.
A decade later Jerry took on the role that he is best known for: Luther Van Dam on Coach. For eight years he was the assistant coach to Craig T. Nelson’s Hayden Fox–first as college coach and then for a time in the pros. Luther was the well-meaning but bumbling friend who often made life interesting for Hayden. However, he was a great coach. Van Dyke would receive four Emmy nominations for his character on the show from 1990-1993. His losses were to Alex Rocco on The Famous Teddy Z, Jonathan Winters on Davis Rules, Michael Jeter on Evening Shade, and Michael Richards on Seinfeld.
In the late nineties he had recurring roles on two shows that I do not remember anything about: Teen Angel and You Wish. Teen Angel was a weird concept where Marty DePolo eats a six-month old hamburger, dies, and then becomes his best friend’s guardian angel. Van Dyke played Grandpa Jerry. He played another grandpa on You Wish, which had an equally weird concept. Its premise is that a single mother finds a genie who was imprisoned in a magic carpet for 2000 years. Not surprisingly, they each had fewer than ten episodes before being canned.
Jerry Van Dyke was an avid poker player and fan, and from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, he hosted tournaments for ESPN. During that time, he also accepted guest roles on several television series and a few movies. However, his career was not over.
He received two more recurring roles on popular sitcoms in the 2000s. From 2001-2005, he was Big Jimmy Hughes on Yes Dear and from 2010-2015, he was Tag Spence on The Middle.
He and his wife lived on a ranch in Hot Spring County in Arkansas where he seemed to be very happy. He passed away there from heart failure in 2018.
Most actors would have been very proud of a career mirroring Jerry Van Dyke’s, and I’m sure he was, but it would have been hard to be in your successful brother’s shadow so much of the time. Dick Van Dyke was five years older than Jerry and, with the success of The Dick Van Dyke Show, he had a career that was truly impressive. However, considering how few comedians make it in the business, Jerry had a stand-up career, a movie career, and a television career. His role of Luther Van Dam was a gem and gives us an example of what his career could have been if the luck of the dice had given him better roles.
We are in the midst of our “Men of August” series and today we to learn about another Wisconsin resident, Al Molinaro. Last week we delved into the career of Tom Bosley; Molinaro and Bosley were castmates on Happy Days but made their way there on very different paths.
Al’s parents immigrated from Italy. His father had a true success story. He began his life in America at age 15 working as a water boy with a railroad crew heading west. He met and married his wife in Kenosha, Wisconsin where they settled down to raise their family of ten children. Al was born in 1919.
Al’s father, Raffaele, owned a restaurant/hotel and sponsored hundreds of Italians so they could make their way to the United States. Al’s brother Joseph became the district attorney for Kenosha County, and his brother George served thirty years in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
After high school, Al became a union leader at the Vincent-McCall Furniture Spring Factory. A year later, he later took a position with the City of Kenosha as assistant to the city manager. A friend of his had relocated to California to work in the aircraft industry and encouraged Al to give it a try.
In 1940, Al left Wisconsin for a career in California. Although Al would never live in Kenosha again, it held a special place in his heart and later in his life, he said that “I love that town; I love it. If it wasn’t that I left it for show business, I’d still be there today.”
His first job in Los Angeles was with Reginald Denny’s Hobby Shop. He began working odd jobs in the television industry such as a live action animator at George Pal’s studios. He then worked for a bill collecting company until he had saved enough money to open his own collection agency. Although he moved on to another career, he held onto the collection agency until he retired. During this time, he also got involved in real estate. One of his properties was purchased for a huge retail mall which gave Molinaro the funds he needed to pursue an acting career.
During this time, he met his wife, Helen Martin, and they married in 1948, eventually divorcing in 1980.
Al began receiving television roles in 1969. He first appearance was on Green Acres. Lisa opens a box of cereal only to find real gemstones in her box of Crickly Wickly. It turns out jewel thieves hid their stolen goods in the box in a Chicago factory. You know this will be a fun episode right from the beginning when the credits show up graffitied on a wall behind the crooks. Al was one of those crooks, and he would show up in two other Green Acres episodes. He also appeared on Bewitched, Get Smart, That Girl, and Love American Style.
He took an improv class where he met Penny Marshall. In 1970, Penny introduced Al to her brother Garry which would change his acting journey. When The Odd Couple was casting for roles, Al wanted an audition for the role of Murray Greshler, the police officer who played poker with Oscar and Felix. Garry didn’t think he was right for the role, so he resisted, but Al was so persistent, he finally brought him in and ended up offering him the job.
