Today is the last blog of the series on our favorite sitcom families and the last blog of the year. We have been to Long Island, Detroit, and Los Angeles, and now we are heading back to New York. Today we are going to visit the Huxtables.
I will admit, I have put off writing this blog for years. It is a very difficult one for me to write about. Writing this blog makes me mad, sad, and strangely joyful at the same time.
It makes me mad because of Bill Cosby’s despicable behavior. It makes me sad because this amazing show has been tarnished through no fault of its own. After Cosby’s arrest, the show disappeared from the airwaves. The rest of the cast has to suffer because of the bad behavior of one person. But, if I take my own advice, and I choose to celebrate the characters, not the people behind them, I can still find joy in this well-written and truly funny show.
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were two ABC executives who had worked on Mork & Mindy, Three’s Company, and Welcome Back Kotter. They were looking for a celebrity to star in their new show. Bill Cosby helped create this show which became The Cosby Show and was a staple on Thursday nights on NBC for eight seasons. It was the number one show on television for five of those years.
The Huxtables were an upper-class family living in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. Father Cliff (Cosby) was an obstetrician and mother Clair (Phylicia Rashad) was an attorney. They had five kids: Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keisha Knight Pulliam).
Vanessa Williams and Whitney Houston were both considered for the role of Sondra. Originally Rudy was planned to be a boy, and Jaleel White was brought in to audition.
A couple of famous kids who appeared on the show went on to be stars including Alicia Keys and Adam Sandler.
The brownstone they lived in was a house we got to know well. It was actually located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
The theme music, “Kiss Me,” was composed by Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby. Seven different versions showed up during the run of the series. Under Stu Gardner’s supervision, two albums were produced: A House Full of Love: Music from the Cosby Show in 1986 and Total Happiness in 1987.
When daughter Denise went off to college, a spin-off show was created. A Different World was about her time at Hillman College, a fictional historic black college.
The show often promoted art and music. Musicians like Miles Davis, BB King, Stevie Wonder, and Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on the series. Much of the artwork that was featured in the house was by Synthia Saint James and Varnette Honeywood.
This was an important series for so many reasons. It was the one of the first shows to have an upper middle class family who was black. At this point in time, the sitcom had become a dying art. This show was responsible for bringing the sitcom back to life. It featured music, art, and culture which is seen on very few sitcoms. It was well written and very funny, yet had its heart-warming moments. The kids all were very different just like our own families, so everyone had someone they could identify with. I do understand the human behind the character is often not what we would hope for.
A lot of stars have disappointed us with their behavior behind the scenes. Usually I can move beyond that. However, I have had two times when it has been extremely difficult for me. I love The Philadelphia Story and Harvey. They are two of my go-to movies when I am looking for something to watch on a weekend. When I heard about the racist comments Jimmy Stewart made during his career, I did not watch them for years. It was really hard for me to view them in the same way I did before that knowledge.
The Cosby Show was the other difficult one for me. I remember a story my dad told me. He was staying at a hotel in Illinois for business; he went down to the restaurant this quiet weekday evening for dinner and a drink. He was sitting at one table, Bill Cosby was sitting at another table, and only two other tables were occupied by diners. At one of these tables sat two women who were obviously excited to see him, and finally, they approached him to ask for an autograph. My dad said he rebuffed them and was quite rude, and they went back to their table, extremely embarrassed. That unkind and egotistical behavior always stuck with me. While, I totally appreciate that stars have a right to refuse to sign autographs, there is a kind and tactful way to say no.
In the New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote an article on June 18, 2017, titled “How to Think About Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show.” He described the importance of the show for its “portrayal of black people as happy, stable, well off, and free of white oppression and guilt; for sneaking into typical sitcom high jinks the occasional, hilarious, often poignant lessons about gender equality, friendship, and marriage; and for proving that such a depiction could be a ratings winner.”
He then went on to talk about Cosby’s court trial. He summarized, “Guilty or not, Mr. Cosby’s courthouse behavior acknowledged an additional trial: the one going on in our hearts. I don’t need a jury to know that this trial has worn mine out.” I could not agree more. It took me some time, but I have come to love this show again. I find the show innocent of any negative connotations placed on it because of Cosby’s behavior. However, the trial inside myself did wear my heart out. While I am still trying to like Cliff Huxtable, it’s hard not to remember the hardships brought about by Bill Cosby. It’s a work in progress.
When I looked up the definition for “too close for comfort” it said “close enough to make a person feel nervous, worried or upset.” That is exactly how this show made me feel.
I realize that I was hard to please in the 1980s. Coming out of the 1970s with M*A*S*H,The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show, I did not enjoy All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Alice, Maude, or Diff’rentStrokes. I did watch Cheers, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, and Moonlighting during that decade. Too Close for Comfort, along with Three’s Company, just didn’t strike me as funny.
When you invest in a show, you feel like these characters are part of your life. Ted Knight’s role of Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a flawed human being for sure, but I felt like we had spent a lot of time together, and I was able to see beyond the brash, obnoxious exterior to the vulnerable and kind being inside. It was if we had spent lots of hours over the kitchen table having coffee. Characters like Baxter teach us about the world and about ourselves. Ted Knight as Henry Rush was more like the neighbor whom I caught glimpses of out the kitchen window but there was no way to learn more about the character other than the surface appearances. The show was based more on plots than characters.
