We are winding down our blog series, “What A Character.” If you watched television between 1959 and 1989, you will definitely recognize this week’s character actor: Allan Melvin.
Melvin was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri, but he always said he grew up in New York City where his parents moved to not long after his birth. After high school, he attended Columbia University, studying journalism before joining the US Navy in WWII.
He married Amalia Sestero in 1944 and they were together for his entire life and had two children. Amalia was also an actress and Melvin met her when he attended an actor’s group that she helped start.
After being discharged from the Navy, Allan worked in the sound effects department of NBC Radio. He also had a nightclub act. He was on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio show which he won. His first television role was that of Corporal Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show. Melvin’s wife remembered that time fondly: “I think the camaraderie of all those guys made it such a pleasant way to work. They were so relaxed.”
After the show ended, Melvin was often typecast as a military character or the abrasive, but happy-go-lucky guy. Even when he was not a recurring character, he often had multiple appearances on a series.
Allan and Amalia moved their family to California, hoping for more television roles in the early sixties.
Throughout the sixties, Melvin was kept busy with television work, appearing on The Danny Thomas Show, The Bill Dana Show, Perry Mason, Lost in Space, Love American Style, and The Andy Griffith Show. He had two recurring roles: Art Miller on The Joey Bishop Show and Sol Pomerantz on the Dick Van Dyke Show.
He was often cast as the tough guy on The Andy Griffith Show, with eight appearances in all. Melvin discussed his time on the show and said “I always enjoyed doing the show. We had a lot of fun doing it, and they were a great bunch.”
From 1965-1969 you could find him on Gomer Pyle USMC as Sergeant Charlie Hacker.
As early as 1963, Melvin was doing voice work on The Flintstones. His animation work would continue throughout his career and after about 1974, cartoon voices were his only gigs. One of his best-known roles is Magilla Gorilla.
I’m not sure why, but Melvin only appeared in one movie, although it was a good one. He was the desk sergeant at the end of the Doris Day-Brian Keith film, With Six You Get Eggroll. A couple of Andy Griffith writers wrote the screenplay, and Howard Morris, known as Ernest T Bass, directed the film.
In the 1970s he was cast in his two most memorable roles.
He was Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend on The Brady Bunch. Sam owned a butcher shop and was an avid bowler. In a later movie, we learned that he finally made an honest woman of Alice. Ann B Davis said “Allan Melvin, neat guy, very tall. He was just a nice, open, big guy, and it was fun to play with him.”
He was also neighbor and friend of Archie Bunker as Barney Hefner on All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. Allan said it was a good experience and everyone’s input was welcome. Jason Wingreen, who played Harry the bartender on the show talked about Melvin in anther wordpress blog, classictvhistory (https://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/tag/allan-melvin/). When asked if he was the same in person as he was in character, Wingreen said, “He was more intelligent than that. Allan wrote little poems, little couplets of sorts, and they were very funny. Like limericks, but not quite limericks. Some of them were very intelligent and very, very funny. Never published. Allan and I became very close friends.”
Melvin also did a lot of commercial work. You could see him pitching products from Sugar Frosted Flakes to Remington razors to Liquid Plumr. He was the plumber for Liquid Plumr for fifteen years.
In 2008, Melvin died from cancer.
Melvin certainly had a career to be proud of. One thing I never learned was when he decided that acting was the career he wanted. He became one of the most beloved and most-recognized character actors in the sixties and seventies–definitely a character worth celebrating.
We are part way through our October blog series, “What a Character.” Today we look at someone we all remember from the golden days of television: Leon Ames.
Ames was born Harry Wycoff in Portland, Indiana and was raised on a farm. He said he changed his name because it was often misspelled which I can understand because some sources say “Wykoff,” and some say “Waycoff” in addition to “Wycoff.” Ames was his mother’s maiden name.
After graduation, he enrolled in Indiana University at Bloomington. He then served in the field artillery for WWI and later transferred to the flying corps.
After his discharge, at some point, he began working as the stage manager for the Charles K. Champlin Theatre Company. He had always wanted to be an actor and soon began acting with the group, eventually gettng the lead in a Los Angeles production of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” For three years he was with the Stuart Walker Stock Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Broadway would be a big part of his early career as he debuted in 1933 in “It Pays to Sin” and went on to perform in another eleven shows.
In 1937, Ames decided to make the move to Hollywood. At that time, he met Christine Gossett, and the couple married in 1938. Leon and Christine appeared in several films together including Eighth Wife and Suez, but after having two children, Christine retired from acting to raise the children. The couple was together for the rest of Ames’ life.
Ames accumulated 158 acting credits; 125 of those were on the big screen. His debut came in 1931 in Quick Millions and his last role was as the grandfather in Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986.
Even though 5/6 of his career was spent in films, I am including him in our television character series because the 1/6 of his career in television made quite an impact. From 1951 until 1979, he would appear in 29 different shows, and five of those would be as a regular cast member.
Not surprisingly, given his depth of film work, he began his television career in a variety of drama shows such as Screen Directors Playhouse and Studio One. In 1953 he was cast as Clarence Day in Life with Father, adapted from the film. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for a limited number of episodes. I’m not sure how this show fit into the television schedule because it was on for three seasons; a few sources listed 8 episodes, imdb.com lists 10 episodes, and tvseriesfinale.com mentions 27 episodes; even then, it would mean 9/year which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Fun fact, this was the first show in Hollywood to be filmed in color.