After the show ended, Garry offered Al the role of Al Delvecchio, replacing Pat Morita who was leaving Happy Days as the owner of Arnold’s. Happy Days was set in Milwaukee, a city Al was very familiar with. While on the show, Molinaro suggested that Robin Williams be cast in a role John Byner declined which led to a new career for Williams.
In 1981, Al married Betty Farrell. About this same time, he was one of the cast members who made the transition from Happy Days to the show’s spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi.
After portraying a restaurant owner on the air for many years, Al became one in real life when he and Anson Williams (Potsie on Happy Days) opened a chain of diners called Big Al’s.
Molinaro continued to receive acting offers from Garry for some of his movies, but he felt he had to turn them down. He couldn’t reconcile his role with the language in movies that he felt was offensive. As he said, “I can’t work in movies with Garry because I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it. . . . You gotta live with yourself.”
Molinaro retired from acting in the early nineties but continued to appear in commercials for another decade. His commercial career included being the spokesperson for Cortaid Hydrocortisone Cream, Mr. Big Paper Products, and 42 spots for On-Cor Frozen Foods.
Al was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the mid-90s. He died from complications from an infected gallbladder in 2015.
Considering Al was only an actor for 22 years or so, he created several of our favorite characters. He seemed to have a full life and stayed very humble. Happy Days would not be the same without Al, and he added a lot of humor to The Odd Couple’s weekly poker nights. A true success story; I’m glad he provided us with so many memorable moments without sacrificing his personal moral standards.
Last week we learned a bit about The Mike Douglas Show which debuted in Cleveland. Today we get the back story on The Phil Donahue Show which also started in Ohio, in Dayton, in 1967. In 1970 it went into syndication and was seen weekdays until 1996.
Donahue was a reporter at WLWD and when the Johnny Gilbert Show ended, Phil got his chance to host his own show. In 1974, Phil moved his show to Chicago. In 1985 He moved to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.
Donahue described himself as “the Cal Ripken” of television hosts. With interviews every weekday for more than a decade, about 7000 total, it’s hard to argue with him. Donahue was interested less in celebrities and more about investigative-type stories and popular issues. He covered topics such as interracial marriages, homosexuality, bigotry, poverty, drug trafficking, political scandals, cross dressing, the Catholic priest abuse of young boys, and current events. However, he did do interviews with important newsmakers including Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Jane Fonda. He shunned tabloid-type stories that Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera featured.
In an interview with the Television Academy, Donahue talked about some of his favorite interviews. He said he enjoyed Gloria Steinhem and the discussion they had about women’s liberation. He said this was an issue he was able to watch from the beginning through its transitions. (As an aside, I was able to interview Steinhem and later meet her at a university event in Eau Claire, and I understood his description of her charisma and insights.) The eye-opening perspectives he received from Steinhem about the oppression of women pushed him to explore views on homophobia and racism as well. He realized he could make a difference in these matters if others could understand these problems and the people who were bringing life-changing messages. He said he didn’t want the white guys doing all the talking anymore and he gave non-white guys the floor.
Another person he admired was Ralph Nader because he stuck to his guns and continued to fight for what was right when the cameras were off and he was alone.
One of the most interesting shows he did was in December of 1985. He was asked to participate in the first people-to-people satellite meeting between the US and the Soviet Union with Vladimir Pozner who had appeared on Nightline with Ted Koppel who recommended him to Donahue. They taped in Seattle and Leningrad. When he asked the Russians where they wanted to visit in the United States, he got the typical responses: Disneyland, Las Vegas, New York City, and then someone said Oxford, Mississippi. Donahue asked why and the person said that it was because one of the world’s best authors, William Faulkner, was from there. From that point on, the conversations got more interesting and culturally significant.
Donahue realized in the 90s that he could not compete with Oprah and hosted his final episode in September of 1996. His career produced about 7000 shows. Oprah always respected his show and often said, “If there hadn’t been a Phil, there wouldn’t have been a me.”
He was awarded with his first Emmy in 1977. By 1988 he was the owner of nine Emmys.
Don Grady, best known for playing Rob on My Three Sons, composed the theme music for the show. In 1979, he published an autobiography, Donahue: My Own Story.
Although Phil had five children with his first wife, Margaret Cooney, he has been married to Marlo Thomas, daughter of Danny and star of That Girl, since 1980.
I remember watching this show and Donahue was typically right in the middle of the audience running up and down the stairs to get input from his visitors. I think it was literally that bounding enthusiasm that set him apart from the other television hosts during this time. He was more concerned about improving life than improving ratings.
The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.
In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.
Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.
In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.
The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.
The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).
Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”
Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”
In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.
Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.
Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.
Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.
Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.
Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?
Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?
Tom: That’s right.
Dick: I don’t understand.
Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.
Dick: So, who’s running the country?
Tom: The morons.
The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.
The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.
The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.
I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.