Too Close for Comfort was based on the British sitcom Keep It in the Family. It debuted in 1980. Henry Rush is a cartoonist who writes about the Cosmic Cow (a space crime fighter) and lives in San Francisco with his wife Muriel, a photographer (Nancy Dussault) and his two adult daughters Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who works at a bank and Sara (Lydia Cornell) who is a college student.
The house was a two-family residence and the girls decide to rent from their parents. Henry is not sure it’s a good idea, but it’s the only apartment they can afford because he charges $300 rent for the bottom of the Victorian house. Monroe (Jim Bullock) is a friend of Sara’s who was cast only in one episode but ended up joining not only the cast but living with Henry and Muriel.
The show was on Tuesday nights. The show followed Three’s Company and its main competition was BJ and the Bear.
In season two, Muriel becomes pregnant and Henry’s niece April also comes to live with the Rushes.
One of the signatures of Henry Rush was the variety of college sweatshirts he wore. Fans from around the country would send them to the network hoping to see them on the series. The first sweatshirt to make an appearance was the University of Michigan.
The third season found the show on Thursday nights and ratings declined significantly. The show was up against Cheers on NBC and Simon and Simon on CBS. April moves out and Muriel’s mother Iris (Audrey Meadows) moves in to help with the baby. The show was cancelled by the network. The fourth season went into syndication with new episodes.
A fifth season began, but the show changed so much it really was a new series. The title was changed to The Ted Knight Show, the family now lived in Marin County where Henry bought a newspaper, a new theme song was created, a new opening was shot, and both daughters left the show. However, Monroe moved with Henry and Muriel. The new episodes began airing in April of 1986; 22 episodes were taped and after the first 12 aired, Knight passed away from colon cancer. The final ten episodes were run, and then the series ended.
During the various seasons, the girls changed careers a lot. Jackie moved from the bank to a department store to a fashion designer. Sara held a bunch of part-time jobs while she was in college. She then became a bank teller, a weather woman at the local station KTSF, and an entrepreneur who sells Cosmic Cow Cookies.
In a Fox News interview, Cornell discusses how she received the role of Sara. She said she had to take a bus for the audition and showed up an hour late after being in the rain. The secretary told her auditions had closed but Arne Sultan said to let her audition as long as she came in. They gave her a script to read and a line said “She gives her dad a raspberry.” Sara picks up an imaginary raspberry and hands it to her dad. Sultan asked her what she was doing, and then explained a raspberry was a Bronx cheer. She felt very stupid and they were all laughing. The casting director and executives decided at that time she was perfect for the part and asked her to report to work the next day.
I know that there have been far worse shows than Too Close for Comfort, but I’m not content having the bar set there because there have also been far better shows. Rather than my usual recommendation of buying the DVDs for a weekend of binge watching, I’m going to tell you to buy a good book instead.
Finishing off our “Men of November” series is Louis Nye. If you watched television in the sixties, you will recognize Louis, but you might not know why.
Born Louis Neistat in Connecticut in 1917, he was the son of parents who emigrated to the US from the Russian Empire and became naturalized citizens in 1911. Louis wanted to get involved in acting but his grades weren’t good enough for him to participate in the drama club. He opted for work on WTIC Radio instead. He also joined the Hartford Players.
The work on local radio led to his decision to move to New York City to work on the radio, often on soap operas. Nye married songwriter Anita Leonard in 1940. Unlike many Hollywood couples, they remained married until Nye’s death.
World War II interrupted his career. He was assigned to run the recreation hall in Missouri. He would entertain troops and was able to meet Carl Reiner, who had a similar sense of humor, and who was also part of Special Services performing in shows across the Pacific.
After the war ended, he returned to New York, getting jobs on television and appearing on Broadway. His first tv role was on The Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949. He appeared on several shows during the fifties but was best known for his work on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show and the New Steve Allen Show. He became close to the entire cast which included Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington Jr., Dayton Allen, Gabriel Dell, and Bill Dana. Nye often portrayed wealthy citizens during the “Man on the Street” sketches. When he took on the role of Gordon Hathaway, the egotistical Country Club snob, saying “Hi-ho Steverino,” Allen often cracked up. When the show moved to Los Angeles, Nye went with it.
His first recurring role was that of dentist Delbert Gray on The Ann Sothern Show in 1960 and 1961. He was very busy during the sixties, appearing on a variety of shows including The Bob Hope Show, The Jack Benny Show, Mike Douglas, The Munsters, Jackie Gleason, and Phyllis Diller. From 1962-66, he would pop in on The Beverly Hillbillies as Sonny Drysdale, the spoiled stepson of banker Milburn Drysdale.
In the seventies, he could be seen on shows such as Laugh-In, Love American Style, Laverne and Shirley, Starsky and Hutch, and Fantasy Island. He was offered a permanent role on Needles and Pins in 1973. The show only lasted for 14 episodes. The series was about the garment industry. Women’s clothing manufacture Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) works with a group of employees including characters played by Nye and Bernie Kopell. It didn’t receive great reviews and many of the writers said it talked about the garment industry but showed very little and was set in one small spot, inhibiting what plots were even available.