After the cancellation of Life with Father, he continued to guest in dramas, but was once again offered a recurring role in a comedy on Father of the Bride in 1950, another television show that was adapted from the big screen.
In the sixties, he gravitated toward sitcoms, showing up in The Lucy Show, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Andy Griffith Show.
It was during this time, that Leon probably became best known to television fans. From 1963-1965, he portrayed Gordon Kirkwood on Mister Ed. During the early seasons of the show Roger (Larry Keating) and Kay Addison (Edna Skinner) lived next to Wilbur Post (Alan Young) who owns Mister Ed. They become good friends with Wilber and his wife Carol (Connie Hines). Keating died in 1963 and Ames and his wife Winnie (Florence MacMichael) buy the Addison home. We also learn that Kirkwood was Wilbur’s former commanding officer when they were in the US Air Force.
In a frightening experience, in February of 1964, an intruder entered the Ames household and held Leon and Christine hostage, demanding $50,000. Ames phoned his business manager and asked him to go to the bank and then bring the money to the house. Once he got the money, the intruder left Ames tied up in the house and forced Christine to drive him in their car. Before leaving, he forced both the business manager and a guest at the home into the car trunk. Luckily, before Ames’ manager brought the money to the house, he had called police who eventually caught up with the car, surrounded it, and freed the hostages.
His next regular role was that of Dr. Roy Osborne on My Three Sons. I enjoyed his performances on this show. At first, Robbie thinks he is too old-fashioned to be Katie’s Ob/Gyn because he delivered her, but Robbie soon learns his caring ways and wealth of experience is invaluable.
The remainder of his television career was spent in a variety of genres including Bewitched, The Virginian.Apple’s Way, and Emergency, among others.
Ames was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933 and became president of SAG in 1957. In 1980, Ames was the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.
In addition to his acting duties, in the sixties, Ames opened several Ford dealerships in California.
Leon died in October of 1993 after having a stroke.
One of my favorite roles of Ames was as the father in Meet Me in St. Louis. He had that perfect gruffness for a paternalistic role but made it obvious that there was a giant teddy bear just below the surface. What a character he was.
October is “What a Character,” blog series month, and we are taking a look at some of our favorite character actors. This blog features the wonderful Isabel Randolph.
Randolph was born in Chicago in 1889. After high school, Isabel began performing in regional theater throughout the Midwest until the mid-1930s. She married J.C. Ryan, a Chicago newspaperman, in 1917. Unfortunately, he passed away at a young age and she raised their two girls. She was the leading lady at the Princess Theater in Des Moines, Iowa. In a 2012 article, Ryan Ellett quoted Conrad Nagel as saying the Princess Theater “was recognized as one of the outstanding stock companies of the entire country, and is still referred to by some of the old timers as the best of them all.” Ralph Bellamy also spent time with the theater.
In the thirties, Randolph decided to try out radio. She was on the air on Fibber McGee and Molly from 1935-1943. She played a variety of roles but was best known for Mrs. Abigail Uppington, a society matron. During this time, she also was in several other soap opera-type shows. When the McGees moved their show to Hollywood, Isabel went to California with them where she took a chance at motion pictures.
Isabel specialized in the “grand dame” roles which continued into her film career. Of her 110 acting credits, 69 of them were for movies on the big screen, her first being in 1939 in The Women.
In 1953, she made the foray into television. Her first role was on The Dick Tracy Show in 1951, based on the popular comic strip.
In 1952, she got her second role, and her first recurring role in a sitcom, when she was offered the part of neighbor Mrs. Boone in Meet Millie. Meet Millie was about Millie Bronson (Elena Verdugo), a secretary who lives with her mother (Florence Halop) in Queens. Her boss is JR Boone (Roland Winters) and she sometimes dates his son Johnnie (Ross Ford). Family friend and poet Alfred Prinzmetal (Marvin Kaplan) often drops by. We don’t hear about this show very often but it was on for four years and produced 124 episodes.
Randolph did a variety of work in television throughout the rest of the fifties. She did a lot of theater programs, westerns, and also comedies including Burns and Allen, The Ann SothernShow, December Bride, and The Bob Cummings Show.
She had another recurring role during the last season of Our Miss Brooks when she played Ruth Nestor who ran a private boarding school. John Rich was the director on the show. He loved the cast and said especially Eve Arden was a joy to work with, very nice and very funny. He described the entire cast as “adorable.”
Although she didn’t have a recurring role on Ozzie and Harriet, she was on the show five times between 1956-61. My favorite of her roles on that show was “Busy Christmas” when she played Mrs. Brewster and was heading the Christmas caroling group.
During the sixties, Isabel kept busy. She appeared on Perry Mason three times, twice on The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Ben Jarrod, Arrest and Trial, and Many Happy Returns.
Her last recurring role was that of Mrs. Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In last week’s blog, we looked at one of the best Dick Van Dyke episodes, “Pink Pills and Purple Parents.” When Sally considers taking one of Buddy’s pain pills for her headache, Rob relates a time when Millie gave Laura some of her relaxation pills. Laura takes her first one when Rob’s parents arrive and as she becomes more nervous, she continues to take pills. Eventually, she is a bit loopy making strange comments, forgetting to put ice cream in the sundaes, and dancing to music before passing out. Rob’s parents are sure she has a drinking problem but later find out what happened. Randolph is a gem in this episode.
Randolph passed away in 1973 of undisclosed reasons.
