Allan Melvin: What a Character!

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.

Category:Characters voiced and/or played by Allan Melvin | Legends of the  Multi Universe Wiki | Fandom
Photo: wikipedia.com

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.

All in the Family Star Allan Melvin Dies at 84 | PEOPLE.com
Photo: people.com

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.

Allan Melvin Bio
Photo: imayberry.com

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.

Magilla Gorilla. | Cartoon photo, Classic cartoon characters, Vintage  cartoon

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.

The Brady Bunch - Alice Nelson (Ann B. Davis) and her boyfriend Sam "The  Butcher" Franklin (Allan Melvin) pose … | The brady bunch, Old tv shows,  Classic television
Photo: pinterest.com

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.”

Actor who summered in TC dies at 84 | Local News | record-eagle.com
With Carroll O’Connor on Archie’s Place Photo: record-eagle.coom

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.

Liquid-Plumr ad w/Allan Melvin, 1981 - YouTube

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.

The Dick Van Dyke Show: Writing At Its Best

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.

Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Curious Thing About Women” | This Was  Television
Photo: thiswastelevision.com

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 Story of Dick Van Dyke and the Ottoman – Once upon a screen…
Photo: pinterest

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.

The Dick Van Dyke Show' Changed Television as We Know It
Moore, Van Dyke and Mathews–Photo: wideopencountry.com

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.

Recap and React: The Dick Van Dyke Show, season 2, episodes 11 – 15 – The  Motion Pictures
Moore, Paris, Guilbert, and Van Dyke
Photo: motionpictures.com

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.

Mary Tyler Moore | Couple sleeping, Bed, Classic television
Moore, Van Dyke–Photo: pinterest.com

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.

The Best 'Dick Van Dyke Show' Episodes, Ranked
Amsterdam, Deacon, Van Dyke, Marie, Moore–Photo: vulture.com

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).

Carl Reiner, beloved creator of 'Dick Van Dyke Show,' dies | Taiwan News |  2020/07/01
Deacon, Moore, Van Dyke, Leonard, Reiner, Paris
Photo: taiwannews.com

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.

Carl Reiner Knew TV Like the Back of His Head - The New York Times
Moore, Reiner–Photo: nytimes.com

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.

William Schallert, Man of Many Talents

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.

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Photo: comforttvblogspot.com

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.”

Image result for image of william schallert mighty joe young

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.

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With wife Leah Waggner on The Dick Van Dyke Show–Photo: facebook.com

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.

Image result for image of william schallert the partridge family
Photo: pinterest.com

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.”

Image result for image of william schallert get smart
Photo: greensburgdailynews.com

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.

Image result for image of william schallert dobie gillis
Photo: ebay.com

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.

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Photo: washingtonpost.com

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.

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Nancy Drew Hour–Photo: williamschallert.com

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.

Jerry Van Dyke: Actor and Brother

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.

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Photo: amazon.com

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.

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Photo: gr8terdays.com

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.

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McClintock–Photo: tidefans.com

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.

Image result for images of jerry van dyke my mother the car
Photo: youtube.com

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.

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Photo: imdb.com

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.

Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke's Younger Brother, Dead at 86 | PEOPLE.com
Photo: people.com

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.

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Photo: amazon.com

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.

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Photo: nytimes.com

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.

Father of the Bride is Better on the Big Screen

We’re continuing our blog series, “The Movie Came First.” Today we get to learn more about Father of the Bride. Whether you gravitate to Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in the original movie or Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Steve Martin in the remake, you might have enjoyed the television show which aired in 1961. All three versions feature a father whose daughter is getting married, as he deals with the emotional pain of losing her, the financial reparations, and the disorganized turmoil that goes into planning the wedding.

The movie starred Elizabeth Taylor as Kay Banks with Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett as her parents, Ellie and Stanley. Her fiancé Buckley Dunstan is portrayed by Don Taylor and his parents are Billie Burke and Moroni Olsen as Doris and Herbert. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (William Holden won for Sunset Boulevard), Best Picture (All About Eve was the winner), and Best Writing, Screenplay (also Sunset Boulevard as winner).

Stanley narrates his feelings and perspectives throughout the film. For example, he talks about losing his daughter: “Who giveth this woman? This woman. But she’s not a woman. She’s still a child. And she’s leaving us. What’s it going to be like to come home and not find her? Not to hear her voice calling “Hi Pops” as I come in? I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was giving up Kay. Something inside me began to hurt.”