During those decades Nye would also get offers on the big screen from time to time but most of the roles were smaller cameo parts. However, he appeared with a lot of celebrities in these epics including Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau, and Jack Webb.
He also recorded several comedy albums using several of his characterizations. One of his most successful LPs was “Heigh-Ho Madison Avenue.” It parodied market research, advertising agencies and post-WWII society. Some of the pieces on the album include “The Gray Flannel Blues,” “The Ten Commandments of Madison Avenue (Plus Big Bonus Commandments),” and “The Conspicuous Consumption Cantata.”
He continued to keep busy in the eighties on a variety of shows including Here’s Boomer, Aloha Paradise, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, and St. Elsewhere.
His last role was another recurring one where he played Jeff Garlin’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm from 2000-2005. Nye passed away from lung cancer in 2005.
I’m not sure what to think about Nye’s career. I think in the right role, he would have excelled in a television comedy or a big screen epic which he never had the opportunity to do. He was multi-talented and appeared on Broadway, in clubs, and on the radio, and he created comedy albums as well as appearing in movies and television. However, I often read quotes of his where he said he only wanted to be funny at parties and always considered himself a serious actor. He was so brilliant and funny with his 15 accents and wide range of characterizations that he seemed pigeon-holed as a comedy character actor early in his career. I wondered if he was sad that he never had the chance to appear in a classic drama, or if he accepted his successful career for what it was, just being thankful he was in the entertainment industry for his entire working life.
Since we cannot ask him directly, all we can do is tip our hats to him in appreciation for the decades of laughter and entertainment he provided for us. Thank you, Mr. Nye.
In July we learned about Sirota’s Court which Night Court seemed to be a clone of. Debuting on NBC in January of 1984, Night Court ran for nine seasons until May of 1992. The series was supposed to begin in fall of 1983, but the executives at NBC were concerned about Harry Anderson’s lack of experience as an actor. They delayed the show; every show that debuted in fall of 1983 was cancelled, so Night Court was put on the schedule mid-season.
Thursday nights on NBC were part of “Must See Thursday.” The schedule featured The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Cheers followed by Night Court.
An unconventional judge, Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) presided over a Manhattan night court overseeing petty crime and dealing with a lot of wacky clients, odd coworkers, and bizarre situations. The role of Judge Stone was originally offered to Robert Klein, but he could not come to an agreement on the salary with NBC.
The main characters include Judge Stone, a public defender, a prosecutor, a couple bailiffs, and a clerk of court.
Harry Stone is a humorous judge (and magician). Although he was young, he was appointed because when the outgoing mayor called prospective judges, Harry was the only one who answered the phone. Stone likes old movies, Jean Harlow and adores Mel Tormè. The show’s creator Reinhold Weege discusses Stone’s admiration for Tormè on the DVD commentary. He said Tormè said he began to notice a younger audience at his concerts which he attributed to the Night Court references and happily appeared on an episode of the show.
The public defender role went through several changes during the course of the show. Gail Strickland was Sheila Gardner in the pilot. Paula Kelly was Liz Williams during the first season. Ellen Foley was brought on board for season 2 as a possible romantic interest for Judge Stone. Markie Post showed up for season 3 as Christine Sullivan and stuck around for the next seven seasons. Post was the first choice for the role in 1984 but was committed to The Fall Guy. When that show was cancelled, she was hired. Christine was a bit naïve and committed to helping others. She was a fan of the royal family and collected Princess Diana memorabilia as well as porcelain thimbles.
The prosecutor was Dan Fielding (John Larroquette). He was a sex-obsessed, somewhat witty, egotistical and greedy man. However, at times he could display compassion for others but not for long. He was always trying to get Christine to go out with him, but there was always a romantic tension between her and Stone.
Nostradamus “Bull” Shannon (Richard Moll) was on the show for its entire run. He came off as a bit dim-witted but was patient, kind, and devoted to Judge Stone.
For the first two seasons, he worked with Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond), a chain-smoking older bailiff who had been married six times. Diamond was diagnosed with cancer after season 2 and passed away shortly after. Florence Kleiner (Florence Halop) came on for season 3. Older like Selma, they had similar personalities. “Flo” loved motorcycles and heavy metal music. Halop also was diagnosed with and died from cancer after season 3. Rosalind Russell (Marsha Warfield) began in season four and stayed for the duration of the show. She was a practical, no-nonsense woman.
Clerk Lana Wagner (Karen Austin), was asked to leave the show after only ten episodes. I could not substantiate it, but she claims it was her diagnosis of Bell’s palsy that ended in her being asked to resign. Macintosh “Mac” Robinson (Charles Robinson) would take over in season two for the rest of the series. A Vietnam veteran, he was easy going and funny and always wore a cardigan, plaid shirt and knit tie.
Weege also mentioned in a DVD commentary that he named a lot of the pimps and hookers on the show after friends of his.