Sadly, like so many of our great character actors, there is not as much information about Isabel’s life. Character actors deserve to have more websites or books of their own. Isabel played the snobby rich woman in many of her roles, but I always think of her as an elegant, gracious mother type. Thank you, Isabel, for so many decades of entertainment and memorable characters. She was a character, indeed.
This blog series is “It’s My Show,” about actors who featured their names in the titles of shows. I’ve definitely saved the best for last: The Dick Van Dyke Show. During the past five plus years of writing my blog, I have realized that my favorite shows are those that feature amazing writing and concentrate on relationships. This show is no exception.
From 1961 till 1966, this show aired on CBS, resulting in 158 episodes. Created by Carl Reiner, it was produced by Calvada Productions. Calvada was named for Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Dick Van Dyke, and Danny Thomas. The show was filmed at Desilu Studios in front of a live audience. Bill Persky and Sam Denoff wrote 29 of the episodes.
The theme song was written by the great Earle Hagen. (For more on Hagen, you can see my blog from December 10, 2018; Hagen wrote many great theme songs including The Danny Thomas Show, Gomer Pyle, I Spy, The Mod Squad, and most memorably, The Andy Griffith Show.)
The opening of the show had Rob walking into the living room. In one version, he trips over an ottoman, falling on the floor. In the another, he steps around the ottoman. You never knew which opening you would see, a fun element of the show.
I love that this show realized our professional lives are equally important to our personal and family life, and this show not only featured both, but often they meshed together just like all our lives do.
Not only was Rob Petrie’s (Dick Van Dyke) work life part of the show, but he was a television writer, which provided even more insights into what we were watching. Rob writes “The Alan Brady Show” with cowriters Sally (Rose Marie) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam). Mel (Richard Deacon) is star Alan Brady’s (Carl Reiner) producer. Buddy and Mel have an ongoing feud, insulting each other on a daily basis. (In real life, Deacon and Amsterdam were good friends and often came up with new insults when they had drinks together after work.) Reiner originally planned on starring in the show and played Petrie in the pilot, but he was persuaded to give the role to another actor by Leonard.
Rob’s home life consisted of wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), son Ritchie (Larry Mathews), and neighbors/best friends Jerry and Millie Helper (Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guilbert). Paris directed 84 of the show’s episodes and would go on to a career as a director later.
In the pilot, titled “Head of the Family,” Barbara Britton played Laura, Gary Morgan played Ritchie, Morty Gunty played Buddy, and Sylvia Miles played Sally. Jack Wakefield played Alan Sturdy who was the star of the tv show.
The characters are very much like people we all know, except maybe a bit funnier. Rob loved his wife and son. He was a big fan of cowboy movies and Laurel and Hardy. He met Laura, a USO dancer, when he was in the Army as a Special Services Sergeant in Camp Crowder, Missouri. His brother Stacey appeared on the show a few times (played by real life brother Jerry Van Dyke). Richie is a typical kid who gets in trouble sometimes but is a good kid, just curious and looking to test his boundaries. Their neighbors Millie and Jerry have a son about Richie’s age, and they are their best friends; Jerry is also their dentist.
The only thing not realistic about his home life is that Rob and Laura have twin beds. Reiner asked the network to allow the couple to sleep in the same bed, but they would not approve it, so like most sitcom married couples, they had separate beds. About the only couples who were able to get around the challenge were the Stephens on Bewitched and Katie and Robbie on My Three Sons. The network also didn’t love that Moore wore capri pants but they did end up allowing her to do so.
Rob’s coworkers are also endearing characters. Buddy is energetic and sarcastic. He is married to Pickles and shares a lot of jokes about some of the scatterbrained things she does. We know he is in love with Sally, but they never take their relationship anywhere other than friendship. She is often making fun of herself for looking for a man, but we realize she is very lonely. Mel is an excellent producer who puts up with a lot from both Buddy and Alan.
Van Dyke had to give up Bye, Bye Birdie to star in the show but definitely made the right choice. The role of Laura was a hard one to cast. Sixty actresses auditioned for the character. Moore almost chose not to go, and when she did, she lied about her age, making herself older than she was. Sally Rogers was based on Lucille Kallen who wrote for Your Show of Shows and Selma Diamond who wrote for Caesar’s Hour.
After the first season, CBS said they were cancelling the show. Procter & Gamble threatened to remove all its advertising and viewers complained loudly. The network didn’t need to worry about ratings in season two; the show was in the top ten by episode three and was popular for the rest of its time on air.
To color or not was a big question during the sixties. Reiner actually considered filming the show in color in the third season until he found out it would add $7000 per episode (the equivalent of about $59,000 today).
I’m not the only one who thought this was an amazing show. The series was nominated for 25 Emmy awards and won 15 of them. Reiner won three times for writing, Van Dyke three times for acting, and Moore twice for leading actress in a comedy role.
Some of my favorite episodes are “Pink Pills and Purple Parents” (season 4) a flashback to when Laura meets Rob’s parents. She takes some anti-anxiety medicine Millie gives her. She gets a bit loopy and Rob’s mother thinks she has a drinking problem; “The Ghost of a Chantz” (season four) where Rob, Laura, Buddy, and Sally spend the night in what’s said to be a haunted cabin. Characters disappear one by one and finally we learn that Mel pranked them to test out a concept for a show called Sneaky Camera; “Coast to Coast Big Mouth” (season five) when Laura reveals on a TV game show that Alan is bald and wears a toupee. Laura bravely goes to the office to apologize; another one about Laura, “The Curious Thing About Women” (season one) when Rob writes a comedy skit about Laura’s bad habit of reading his mail. All her friends tease her after it airs, and she tries to deny it, but when a package comes to the house, she opens it and an inflatable raft opens up which she cannot put back; and finally, “That’s My Boy” (season 3) when Rob is convinced that the hospital switched their son with another boy born that day. He has to resolve this, and invites the other couple over to discuss the situation. When Rob opens the door, he sees an African American couple, and it gets one of the longest audience laughs than any other sitcom episode.