Photo: hulu.com

He also shares his thoughts on weddings: “I would like to say a few words about weddings. I’ve just been through one. Not my own. My daughter’s. Someday in the far future I may be able to remember it with tender indulgence, but not now. I always used to think that marriages were a simple affair. Boy meets girl. Fall in love. They get married. Have babies. Eventually the babies grow up and meet other babies. They fall in love. Get married. Have babies. And so on and on and on. Looked at that way, it’s not only simple, it’s downright monotonous. But I was wrong.”

Photo: wikipedia.com

In 1961 the movie was reworked for the small screen, produced by MGM Television. The characters remained the same. In the tv version, Leon Ames was Stanley, Ruth Warrick was Ellie, Myrna Fahey was Kay, Burt Metcalfe was Buckley, Ransom Sherman was Herbert, and Lurene Tuttle was Doris. We also see Ruby Dandridge cast as their housekeeper Delilah and Rickie Sorenson as Tommy, Kay’s little brother.

The first shows in season one featured an animated cupid holding a magic wand to start the show, but the season transitioned into a photo of the entire cast gathered on the Banks’ staircase.

Photo: youtube.com

The sponsors of the show were Campbell’s Soups and General Mills.

I was surprised to see that there were 24 writers but then in looking through the episodes, the majority of the shows mirrored the movie so closely it was more of rewriting than writing.

Photo: blogspot.com

The show aired on Friday nights and its competition was The Dinah Shore Show and 77 Sunset Strip. I would have thought given the adult themes of 77 Sunset Strip, this show would be a popular family show to watch. However, the ratings must not have been very good, because it was cancelled after one season. Not many of the shows debuting this fall even lasted the season. In addition to Father of the Bride, the following shows were cancelled: The Bob Cummings Show, The Hathaways, Holiday Lodge, Ichabod and Me, Margie, Mrs. G Goes to College, Oh, Those Bells, One Happy Family, Room for One More, and Window on Main Street. The successful season debuts included Car 54 Where Are You?, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mr. Ed, Hazel, The Lucy Show, and The Joey Bishop Show.

Photo: amazon.com

YouTube has the opening credits, but I could not find anywhere to watch episodes of this show. I guess my recommendation would be to forget about the show and watch the 1950 or 1991 movie version. I’m not often a fan of reboots of movies, but I love the Steve Martin-Diane Keaton version of this movie, so both films are great choices. Better yet, watch them both and then choose your favorite.

Photo: amazon.com

Car 54, Where Are You: Muldoon and Toody: The Bert and Ernie of the NYPD

Car 54, Where Are You? aired on NBC beginning September of 1961. I was surprised to learn that there are only 60 episodes in this series. The show revolves around officers Gunther Toody, Badge 1432 (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon, Badge 723 (Fred Gwynne). Their patrol car is Car 54, and they are with the 53rd precinct in New York. Toody and Muldoon are complete opposites which is why they get along so well. Toody is short, extremely talkative and not overly bright.  He’s married to Lucille (Beatrice Pons), a bit of a loud, overbearing woman. Muldoon is tall, quiet and very smart. He’s a bachelor who lives with his mother (Ruth Masters) and two younger sisters.

Photo: imdb.com

Rounding out the large cast are officers Dave Anderson (Nipsey Russell), Omar Anderson (Ossie Davis), Kissel (Bruce Kirby), Nelson (Jim Gormley), Nicholson (Hank Garrett, O’Hara (Albert Henderson), Schnauser (Al Lewis), Steinmetz (Joe Warren), and Wallace (Frederick O’Neal), as well as Captain Block (Paul Reed), Sergeant Abrams ( Nathaniel Frey), Sylvia Schnauser (Charlotte Rae), and Claire Block (Patricia Bright).

A young Nipsey Russell Photo: yahoo.com

Nat Hiken (the creative force behind The Phil Silvers Show) created the series. He wrote many of the scripts and also directed several episodes, one of which he won an Emmy for. The show was nominated for three other Emmys. It was up for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor in 1961 which went to The Bob Newhart Show (not that Bob Newhart show, this was a variety show hosted by Newhart) and for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy in both 1961 and 1962 but got beat out both years by Carl Reiner for The Dick Van Dyke Show.