Although there were a lot of great crooks on the show, one of the most interesting episodes featured Seinfeld’s Kramer, Michael Richards. He appeared as a burglar who thought he was invisible and showed up naked in court. He was one of the funniest criminals on the show.
Like many of the 1980s shows, Night Court had a jazz instrumental theme song. This one was written by Jack Elliott and featured Ernie Watts on saxophone.
Critics loved the show. It was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series in the Emmy awards in 1985, 1987, and 1989. In 1985, the show was up against Kate and Allie and the rest of the shows that was part of the Must-See Thursday with The Cosby Show winning. In 1987 it was up against the same slate except Kate and Allie was replaced with The Golden Girls which won. In 1989 it lost to The Wonder Years. Larroquette, who was the most popular character in the show, won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor four years in a row and then asked that his name be taken out of consideration. Overall, the show was nominated for 31 Emmys and won 7 of those. In an aside, Larroquette was offered his own spin-off show, but he turned down the offer.
Anderson received credit for writing five of the episodes and Anderson, as well as Larroquette and Robinson directed several episodes of the series.
After season seven, the show began losing its audience. The cast members were getting tired of their characters, and the writers had a hard time coming up with new plots. Season eight was supposed to be the last one. Among other character wrap-ups, Harry and Christine would get married and Dan would become a priest. However, at the last minute, NBC renewed the show for another season, so the marriage did not take place and Dan ended up with Christine in the finale. The cast was offered more money to return for a tenth season, but they declined.
In doing a bit of research, I learned that New York’s real night court operates from 5 pm to 1 am. Because of the crazy goings on that happen there, it has become a tourist attraction. It’s the only place where courts operate during these hours. One reporter wrote that “At 12:30 am on a freezing Wednesday morning, it’s not just New York City’s famously 24/7 bar and club scene that’s a hive of activity. Deep in the heart of Manhattan, a man in handcuffs is standing in front of a judge, listening to a string of firearm and assault charges as a crowd of lawyers hum around him and solemn family members watch from the benches. This is night court, an operation that has become a strange kind of tourist attraction for visitors in New York looking for something a little out of the ordinary.”
This show was based on characters rather than plots, and the wrong actors would have made the show a disaster. This cast was able to pull it off. They were quirky but still allowed the audience to get to know them and like them. The fact that the show was set in the same setting for most of the nine seasons and did not seem to be repeating plots over and over again is pretty impressive. I don’t think they should have done a season 9 but hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. The show holds up well after almost four decades. It’s worth watching just to see how the main characters interact and grow during the run of the show.
As we wind up our “I Salute You!” blog series, we end with a show that may not be remembered as well as many other military shows: Major Dad. Created by Richard Okie, Earl Pomerantz, and John Stephens, the show debuted in September of 1989 and ran until spring of 1993, producing 96 episodes. Stephens was a producer on Gunsmoke and Simon and Simon (which McRaney also starred in), among other shows. Okie also produced Simon and Simon, along with Quantum Leap and more recently, Elementary. Pomerantz had been involved with both The Cosby Show and The Larry Sanders Show. Although the show is not seen often now, it won best sitcom in 1990.
In September of 1989, Bonnie Churchill wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor, “McRaney is Major Dad.” They discussed how the show was developed. As McRaney recounted: “‘The eighth and last season of Simon and Simon we began to get the skeleton of an idea . . . It centers around a rather conservative peacetime officer who falls in love with a newspaper reporter, who is rather liberal. She’s a single parent raising three daughters. They get married, and then the real fun begins. When we were discussing which branch of the service he’d be in, I voted for the Marines.’ McRaney also had a vote as co-executive producer, so he won.”
The show was on Monday nights for most of its entire run. The first season it went up against MacGyver and for half the season it was on against Alf and My 2 Dads for the second half. Season two with the move to Camp Hollister found the show going against MacGyver on ABC and both Ferris Bueller and Blossom on NBC, landing in the top 30. The show was again competing against MacGyver and Blossom for season three where it was in the top 10. In season four, MacGyver was gone with American Detective taking its place and Blossom still on NBC. But at some time during the last season, the network moved the show to Friday nights which resulted in the ratings plummeting and the show was no longer in the top 30 and was cancelled.
Major Dad starred Gerald McRaney and Shanna Reed as a newly married couple, John and Polly MacGillis. After left-leaning journalist Polly interviews conservative John, they fall in love. After a whirl-wind three-week romance, they decided to marry and the perennial bachelor’s life is turned upside down. Even though they are newly married, Polly has three daughters (Nicole Dubuc, Chelsea Hertford, and Marisa Ryan) from a previous marriage, so “Mac” must learn to live with a house of females. The girls are 6, 11, and 13. Mac has a hard-enough time learning to be a husband, let alone a father.
The show takes place in Camp Singleton which is similar to the real Camp Pendleton where Mac is the commander of the infantry training school’s acquisition division. Rounding out the cast were Lt Holowachuk (Matt Mulhern), Sgt James (Marlon Archey), and secretary Merilee (Whitney Kershaw). Many of the scripts for the first season had to be rewritten due to the US’s involvement in the Persian Gulf War.