CBS may have wanted to end the show after season one, but they did not want to end it after season five. However, the cast made the decision to quit while they were still producing high-quality shows. I appreciate that they did this. One of the saddest things for me as a viewer is when a show goes on a year or two longer than it should and the quality diminishes greatly.
I just can’t think of anything about this show that needed improving. It had a great cast, great writers, likable characters, and a timeless quality. Sixty years after the show began, it is just as funny and easy to watch as it was then. Thank you, Carl Reiner and cast, for knowing how to make a memorable show and when to end it to keep it that way.
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.
As we continue learning about popular talk shows of the past, today we look at one that was on really, really late: Tomorrow with Tom Snyder.
Often labeled as The Tomorrow Show, this program was on NBC from 1973-1982. After the light chatting and exchange of humorous stories on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, you could hear Snyder having in-depth conversations with his guests. He was not afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions and do a bit of interrogation with the person in the chair across from him.
This was back when everyone smoked on television. Turn on Match Game and you see smoke rising from almost every celebrity’s cubicle, catch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and you might see Andy puffing away, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble advertised cigarettes, and the quintessential memory of Tom Snyder is him sitting in the chair, with a cigarette.
Dan Aykroyd did a great impression of him on several Saturday Night Live episodes. Snyder’s catch phrase was “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.” Snyder was easy and tough to portray. He did not have the humor of Carson, the intelligence of Paar or the wit of Steve Allen, but his enthusiasm was contagious. His lack of polished and prepared questions often led to some incredible celebrity insights.
You never knew what you were in for when you turned on this show. Perhaps it was an interview with Harlan Elison, Elvis Costello, John Lennon, Ayn Rand, Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, Kiss with an obviously drunk Ace Frehley being corralled by the rest of the band members, or one of the most disturbing, Charles Manson.
One of the most fun shows was his interview with Disney animator Ward Kimball discussing his full-size and toy train collections. I wish I could see the show from April 4, 1978 when he interviewed George Fenneman, Harry von Zell, Don Wilson, and John Reed King, several of the most amazing announcers ever. (I have done blogs on Fenneman, von Zell with the Burns and Allen Show, and Wilson; I was not familiar with King but he hosted a lot of television and radio games shows, but I’m sorry to say I did not recognize any of the titles.)
A few other shows that looked interesting included his interview with Alfred Hitchcock about his fifty-year film career; his discussion with producer-creator Gene Roddenberry, actors DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig and convention organizer Al Schuster about Star Trek; and his talk with singers Ella Mae Morse, Margaret Whiting, Lina Romay, and Kay Starr about life in the big-band era.
Snyder often cited his most embarrassing moment of the show as his interview with Meat Loaf, whose real name is Marvin Lee Aday. Snyder said for the first ten minutes of the interview, he referred to the singer as “Meatball.”
When the ratings began to decline, the network opted to put David Letterman in the 1:30 EST slot and offered Snyder the 2:30 spot which he declined.
I’m not sure if it was Snyder’s call or the network’s but he never had an original theme song. He started with “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, used Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” for a time, and later used “Love is the Message” by T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia).
Snyder was born in 1936 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although he had a life-long love of radio, his plan was to study medicine. Eventually, he switched his major to journalism and was hired as a radio reporter at WRIT in Milwaukee.
In the 1960s Snyder transitioned to television, and one of his jobs was where else but Cleveland, Ohio. (If you read all my blogs this month, you’ll see Mike Douglas and Phil Donahue also started tv careers in Ohio.)
In 1970, Snyder moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia to anchor the 6 pm newscast. He continued to broadcast the news along with the Tomorrow show. When the show was cancelled, he moved back to New York to continue his news career with ABC. He finished his career with ABC back in Los Angeles where he returned in 1985.
Don’t get me wrong—I love Jimmy Fallon, and he has some fascinating guests, but I miss real conversations because it’s hard to get to true portrayals of someone in a ten-minute chat. I don’t know if viewers would be willing to sit through an hour-long interview these days; everyone wants the quick clips, but it’s like forgoing reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to read the cliff notes. You might get the highlights but you miss the small pleasures and the “aha moments.” I guess I miss “aha moments.”
As we continue with our National State Day Celebrations, this week finds us in West Virginia. Who else can we pick but Don Knotts?
Born in 1924 in Morgantown, WV, Don Knotts was the youngest of four boys. Don had a rough youth. His parents were farmers and his mother was 40 when he was born. His father suffered from mental illness, and Don’s birth led to a nervous breakdown. His father died when he was 13 and his mother made her living running a boarding house after that. At an early age, Don began performing as a ventriloquist and comedian at church and school functions.
After graduation, Knotts began college but then enlisted in the army, serving during WWII from 1943-1946. He toured the Pacific Islands entertaining the GIs as a comedian. In 1948 he graduated from West Virginia University with a major in education, a member of the honor society.