As recounted in Martin Grams, Jr.’s book Car 54, Where Are You?, after visiting a New York police precinct house and noticing what a communal feel it had, unlike any of the depictions of police on television, Hiken came up with the idea for a police-themed situation comedy. He continued to do research by spending weeks in a precinct squad room during late 1960, getting a feel for how the officers talked and interacted amongst each other, members of the community, and even repeat offenders, who were often treated more like family than threats. Hiken enlisted the support of Eupolis Productions and then pitched the idea to Proctor & Gamble, who agreed to finance a pilot.

Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were coworkers before they were relatives Photo: shoutfactorytv.com

According to Kliph Nesteroff in the definitive account of Joe E. Ross’ tawdry life off-screen, “King of Slobs: The Life of Joe E. Ross,” Hiken originally wanted to cast Jack Weston in the role of Gunther Toody (televisionheaven.co.uk says it was Jack Warden) and Mickey Shaughnessy as Francis Muldoon, but contract negotiations broke down with both, so he turned to Ross and Fred Gwynne as suitable replacements, though in Ross’ case he later regretted it.

John Strauss who had collaborated with Hiken on the theme song for The Phil Silvers Show, teamed up with Hiken once again for this theme. Strauss was married to Charlotte Rae, who appeared on the show. Strass was the composer, and Hiken wrote the lyrics. The familiar theme song is:

There’s a hold-up in the Bronx,

Brooklyn’s broken out in fights;

There’s a traffic jam in Harlem

That’s backed up to Jackson Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child,

Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild,

Car 54, where are you?

The show was originally titled “The Snow Whites.” (Maybe because the sponsor made Chlorox bleach.) The show was given a great time slot on Sunday nights between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza. The producers thought the working title would confuse viewers since the show followed Disney. Since the theme song was already written, the last line of the song became the show’s title.

Critics were split on the show. While many people praised the series, some reviewers considered it disrespectful. The Chicago Sun Times deemed it “a preposterous (and sometimes cruel) depiction of the policeman.” The Dallas Times Herald stated, “The humor might be there, all right, but not much of it was showing.” The Alabama Journal complained, “It is insulting to the law enforcement and to the general public.” However, many policemen liked the show and found it funny.

The show was filmed at Biograph Studios in the Bronx and on location. The cars were painted bright red and white which photographed perfectly. There is some controversy about the patrol cars. Some articles listed them as Savoys, some as Dodges. According to Martin Grams blog from May 4, 2012,  “On June 29, 1961, Arthur Hershkowitz signed the contract and during the first week of July, the following four automobiles were delivered to Eupolis Productions”: two 1961 Plymouth Belvederes, one Dodge Dart, and one Plymouth, all four-door sedans. Grams said “the cars were returned to the dealership and when the show was renewed for season two, the following cars were delivered”: two 1962 Plymouth Belvederes, three 1962 Plymouth Furys, one 1962 Dart 330, and a 1962 Chrysler New Yorker.  One article I read said that the large circular object on the dashboard between the officers was an auxiliary fan used before air conditioning was available.

Despite the success of Car 54, which placed 20th in the ratings for 1961-62, Hiken soon began to feel overwhelmed with his responsibilities.  Apparently, NBC wanted part ownership in the show in exchange for renewing it for season three, and Hiken would not agree to the deal. The show’s sponsor Proctor and Gamble tried to talk CBS into taking the show over, but there was no room on their schedule. Hiken was a bit burnt out with writing, directing, and overseeing the show and was exasperated with Ross who caused a lot of issues not remembering his lines, so Hiken ended the show and never worked on another series again.

Considering the short time that the show was on the air, there was a full slate of guest stars including Carl Ballantine, Tom Bosley, Wally Cox, Hugh Downs, Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Helmond, Hal Linden, Mitch Miller, Charles Nelson Reilly, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jean Stapleton.

The episodes are well written and similar to other sitcoms at the time.

Photo: shoutfactory.com

In one, Toody is feeling henpecked by Lucille, but musters the courage to become king of his castle after seeing a stirring performance of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

In another, Muldoon shares a childhood experience when the kids at school called him “Horse Face.” Toody, trying to console him, says “Don’t worry Francis, kids just repeat what other people say” and later added “After all, Francis, everybody liked Black Beauty.”

One script has Toody working an undercover detail in Brooklyn with a female cop posing as his wife and a small boy as his child. When his wife’s sister spots him, the rumors begin.