For the second season, the family moves to Camp Hollister, which is similar to Quantico. Mac has been promoted to staff secretary under Brigadier General Marcus Craig (Jon Cypher). Lt Holowachuk comes along as aide-de-camp. Beverly Archer plays Gunnery Sergeant Alva Bricker, known as Gunny, the general’s secretary.
She adds a lot of humorous elements to the show as a no-nonsense, set-in-her-ways woman who seems to have many romantic interests.
Polly becomes the managing editor for the Bulldog, the camp newspaper. She also writes two columns, “At Ease” and “The Suggestion Box.” Originally for the second season, several of the characters were being sent to Saudia Arabia, but because the Persian Gulf War ended, it was decided to send everyone to Camp Hollister instead.
Some famous faces that popped up on this show included Ruth Buzzy, Peggy Cass, Brian Keith, Vicki Lawrence, and Jameson Parker.
Most reviews I read thought the show came into its own after the move to Camp Hollister. It got very positive ratings. Many people appreciated the fact that Marines were shown in a positive light. Before filming the show, McRaney was sent to Camp Pendleton to learn about life as a Marine. He was able to talk with people about their life stories, be outfitted with a uniform, and even got an authentic haircut.
The show provided a realistic insight into the issues that military families face. In addition, the show moved back and forth between home life and career life, so the characters are more balanced and not one-dimensional. Current issues like base closures were often written into the scripts, and in 1990, an episode commemorated the 215th anniversary of the Marines and Dan Quayle, who was the Vice President, made an appearance on the show.
As far as I could find, the show is not available on DVD. I also could not find any networks currently carrying the show, although there are online sights where you can watch it. Perhaps with all the networks now carrying syndicated shows, this series will have a second chance to find new generations of fans.
For some reason, the group including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr. have been referred to the Rat Pack since the 1960s. The original rat pack was coined by Lauren Bacall about a group who gathered at her home whom she referred to as a pack of rats. The group we know as the Rat Pack preferred to call themselves the Clan or the Summit. Whatever they chose to call themselves, they had a hip, cool aura.
When one of the members of the group was scheduled to perform at Las Vegas, another one or two of the Clan would often show up as well. Because concert goers knew this, their shows tended to sell out. The Sands marquee promoted the possibility during one of Dean Martin’s shows when they put up “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY.”
I thought it would be fun to look at
the Rat Pack on television and see how much influence this group had. Let’s
start with Old Blue Eyes.
his film career in the 1940s. In 1953 he had one of his most famous roles in From Here to Eternity. I was surprised
to learn that he began appearing on television in the mid-1950s as well. He
showed up in The Colgate Comedy Hour
in 1954, The Producer’s Showcase in
1955, and The Thin Man in 1958.
In the 1970s
we find Frank showing up on Laugh-In
for several appearances.
He also sang
a few lullabies on Make Room for
Granddaddy, Danny Thomas’ revival of his hit show Make Room for Daddy from the 1950s. I was amazed at the talent of
actors who guest starred on the reboot considering the short time it was on the
air, but that is a topic for a future blog. On this episode, he bumps into
Danny. His wife Kathy is not happy Danny is bringing home a guest for dinner on
“hamburger night” but then she learns it’s Frank. He sings “All the Way” and
“Baa Baa Black Sheep” for Danny’s grandson, Michael.
Jumping ahead a decade, we find Frank’s last two television roles, one as himself and one as a New York cop.
Frank had met
Tom Selleck in Hawaii on one of his trips. In 1987 Frank appeared as Michael
Doheny, a retired police sergeant on Selleck’s show, Magnum PI. Frank and his entourage traveled to Hawaii (although he
worked for scale) and took over a floor at The Colony Surf in Diamond Head. In
this episode he returns to help find the men who kidnapped his granddaughter.
There were plans for Sinatra to return in season eight as well but Selleck cut
back on the number of episodes he was filming, and the show was never written.
In 1989 Sinatra showed up on Who’s the Boss as himself. Angela is invited to an exclusive party, but she gets waylaid by a work issue. Mona and Tony decide to take the tickets, but they can’t get in when they get there and then Angela shows up, which results in all three of them being thrown out of the gala. As Frank is showing up to sing, Tony gets to meet him and tell him he is his idol.
Not surprisingly Dean’s first appearance on television was on Make Room for Daddy in 1958. He portrayed himself. Danny calls on Dean to help him out with his daughter Terry who has been not very nice to a boy at school who likes her. Danny learns she is ignoring the boy because she has a crush on Dean. The plan works, and she and Donald get together.
During the same year, Dean shows up on The Phil Silvers Show. Bilko (Silvers) is sent to Yucca Flats to work on a nuclear test program. Ritzik is amazed by one of the scientist’s machines. They skip the base and head for Las Vegas, so Rupert can demonstrate his gambling skills. Dean Martin is an unnamed gambler they run into.
In 1964 Martin got on the western bandwagon, appearing in Rawhide. Martin is stalking Hispanic cattlemen. His wife wants him to drop the assignment and retire to her family’s plantation with her, but he refuses, and she seeks help from Gil Favor, the boss of a never-ending cattle drive.
We see Martin
pop up on a Bob Hope special in 1968 and a Red Skelton show in 1970.