Before graduating, Knotts married Kathryn Metz. They would remain married until 1964 when they divorced. After college, the couple moved to New York to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Believe it or not, his first role was in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, and he would become part of the cast from 1953-1955. In 1956, he got his big break on the Steve Allen Show, playing a nervous man. He stayed with the show until 1959. The Tonight Show relocated to Hollywood with Jack Paar as host in 1959, and Don went with him. However, during his time on the show, he had a role in the play “No Time for Sergeants” and then in the film version with Andy Griffith.
In 1960 Andy Griffith was putting together his own sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show, and he offered Knotts the role of Barney Fife, deputy. During his time as Barney, Knotts received five Emmy awards (three during his first five years).
The Museum of Broadcast Communications sums up Barney’s character perfectly:
“Self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong, Barney dreamed of the day he could use the one bullet Andy had issued to him, though he did fire his gun on a few occasions. He always fired his pistol accidentally while still in his holster or in the ceiling of the court house, at which point he would sadly hand his pistol to Andy. This is why Barney kept his one very shiny bullet in his shirt pocket. In episode #196, Andy gave Barney more bullets so that he would have a loaded gun to go after a bad guy that Barney unintentionally helped escape. While Barney was forever frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas that he had of himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn’t have survived anywhere else. Don Knotts played the comic and pathetic sides of the character with equal aplomb.”
Originally, Don was supposed to be the straight man to Andy’s character, but Griffith quickly realized the reverse would make the show more successful. Andy always said he wanted to be done after five years. During that fifth year, Knotts began to search for his next job. He signed a five-film contract with Universal Studios. Then, Andy decided not to quit after season five, but since Knotts was already committed, he left the show in 1965.
From everything I’ve read, it seems like the cast of TAGS got along very well. Although Frances Bavier seemed to take things more personally than others, the actors seemed to enjoy working together. Betty Lynn who played Barney’s girlfriend Thelma Lou described Knotts as “a very quiet man. Very sweet. Nothing like Barney Fife.” Mark Evanier, a television writer, called him “the most beloved person in all of show business.”
Knotts family-viewable films were very popular including It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Incredible Mr. Limpet; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; The Reluctant Astronaut; The Shakiest Gun in the West; The Love God?; and How to Frame a Figg.
One of my favorite roles of Don’s was as the shoe salesman in the Doris Day-James Garner movie, Move Over Darling.
He also returned to Mayberry for several episodes. (Two of his Emmys came from these guest spots.)
Knotts also kept busy on other television shows including appearances on The Bill Cosby Show, Here’s Lucy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and That Seventies Show.
Also, during these years, Knotts tried marriage again wedding Loralee Czuchna in 1974. The couple called it quits in 1983.
He received his second starring role in 1979 as Mr. Furley on Three’s Company. Knotts replaced Stanley and Helen Roper (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) who left for their own spin-off show.
He became the new landlord for the trio upstairs. He would stay with the show until it ended in 1984, racking up 115 episodes. I will admit that I did not enjoy the show, and I felt Knott’s performance was over the top and too stereotyped; I felt that way about the other characters also.
Don and Andy remained close friends throughout their lives. When Andy returned to television as Matlock, Knotts also received a role on the show as Les Calhoun, Matlock’s neighbor from 1988-1992.
Don suffered from macular degeneration, and eventually it caused him to become virtually blind. In 2002 Don married a third time when Frances Yarborough became his wife.
Knotts died in 2006 from pulmonary and respiratory complications from pneumonia related to lung cancer.
Off screen, Knotts seemed to be a very funny guy. His daughter Karen said, “Here’s the thing about my dad. He had this funniness that was just completely, insanely natural.”
He told his daughter his high school years were some of his happiest. His home town loved him too, and a statue honoring him was unveiled in 2006 in front of the Metropolitan Theatre. The statue was designed by local artist Jamie Lester, another West Virginia native.
Don Knotts had a spectacular career. As a young man, he got a job in a chicken factory and spent his days pulling feathers off dead chickens because he was told he had no future in the acting profession. It would have been hard for him to imagine at the time the legacy of performances he would leave—television shows and movies that generations of fans would watch. More than sixty years after Barney Fife put that bullet in his pocket for the first time, viewers continue to watch and love the Mayberry residents as they go about life in their small town. And the fact that the place where he first learned about life cared enough to fundraise and build a memorial to honor him says a lot. Thank you Don Knotts for showing us the importance of humor and following your dreams!
Although the Rat Pack have all passed on, their influence still surrounds us. We can listen to Frank Sinatra’s music channel on Sirius. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies still play late at night. Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford can both be seen on a variety of sitcom reruns. One member we don’t see as often is Joey Bishop. While he is not as well known as the other friends, he actually was the only one of the group who starred in his own sitcom.
Two series went by the name “The Joey Bishop Show.” One was a sitcom and aired from 1961-1965, producing 125 episodes. For most of the run, Joey played a talk show host named Joey Barnes. The other show was an actual talk show that he hosted which ran from 1967-1969 and produced 682 episodes.
This blog looks at the sitcom created by Danny Thomas and Louis F. Edelman specifically for Joey Bishop. Danny served as executive producer, and the show was filmed at Desilu Studios before a live audience. When it debuted in 1961, it was filmed in black and white. One episode was shot in color and then the second and third seasons followed suit. NBC canceled the show after season three and CBS picked it up but filmed that season in black and white again. I imagine fans of the show weren’t happy to go from color to gray tones again; it would be like visiting Oz and then being sent back to Kansas.