Even though there were only 60 episodes, the show went into syndication in 1964. It was one of the staples on Nick at Nite in the 1980s, aired on Comedy Central in the 1990s, and a few years ago it could be seen on both MeTV and Decades. The show came out on DVD in 2011 and 2012.

Like any show that was even somewhat successful, the show had a film made based on the series in 1994. The big screen version starred John C. McGinley as Muldoon, David Johansen as Toody, Rosie O’Donnell as Toody’s wife Lucille and Fran Drescher as Velma Velor. Not surprisingly, it was a dud. One reviewer said it “was one of the worst movies to ever come out of Hollywood.”

One fun fact I learned doing research for this blog was that this show was William Faulkner’s favorite tv show. He hated television but visited a friend’s house weekly to watch the show.

Photo: amazon.com

This show debuted during the decade when merchandising was a big part of every show. There were at least six comic books based on the show. There was a board game, puppets of Toody and Muldoon, and a car model.

The show was funny in its prime, but I’m not sure it holds up as well today as other shows from the sixties. However, two seasons of DVDs is not a large investment, so check out an episode on youtube and see what you think.

His Honor Homer Bell: Was It a Comedy? A Western? A Legal Drama? It Was a Mystery.

As we continue our “Don’t Judge Me” series, we check out a show full of mystery: His Honor, Homer Bell.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

This show seemed to be unsure what genre it wanted to be. Was it a drama? A comedy? A western? Some shows were written by Si Rose who wrote for Bachelor Father and McHale’s Navy, but other writers included Michael Cramroy, a Dragnet writer and Jerome Coopersmith who wrote for Hawaii Five-0.

It also didn’t have a definite home. The show was made to go directly into syndication by NBC Films and taped in Brooklyn. There are different statistics about how many episodes were made of the show. Imdb lists only one episode. Some other sites indicate 38 episodes were made. To the best of my research ability, I believe there were 39 episodes including the pilot. It had a budget of one million dollars and episodes were listed in TV Guide.

Those TV Guide descriptions lead to another mystery. The show talks about being in the West but it must be a more contemporary west. In one episode, Judge Bell tries to acquire tickets for a sold-out football game and in another one he delivers a speech to the town traffic commission.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

What we do know for sure is that the show debuted in 1955. The show followed the ups and downs of Homer Bell (Gene Lockhart) who was a respected and much-loved justice of the peace living in a small western town of Spring City. Bell was a widower who lived with Casey (Mary Lee Dearing) and their housekeeper Maude (Jane Moultrie).

Adding to the mystery is whether Casey was his daughter or an orphaned niece he was raising. I found several descriptions listing both cases. However, Casey was a tomboy, and her antics often caused problems for the judge. He was a caring man who went to great lengths to help others. He relied more on good old common sense than legal technicalities to make his decisions. The show was produced by Hy Brown and directed by Derwin Abbe.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Gene Lockhart, father of actress June Lockhart, transitioned from the big screen to the small screen for this series.

He was born in Ontario, Canada in 1891. His father was musical, and when a band he played with went overseas on tour, he took his family along with him. During most of that time, Gene went to school in London. When the family returned to Canada, Gene’s mother encouraged him to try out for a Broadway play. He moved to New York and received his first offer in 1917 as part of the cast in “The Riviera Girl.” He also began to write for the stage. One of his projects, “The Pierrot Players” toured Canada.

In 1924, Gene married Kathleen Arthur, an English actress and musician. Gene stayed busy. He continued to appear on the stage, he could be heard on radio, he became a writer for theatrical magazines, and he lectured on drama techniques at the Julliard School of Music.

Photo: imdb.com

In 1933, he was offered the role of Uncle Sid in “Ah, Wilderness.” His great reviews in the play led to a contract with RKO Pictures. While he occasionally returned to Broadway, notably in 1949 as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” he found his true calling as a Hollywood actor. He appeared in more than 125 films and was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Algiers in 1938. With 146 acting credits, he had about ten appearances on theater shows in the fifties on television.

Lockhart suffered a heart attack in his sleep in 1957.

Mary Lee Dearing (another mystery was her last name; most places credit her as “Dearing” but I’ve seen “Dearring” and “Deering”) was born in 1939 in New York City. She only has eight acting credits in addition to Homer Bell. She began her career on several theater dramas in the fifties, was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Brian Keith Show. I could find very little about her; most of her fame stems from appearing on the episode of Dick Van Dyke as a babysitter when Rob talks Laura into going to a party, leaving a sick Richie with the sitter.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Mary Lee Dearing as Janie on The Dick Van Dyke Show

Very little is known about Mary Moultrie as well. She was born in 1903 in Los Angeles. Her only other acting credits occurred in the fifties in several theater drama shows and on Mister Peepers and The Goldbergs.