In 1978 Martin made an appearance on a show that surprised me: Charlie’s Angels. Martin plays the owner of the Tropicana Casino who hires the Angels to investigate several suspicious deaths that he thinks are part of a plot to make him think he’s going crazy. This was a two-part season opener and instead of singing, Martin got to display his magic skills. Naturally, he becomes romantically involved with one of the Angels, Sabrina played by Kate Jackson.
Dean’s last appearance was in the show Vega$
in 1979 as himself.
Bishop’s first role was not much of a stretch. He played a
comedian on RichardDiamond in 1959. Bishop’s plays Joey
Kirk and hires Diamond to determine who is following him and why, leading to a complicated
He appeared in the DuPont
Show of the Month in 1960 and The
Dick Powell Theater in 1963.
Like most of the Rat Pack, Bishop made an appearance on Make Room for Daddy in 1961. As Joey
Mason, he helps out Danny. Danny has flown from the east coast to the west
coast and took two sleeping pills. However, there are four conventions in town
and his assistant forgot to make him a reservation.
In 1965 he is Fred Jackson on an episode of Valentine’s Day starring Tony Franciosa
and Jack Soo about a young eligible bachelor who lives with his valet, a
poker-playing con artist who saved his life while they were in the Army.
From 1961-1965, Joey stars in The Joey Bishop Show as Joey Barnes. Barnes is the host of a talk show. He has to deal with his personal and professional life as a celebrity. A lot of guest stars show up playing themselves as guests on his show or friends of his. The show produced 125 episodes. I have recently been watching it on Antenna TV where it now is shown every morning.
In 1967, Joey had a cameo on Get Smart. Max and 99 are sent on an assignment to rescue Don
Carlos, the dictator of San Saludos. A general has imprisoned him and wants to
marry his daughter. Max and 99 try to disguise themselves as flamenco dancers.
When they are also thrown in jail, a guard, played by Bishop, attempts to bribe
the firing squad.
In the 1970s we find Joey on Chico and the Man in 1976. He plays an inept burglar and when Ed
doesn’t press charges, every lowlife crook appears at the business.
In 1981 Bishop appears as Dr. Burton on Trapper John MD.
In 1985 Bishop again takes on the role of a comedian on Hardcastle and McCormick. That same year he also played another comedian on Murder She Wrote.
shows were very popular in the early days of television. Lawford appeared in
quite a few of these shows from 1953-1965.
In 1954 he took on the role of Bill Hastings on Dear Phoebe. The show was on the air for two years, resulting in 32 episodes. Hastings works for a daily newspaper in a large city. He becomes the author of a lonely hearts column and advises his readers as “Phoebe” while trying to deal with his own issues in his personal life.
From 1957-1959, he was Nick Charles on the television version of The Thin Man. The show was very popular with 723 episodes filmed. Similar to the films, Nick marries Nora and lives in a luxurious Park Avenue apartment in New York. He was previously a private detective and many of his underworld friends get him involved in mysteries he has to solve.
appeared as himself on an episode of Jack Benny’s show in 1961.
He also played himself on The Patty Duke Show in 1965. Patty is selected to find a star to perform at the high school prom. Sammy Davis Jr. also guest stars on the episode.
Sammy and Peter enjoyed working together because they guest starred on an
episode of The Wild Wild West in 1966.
Lawford is a wealthy ranch owner and Davis is a hired hand Jeremiah.
While Bishop showed up on Get Smart, Lawford chose the more realistic I Spy in 1967.
Sinatra, he also appeared on Laugh-In
but must have enjoyed it more because he was on ten different episodes.
the 1970s, Lawford shows up on a variety of television show genres. He would be
on the western The Virginian in 1971,
Born Free about Elsa the lion in
1974, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, the bizarre comedy High Cliffe Manor, the crime drama Hawaii Five-0, the dramady Supertrain, and The Jeffersons.
In addition, he was featured on Bewitched in 1972. Lawford played Harrison Woolcott, a client of Darrin and Larry’s. Sam’s cousin Serena decides she wants to date him and try the mortal life for a while.
He made several appearances during seasons four and five of The Doris Day Show. As Dr. Peter Lawrence, he begins a romance with Doris in 1972-1973.
Sammy probably appeared in the most television shows. Like
Peter, he began in drama shows and guest starred in several episodes of General Electric Theater.
He then appeared in The
Lawman in 1961, Frontier Circus,Cain’s Hundred, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman,
and Hennessey in 1962.
In 1963 he was on Ben
Like the other Rat Pack actors, he was on Make Room for Daddy in 1963 and the
revival Make Room for Granddaddy in
As mentioned before, he guest starred in The Patty Duke Show in 1965 and The Wild Wild West in 1966, both with
In 1967, he showed up on I Dream of Jeannie as himself. Tony tries to get Sammy Davis Jr to sing for General Peterson’s party. When he is already booked, Jeannie tries to help by duplicating himself, so he can be in two places at one time.
Davis also took a role in The Beverly Hillbillies in 1969.