Like The Andy Griffith Show, the pilot was an episode of the Danny Thomas Show. Joey played Joey Mason who was an incompetent public relations staffer. Danny arrives in Los Angeles exhausted but has no place to stay and is forced to sleep at Joey’s house with his parents and his two sisters, the younger one being Stella, an aspiring actress played by Marlo Thomas.
Before airing the next fall, the pilot had some revisions. Now Joey’s last name was Barnes. His father was dropped from the cast but two family members were added: a younger brother named Larry (Warren Berlinger) and a brother-in-law Frank (Joe Flynn) who was married to Betty (Virginia Vincent), the older sister. His mother continued to be played by Madge Blake who would go on to play Aunt Harriet on Batman.
Joey continued his public relations career and supports his family. The secretary at the PR firm, Barbara (Nancy Hadley) is his girlfriend. A lot of the plots revolve around family members taking advantage of Joey’s influence which they think is significant but is really almost nonexistent.
The show didn’t do well in the ratings, so it was retooled once again. Betty, Frank, and Barbara were all dropped from the show. The series was renewed for a second season, but the show would change its format again.
From season two on, Bishop became the host of a New York City talk show. The cast from the first season disappeared altogether in this fourth reincarnation. Abby Dalton plays Joey’s wife Ellie. The couple now live in a posh apartment building and, at the end of the second season, they have a baby boy. Hilda (Mary Treen) is the Barnes’ maid and baby nurse, and she often trades insults with Joey similar to the banter Florence and George had on The Jeffersons a decade later. The Jillsons (Joe Besser and Maxine Semon) are the superintendents of the building. Like Howard’s mother on The Big Bang, Maxine is heard but not seen. Guy Marks played Freddie, Joey’s manager.
There were some rumors that Joe Flynn had been let go the prior season because he was too popular; this would mean that Bishop was so insecure that he was willing to totally revamp his show to get rid of one character. That doesn’t seem to make sense. However, Cynthia Lowry’s column in The Evening Independent from September of 1963 reported that “Actor’s feuds can be very fierce. Joe Flynn, who now plays the sarcastic Captain Binghamton in McHale’s Navy still is so annoyed with The Joey Bishop Show that he doesn’t even mention it in his list of acting credits – although he included brief appearances on Hawaiian Eye, Ozzie and Harriet, and The Eddie Fisher Show. Flynn played a sharp-tongued ne’er do well brother-in-law during the first year of the Bishop comedy, a role that was swept away with a lot of others when the series was completely revamped.”
One review for the second season by Bob Thomas, AP Movie-TV Writer in the Ocala Star-Banner from August of 1962 stated:
“About the only resemblance between last season’s Joey Bishop show and the coming season’s is the name. It’s still The Joey Bishop Show, NBC having vetoed the comedian’s suggestion to call it The New Joey Bishop Show. Bishop fans may be startled to find their hero is no longer a press agent but a late-night television comic. Furthermore, he has jettisoned his mother, bless her heart, for a curvy wife. And he has acquired a whole new bunch of pals. That Joey was able to make these changes is one the minor miracles of television. Just about everyone, Joey especially, agreed that something was wrong with last season’s shows. When a series pulls a wrongo, it is usually yanked at the first sign of spring. But the series had somehow managed to best its competition on ABC and CBS and rack up an impressive rating. So, when Joey promised a clean sweep in format for the next season, NBC went along. I found Joey in the midst of his fourth show, and absolutely happy – for him. That is, he smiled every 15 minutes. I asked what went wrong the first season. ‘I showed up,’ he replied. But on a more analytical basis, he continued: ‘We did many things wrong. We didn’t have enough time to prepare. We violated a very basic concept in comedy. When you have a clever comedian -and in modesty I think I am-you surround him with funny people. When you have a funny comedian, you surround him with clever people. I made the mistake of working with clever people,’ he said. ‘Now I am working with funny people – Guy Marks, who is a bright young comedian; Joe Besser, who can get laughs just walking on stage; and Abby Dalton from the ‘Hennessy Show, a brilliant talent.’”
Another review a few weeks later agreed: “Joey Bishop also returned to NBC – on Saturday night. This season he is more poised, more famous, and a successful established night club comedian. He also picked up a wife on the show. The first show involved one of those typical newlywed situations that television situation comedies specialize in. High point of the show, however, was an imitation by Guy Marks, who plays Joey’s manager, of a flamingo. Don’t ask how they managed to get that in, but it was very funny! —-”
Once again there was talk of feuding between the star and a cast member, this time Guy Marks, because he was receiving great reviews. Marks was around for the first 18 episodes and when he left, Corbett Monica came on board as Larry Corbett, Joey’s head writer.
The Montreal Gazette in January of 1963 featured an article by Dorothy Kilgallen that explained, “It’s no secret that the parting between Joey Bishop and Guy Marks was far from friendly, but no one revealed that they were close to the fisticuffs stage.” Some cast members sided with Marks. Other cast members claimed Joey was not egotistical and wanted everyone to succeed. I was not able to determine whose version was closer to the truth, but it is not surprising that the show didn’t last as long as it could have between constant cast changes and in-fighting on the set.
There were also some controversies regarding the writing on the show. In the book Sitcom Writers Talk Shop by Paula Finn, Irma and Austin Kalish who wrote for many great sitcoms in the sixties and seventies were interviewed. She asked the pair if they ever recycled stories for show. They responded no, and continued with this story:
“IK: We were once writing The Joey Bishop Show, and we went in to pitch shows to the story editor.