By this time, you might be asking yourself—If there is more unknown than known about this show, why even write about it? We are losing so much information about the classic age of television. My philosophy is that if we keep the shows in the conversation, they won’t become totally lost. If anyone has any of the answers to the many questions about this show, I would love to hear from you. Besides, what television fan doesn’t love a mystery?

Note: In January of 2021, I received this information in an email from Diane Dearring and wanted to share it with you for an update on Mary:

I found the info on your site about Mary Lee Dearring (https://thewritelife61.com/tag/mary-lee-dearing/).  Mary Lee was my dad’s first cousin.  You mentioned on your site that you couldn’t find much info about her, so I thought I would share what I have with you.
Her maiden name was indeed Dearring.  However the spelling was originally Doering.  Her ancestors came to the US from Germany in 1853 and settled in Ohio,  Her father, my grandfather’s brother, was Ernest “Ernie” Dearring and her mother was Lene (Belisario) Dearring.  They owned a dance studio in NYC.  I haven’t been able to find out any information on the dance studio, but would dearly love to know more.
Mary Lee married Wallace Foster Tracy in 1966.  They had no children.

Any Time Spent with the Cunninghams Are Happy Days

Continuing the theme “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we find ourselves transported to Milwaukee, WI in the 1950s getting to know the Cunninghams. Beginning September of 1984, Happy Days entertained fans for more than a decade, producing 255 episodes. When the show began, it was set in 1955, and when it went off the air eleven seasons later, it was 1965.

Photo: aceshowbiz.com

Garry Marshall developed the pilot which first aired on Love American Style in 1972 as “Love and the Television Set.” The network wasn’t interested in turning the pilot into a show when it first came up. However, once George Lucas released American Graffiti in 1973, also starring Ron Howard, ABC took another look at the period show. The first two seasons, the show focused more on Richie Cunningham as he interacted with his friends and family. Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 237 of the episodes. Happy Days was described as relentlessly ordinary. The plots revolved around the same types of problems most teens experienced in the fifties: dating, wanting to be popular, peer pressure, and similar experiences.

Richie’s family includes his father Howard (Tom Bosley) who owns a hardware store, and his mother Marion (Marion Ross). Howard is a family man and is also loyal to his lodge. Marion is content to stay at home, except for a brief stint when she gets a job as a waitress at Arnold’s. The cast also includes his younger sister Joanie (Erin Moran) and an older brother Chuck.

Photo: parade.com

Chuck would not be around long. At the end of the series, Tom Bosley says “he had the joy of raising two wonderful kids and watching them and their friends grow up into wonderful adults.” Poor Chuck. His existence wasn’t even acknowledged in the finale. When a character just disappears without an explanation, it is often referred to as the “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.”

Photo: sharetv.com

Richie’s friends include Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most). Potsie, whose real name is Warren, was a singer. When Richie went into the Army so did Ralph. A famous catchphrase from the show was Ralph’s uttering “I still got it!” after he told a joke. Richie’s girlfriend is Lori Beth Allen (Lynda Goodfriend). She and Richie marry later in the series. The friends hung out at Arnold’s and got to know Arnold (Pat Morita) well. They listen to a lot of music at the restaurant; Richie’s favorite song was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. One fun fact about the drive-in was that the restrooms were labeled “Guys and Dolls.” Eventually, Arnold sells the restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro).

Photo: nbcnews.com

The pilot included Ross, Howard, and Williams in their later roles. Harold Gould played the part of Howard and Susan Neher was Joanie. When the show got the go-ahead, Gould was involved in a play abroad and declined, so the role was given to Bosley.

Photo: businessinsider.com

Robby Benson and Donny Most were both under consideration for the role of Richie. They had appeared in a commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups together. When Howard was given the role, the role of Ralph was created for Most.

There are several references during the show made about Ron Howard’s past acting roles. One of these occurred when the family is leaving a theater where they watched The Music Man in 1962. Marion comments that she thought the little boy in the movie looked just like Richie when he was little. Howard did in fact play the role of Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man in 1962 when he was eight years old.