The same year he took on his first of three roles on Mod Squad. His first role was a black priest who becomes the target of a bad guy after the church suspends him. The hood is afraid he will reveal his confession now that he no longer is part of the church. The next episode he appeared on was in the role of Billy Lee Watson, a recovered drug addict. He runs a half-say house and is accused of rape of a man’s daughter who he has been trying to help. Her father accused Billy of the rape and after investigating, it turned out Billy was her actual father. The last episode of Mod Squad he appeared on in 1970 had Davis portraying Willie Rush and actor and friend of Linc’s. He says someone is trying to kill him.
The 1970s continued to be a productive time for Davis on television. He would go on to appear in The Name of the Game in 1970, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in 1972, nine episodes of Laugh-In, and like his friend Dean Martin, an episode of Charlie’s Angels in 1977. He plays himself on Charlie’s Angels. When he hosts a charity event that includes a celebrity look alike contest, an attempt is made to kidnap him. The Angels take on the job of his bodyguards and Bosley becomes his chauffeur.
The 1980s were also busy times for him. He appeared as
himself on several Norman Lear shows including Archie Bunker’s Place and The
Jeffersons. He also could be seen on Fantasy
Island, Pryor’s Place, Gimme a Break, The Cosby Show and Hunter
in the 1980s.
One thing that surprised me was his roles on One Life to Live and General Hospital. I have seen a few stars like Carol Burnett who chose to appear on a soap opera. Davis had a recurring role on General Hospital; he didn’t seem to me to be the type of actor who would be interested in a soap opera, but he did receive an Emmy nomination for his role on General Hospital. Sammy was also nominated for an Emmy for his work on The Cosby Show.
While Joey Bishop hosted some of the Emmy Award shows, I
did not find any nominations for the other members of the Rat Pack.
Overall, I was surprised how extensive the television careers were for the Summit members. I think of them more in their performing or movie careers and did not expect them to see that they guest starred in so many shows and starred in some of their own television series. Check out some of these shows or make a batch of popcorn and watch the ensemble in the original Ocean’s Eleven.
The Depression changed the course of Sheldon Leonard’s life. He was born in Manhattan to Jewish parents. He went to Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship. While there, he was president of the dramatics club. His degree was in finance, and he landed a job at a prestigious brokerage firm. Then the Depression hit, and he was out of a job. He had to fall back on the only other skill he could think of which was acting.
In 1931 he married Frances Bober whom he was married until his death. They would have two children.
Acting was not quick money either though. It took five years until he landed his first major Broadway role in Hotel Alimony in 1934. It did not have a long run, but his next two shows were more successful: Having a Wonderful Time in 1937 and Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1938.
He then entered film work. He had several very small roles in a couple of movies and a couple of shorts, but in 1939 he was cast in Another Thin Man, the popular movie series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. That began his career as a heavy, often being cast as a gangster. He would appear in To Have and Have Not with Bogie and Bacall in 1944. In 1946 he was cast as the bartender in It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Because it has become a Christmas staple, it has brought Sheldon a lot of recognition. Sheldon would appear in 74 movies during his career, 69 of them by 1952.
During this time, he also gave radio a try. He was working on both sides of the mic. He sold scripts to several shows including Broadway is My Beat. He also portrayed his stereotyped gangster role on many shows including as Grogan on The Phil Harris, Alice Faye Show. You could hear him on Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope, Duffy’s Tavern, the Halls of Ivy, and The Judy Canova Show, among others.
It was only a matter of time before Sheldon took his talents to television. He appeared in four episodes of Your Jeweler’s Showcase in 1952. In addition, he was listed as producer and director for several of these episodes. He appeared in I Love Lucy in 1953 as vacuum salesman Harry Martin and several I Married Joan episodes in 1952-53. One of my favorites was his role as Johnny Velvet on Burns and Allen when he kidnaps Gracie but takes her back because she drives him crazy. In 1954 he co-starred in The Duke which lasted 13 episodes. This show featured an artistic boxer who leaves the ring to open a nightclub. Sheldon also directed the pilot as well as some early episodes of Lassie and The RealMcCoys.
However, the show that made him a household name was his director/producer role on Make Room for Daddy, Danny Thomas’s hit sitcom. The show was in the top ten, and Sheldon even found time to appear on the show 19 times. The show continued from 1953-1964. Leonard had found his sweet spot. During his career, he would direct and produce shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, and I Spy.
Sheldon convinced Carl Reiner to step back from acting as Rob Petrie and produce The DickVan Dyke Show. That conversation resulted in Dick Van Dyke accepting the role, leading to 158 episodes. If you watch carefully, you will notice Sheldon appearing twice on the show in minor roles. The show was nominated for 25 Emmys and won 15.
Sheldon also is credited with creating the spinoff. One of Danny Thomas’s episodes was set in North Carolina where he gets picked up for speeding in a rural town and has a run-in with Sheriff Andy Taylor. This episode turned into the long-running The Andy Griffith Show which was on the air from 1960-1968 netting 249 episodes. The show won 6 of the 9 Emmys it was nominated for.
The spinoff was so successful he did it again, moving Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle from the gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show to his own show, Gomer Pyle USMC. That show was on the air for five years (150 episodes), and Sheldon would also make an appearance there as Norman Miles.