AK: We pitched five shows to him.
IK: And he said, ‘Those sound like good ideas, but you know, I have to pitch them to Joey first.’ And then our agent called and told us he got word that Joey didn’t like any of those ideas. Fine.
AK: Five weeks later–week after week after week after week after week–
IK: Our ideas came on.
AK: Our ideas were stolen. Eventually that guy, the story editor on The Joey Bishop Show, came to us for a job. Needless to say, what goes around comes around.”
Another great writer, Joel Rapp, shared another story about this series. “We had a contract for six Joey Bishop Shows and we wrote the first one, and then we went to watch the taping. And there were about three words of our script left in what they finally shot. We asked the producer what happened, and he said ‘Joey got hold of the script, and he changed everything.’ But we still got the writer credit, which was fine. So then we wrote a second script, and the same thing happened. So for the third script, we turned in thirty-six blank pages, and we were fired. And it was fine with us. We were making plenty of money and had other jobs.”
Of course, many guest stars appeared on the show as themselves being interviewed by Joey, including The Andrews Sisters, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Willie Davis, Don Drysdale, Robert Goulet, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jack Paar, and Andy Williams.
Other guest stars who appeared on the show in roles other than themselves included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Frank Cady, Jackie Coogan, Nancy Kulp, Sue Ane Langdon, Howard McNear, Barbara Stanwyck, and Dawn Wells.
The theme song was also axed from the first season. “Sometimes I’m Happy” by Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans was exchanged for “Joey” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Huesen.
During the third season, one episode was filmed but never shown. John F. Kennedy was a friend of the Rat Pack. On November 15, 1963 Vaughn Meader, who often impersonated the President, was filmed in an episode as the impersonator of President Kennedy. A week later the assassination in Dallas occurred, and the episode was never seen live or in syndication. Most of the sources I consulted could never determine if the episode had been archived or destroyed.
Following all the changes, the ratings had increased during season two but season three saw lower ratings once again, and NBC decided not to renew the show. At the same time, Danny Thomas decided not to return for a twelfth season in his show, so CBS picked up Joey’s show. However, the show went up against the much-loved Bonanza, and the ratings never recovered, so CBS then canceled the show after the fourth season.
Chuck Rothman, who wrote a blog about the show May 28, 2017 on blogspot.com, described it as “filled with gentle comedy. The jokes may have worn a little thin, but the stories hold up surprisingly well. Barnes is a decent guy with a sense of humor and Bishop’s relaxed and subtle style—he never appeared to work to be funny—was charming to watch.”
Another viewer on imdb wrote that “personally, I failed to see the humor of the situations in this show that centered around a dull, middle-aged man who was still living with his mother . . . who was repeatedly being fired from his job.”
Obviously, they were describing two different versions of the show, but there certainly was a difference of opinion.
If you never had a chance to watch the show, Antenna TV began airing it in 2017; the network even transferred the first season’s 35mm film to a more modern technology so it can also be aired. Currently, you can view the show on Antenna TV at 7-8 am (EST) weekdays and 3-4 am (EST) Saturdays.
I have watched a few of the shows on Antenna TV and enjoyed them. All the episodes I was able to watch were during the final three seasons, but it would be interesting to catch a couple from the first year and compare them.
One thing I have learned doing blogs the past four years is how many shows don’t make it. Although every year has its share of flops, some years are just notorious for having weak programming. The late 1970s was a period of just truly awful shows. Bob Newhart who starred in The Bob Newhart Show decided to quit in 1978. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.” As bad as that sounds, the shows that the networks put on the air during this time were even worse. Let’s take a look at some of the programming that didn’t make it through a season in the late 1970s.
A Year at the Top
Believe it or not, in 1976 Norman Lear teamed up with Don Kirshner of Rock Concert fame for a sitcom about the music business. This show was supposed to begin in January of that year but was delayed until summer with an entirely different cast. Two young pop stars Greg and Paul (Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer—yes the Paul Shaffer from David Letterman) move to LA for their big break. They meet a potential agent named Hanover (Gabriel Dell) who agrees to sign them if . . . and if you think the concept is weird so far, get this: Hanover is the devil’s son, and they need to sign over their souls to become famous. The pair never actually sign the contract. It might have taken a year to get on the air but it only lasted five weeks.
This show’s concept was also a bit of a reach. It took place on Perma 1, a space station in 2222. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) had a mission to clean up all the trash in outer space. Quark took orders from a giant disembodied head called, what else, The Head, along with Perma 1’s architect Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis). If you think this sounds crazy, wait till you learn about Quark’s crew: a part fish/part fowl first officer, a humanoid vegetable named Ficus, clones Betty 1 and Betty 2, and Andy the Robot, a walking junk pile. I was surprised not that it was cancelled after two months, but that it lasted two months. I was also surprised to learn that Buck Henry was the creative force behind this series.
A year later in 1977 we have another interesting set-up. When Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, the two stars, the only stars, left the show Sanford and Son, Norman Lear was left with a show title only. Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) had been one of the cast members on Sanford and Son and suddenly she was at the hub of this new show. Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) a widower with teenagers buys the house, the junkyard and Esther’s rooming house and tries to start a residential hotel. A month or so later, before he could even make his first payment, the show was done.