Thomas and Leonard as L&T Productions were also behind the The Joey Bishop Show and The Bill Dana Show. Thomas and Leonard’s shows were notable for emphasizing characters and relationships over slapstick or situation comedy. You cared about the characters even when they were a little kooky like Gomer Pyle or Barney Fife. They were committed to high-quality scripts. Many of the writers they employed went on to successful shows of their own including Danny Arnold for Barney Miller; Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson for The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy; and Bill Persky and Sam Denoff for That Girl and Kate and Allie. L&T Productions ended in 1965.
In the mid-1960s Sheldon produced I Spy. He cast Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as secret agents. This was the first series to star a black actor in a lead role. In a March 7, 2016 Modern Times article, David Fantle and Tom Johnson discussed Sheldon Leonard and ISpy. Leonard said he knew what he was doing. “Race was very much an issue at that time,” he said. “I was intellectually conscious of it, but emotionally unaware of it. When I say emotionally unaware, I mean I was free to think of Cosby as the man to fill the slot I needed. Intellectually I knew the problems I’d have to face to get him on the air.” I Spy was a humorous suspense show and was known for its exotic locations, filming in countries such as Hong Kong, England, Morocco, France, and Greece among others. The critics rewarded Leonard. The show was nominated for Outstanding Dramatic Series Emmy every year of its three-year run and earned Leonard an Emmy nomination for directing in 1965.
Sheldon was also the producer behind Accidental Family and Good Morning World, both shows debuting in 1967 and ending in 1968 and My World and Welcome to It in 1969. Accidental Family was about a widower who is a stand-up comedian. He buys a California farm which is managed by Sue Kramer who is also his son’s governess and his love interest. Good Morning World was about morning disc jockeys in LA. One is happily married, and one is a ladies’ man. Goldie Hawn was the next-door neighbor and Billy De Wolfe was their boss. On My World and Welcome To It, John Monroe is a married man with a daughter. He frequently daydreams and fantasizes about life. This show was unusual in that it included some animation along with the live action.
In the Fantle and Johnson article referenced above, Leonard also talked about his favorite sitcom. He said his favorite might be the one that needed the most attention. “My favorite show was cancelled after the first year. My World and Welcome toIt, based on the writings of James Thurber and starring William Windom. It won every award, and they cancelled . . . It was satire and above their (the network bosses’) heads. That show and I Spy are my favorites.”
In the early 1970s Sheldon would produce From a Bird’s Eye View and Shirley’s World. From a Bird’s Eye View was a sitcom about two stewardesses, Millie from England and Maggie from America. Millie was always getting into mischief and Maggie bailed her out. Shirley’s World starred Shirley MacLaine as a photographer who travels the world for her London-based magazine. The locales were similar to I Spy.
In 1975 Sheldon starred in a new sitcom, Big Eddy which only lasted for ten episodes. He was Eddie Smith was the owner of the Big E Sports Arena in New York. He was an ex-gambler fighting the impulse to get back into it. He has a bunch of eccentric people in his life including his ex-stripper wife Honey and their granddaughter Ginger.
In the 1980s, Sheldon would continue to show up on various television shows, appearing in Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, and Cheers.
Along with author Mickey Spillane, Leonard was one of the first two people to become a Miller Lite spokesman. In his New York accent, he tells the audience, “I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis.”
Sheldon Leonard passed away at the age of 89 in 1997. His wife Frances passed away in 1999.
Sheldon Leonard is undoubtedly one of the greatest television producers. Most of his shows were consistently in the top ten. They are classic shows still on the air today. Sheldon required scripts that brought characters to life. He created spinoffs when he believed in the characters. He was not afraid to take risks. Besides casting Bill Cosby, he cast Lois Nettleton as divorced Sue Kramer on Accidental Family. This was in the mid-1960s and yet when Mary Tyler Moore’s show aired in 1970, the network refused to allow her to be a divorced character.
In the Mercurie Blogspot from November 10, 2013, Carl Reiner discussed Leonard: “Sheldon has mentored more people in our business than anyone else I know. He knew how to teach what he knew, and what he knew was situation comedy with the three-camera technique. Sheldon was a producing genius who understood comedy. He had four or five shows going, but he would walk in and give his intelligence and his time to every script that was being read for the week. And we always came away with a better script because we would discuss and argue and come to a better situation.”
Garry Marshall was also quoted in this same article: “Sheldon was a sort of man’s man, yet he had all the creative sensitivity of the artist. No matter what story you were working on, he could help you fix it. He would never put down your idea. If I had to describe Sheldon in one word, it would be gentleman. He was a Renaissance man with a New York accent—and possibly a gun!”
As a salute to Leonard, the writers of The Big Bang Theory, named their main characters Sheldon and Leonard in honor of Sheldon Leonard.
Sheldon himself seems to explain his success best. After working on his memoir in 1995, And the Show Goes On: Broadway and Holiday Adventures, he said “I was driven by an urge to survive and being very self-indulgent. I never did anything for very long that I didn’t like or enjoy. I would survive only on my own terms. I had to enjoy what I was doing, and I would have done what I did even if nobody paid me. That’s the secret of success in any business: do it well and enjoy doing it.”