David Groh (who had played Rhoda’s husband) is Don Gardner, a struggling businessman who can’t make ends meet. His wife Ginny (Joan Hackett) has to get a job, and they both had to deal with their introverted son Mark (Al Eisenmann) and their extroverted daughter Kelly (Lisa Lindgren), as well as Don’s mom Olive (Hope Summers who had played Clara on The Andy Griffith Show) who is critical of all of them. Don struggled through a few episodes and was finished.
A lonely hairdresser played by Rue McClanahan named Ginger-Nell Hollyhock placed ads in the newspaper for a family. The family that she “found” included a daughter (Caitlin O’Heaney) who tap-danced, a son (Derrel Maury) who wanted to fly like a bird, an elderly grandfather (Jack Gilford), and con-artist Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman). The show was set in Kansas City in 1933. It took place during the Depression and depression is what anyone watching felt, although the pain was fleeting. After one episode the network decided no one wanted this family.
This one was so bad they didn’t want any evidence so there are no photos.
Another flop came along with a star who had been another star’s spouse. Bill Macy who played Maude’s long-suffering husband starred in this show as Louis Harper, a former football hero who did not have the right credentials to be a university president. He has a desire to help the underprivileged, but the rest of the faculty is more concerned about raising money. Other cast members included high-pressure dean Maggie Gallager (Barbara Rhoades), PR man Sam Dickey (Dennis Burkley), and housekeeper Pinky Nolan (Nedra Volz). No finals for this series; it was cancelled after a few weeks.
David Huddleston plays Mayor Cooper who runs a small Midwestern town. The cast included the mayor’s secretary Ginny (Diana Muldaur), the mayor’s daughter (Kathy Cronkite, yes Walter’s daughter) and several other quirky characters. While the mayor is quite conservative, his children are left-wing liberals. Apparently, the mayor broke out into song at least once an episode. I guess, he was singing the blues because the show was cancelled after 7 episodes.
In the Beginning
The year 1978 just keeps getting worse for television series. Father Daniel Cleary, played by McLean Stevenson, works in a community center in the heart of Baltimore. Sister Agnes (Priscilla Lopez) works with him. She loves her neighborhood; Father Cleary does not. She is fairly liberal and he is not. It ended almost before it began after seven episodes.
Miss Winslow & Son
In this one, an unmarried woman (Darleen Carr) who is an art designer, decides rather than marry a man whom she doesn’t love, she will become a single mother after getting pregnant. Her next-door neighbor Mr. Neistadter (Roscoe Lee Browne) hates kids. Her wealthy and snobby parents are divided about her situation; her father (Elliot Reed) is much more sympathetic than her mother (Sarah Marshall). Before the baby had its first check-up, the show was off the air.
13 Queen’s Boulevard
This show was about “a hilarious group of tenants in a garden complex in Queens, New York.” In the first episode, one of the tenants, Felicia Winters (Eileen Brennan) decides to host a class reunion and invites her best friend and spouse, her ex-husband, the class “sexpot,” Fat Hughie, and the class photographer. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong; however, not much went right since it was gone within two months.
I get Freaky Friday, but in this series the husband and wife switch places. A magic statue allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies. Sam Alston (John Schuck) is a sportswriter and his wife Penny (Sharon Gless) is a cosmetics executive. The couple tries to live both their own life and their spouse’s life whenever they switch back and forth. They also must focus on keeping the switch a secret. We never know who is who, and all the audience knew is they didn’t like either one of them, and the show was cancelled after a few weeks.
NBC decided Joe Namath would be a good person to build a sitcom around. However, he’s not a football player in this show; he’s a former pro basketball player, Joe Casey, who now teaches history at Waverly High in Wisconsin. Linda Harris (Gwynne Gilford) is the principal and Mr. Benton, who they call “Old Prune Face” (Ben Piazza) was the former coach. The only problem is Joe Casey is a bad history teacher and a bad coach. That apparently makes for a bad show because it was cancelled after three episodes aired, although nine were made.
Struck by Lightning
If you think the concept of some of these shows was weird, wait to you hear about this one. Frank (Jack Elam) is the caretaker of an old inn in Massachusetts. A science teacher, Ted Stein (Jeffrey Kramer) inherits the inn and decides to sell it. Then he realizes that Frank was really a 231-year-old Frankenstein monster. Ted just happens to be the great-great-grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. So, they decide to run the inn together. Rounding out the cast was Glenn (Bill Erwin) who had been living there forever, Nora (Millie Slavin) who managed the inn before Ted came, Nora’s son Brian (Jeff Cotler), and real estate agent Walt (Richard Stahl). Apparently, the only thing “great” about the show was Ted’s relationship to Frankenstein because the network canceled it after five episodes.
So, you might be wondering with all these awful shows, what made it on the air more than a couple of months during the late 1970s. In 1977 the only shows that made it to the next season were Three’s Company and Soap. In 1978 Mork and Mindy and Taxi were the “classics” followed by Diff’rent Strokes and WKRP in Cincinnati. Without Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy would probably have been another concept that would have lasted a couple of weeks. In 1979, out of 21 shows that debuted that fall, Facts of Life was the only one that returned for a second season. With the exception of Taxi and WKRP, I would not rate any of these shows true classics, although you could make a good case for Soap. Anyway, the bar was set pretty low for success during the late 1970s.
At least television viewers could go to the movies for a bit of entertainment. This was the era of Animal House, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, Kramer vs Kramer, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit. Things stayed pretty glum on the small screen until 1982 when Cheers, Newhart, and FamilyTies saved us.