Photo: neatorama.com

There were two primary sets for the show: The Cunningham residence and Arnold’s Drive-In. The real exterior of the house was in Los Angeles. However, Arnold’s found its inspiration in The Milky Way Drive-In located on Port Washington Road in Glendale, WI, more recently Kopp’s Frozen Custard.

Photo: hollywood.com

The ratings began to decline during the second season, so Garry Marshall made Fonzie (Henry Winkler) more involved in the show. Fonzie moved into the apartment above the Cunninghams’ garage. Eventually he and Richie become best friends, and Fonzie is a basically a member of the family. Marion is the only person who is allowed to call him Arthur. Fonzie was also fond of Joanie and nicknamed her “Shortcake.” His best-known catchphrase was “Heyyyy!” By 1976 the show was number one.

Photo: sidereel.com

In season four, Arnold sells his restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro). That same year, Fonzie’s cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) comes to town. He would eventually fall in love with Joanie. After season nine, Ron Howard left the show, and Howard’s nephew Roger (Ted McGinley) joins the cast as the new phy-ed teacher at the high school.

In season ten, Joanie and Chachi also leave the show; Moran and Baio starred in the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, but when the new show failed, both characters returned to Happy Days. Richie’s leaving was explained by him joining the Army. In season 11 he returns briefly to learn his parents have obtained an interview for him with the Milwaukee Journal. Not wanting to hurt their feelings, he eventually admits his wish is to go to California and try his hand at screenwriting.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

Some of the best-known guest stars include sports star Hank Aaron, singer Frankie Avalon, western star Lorne Greene, Brady kids Maureen McCormick and Christopher Knight, legends Tom Hanks and Danny Thomas, and blonde beauties Morgan Fairchild, Charlene Tilton, and Cheryl Ladd.

The show’s theme song was a new version of an old standard, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. The theme was so popular it reached #39 in 1974; in real life, in 1955, the song had been a number one hit.  Beginning in season three, a newer song, “Happy Days” was featured at the beginning of the show.

Photo: fanarttv.com

Amazingly, the show would be the source for a variety of spinoffs including Laverne & Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, Blansky’s Beauties, and Out of the Blue.

Once so many of the main characters began leaving the show, the writing was on the wall. “Jumping the shark” is an expression that was coined when The Fonz actually jumped a shark. It’s a symbol for when a show grasps at straws to increase the ratings. Rarely is that type of exaggeration successful and it was not for Happy Days.

The show was so popular it never left its Tuesday night line-up. It aired at 8 pm EST for the first ten seasons and switched to 8:30 for its final season. However, the show had lost its magic, and the cancellation was inevitable. In fact, the show probably should have ended a season earlier. In addition to actors wanting to move on to new projects, the sixties were a very different time period than the fifties. The warm and fuzzy family themes that carried the show through the fifties and early sixties could not continue as the series had to survive the hippy era and the Vietnam War.

Photo: theweeklings.com

Although the show was a team effort, there is no denying that Winkler’s portrayal of the Fonz was the most popular character of the decade and one of the most iconic in television history. After the show was cancelled, his leather jacket was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for the National Museum of American History. A bronze statue of the Fonz was erected in Milwaukee in 2008 along the Milwaukee Riverwalk.

This character warrants a closer look. One of the people who auditioned for the role of Fonzie was Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. He was a lot taller than the other cast members, so he was bypassed while they looked for a shorter actor which ended in Winkler’s hiring. Fonzie’s real name is Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli. His grandmother raised him and his nickname was Skippy. His hero is The Lone Ranger, and he carries a picture of him in his wallet.

Photo: realtor.com

Winkler said he based some of Fonzie’s movements and speech after Sylvester Stallone whom he had worked with in The Lords of Flatbush. The Fonz loved motorcycles, but Winkler decidedly did not, so most scenes were shot with the bike attached to a platform which was pulled by a truck, so Winkler never had to ride it. The cycle was the same model Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape in 1963.

Photo: commonsensemedia.com

This show had a slew of catchphrases, and one of them came from The Fonz whenever he was trying to get someone to answer a question correctly.  When they said the right answer, his response was “correctamundo.”

Fonzie was adored by many kids, especially kids who needed some extra help or attention. Marshall was asked if the show could do something to help kids realize how important reading was. On one of the episodes, The Fonz went to the library and checked out a book, saying “Everybody is allowed to read.” That week, library card registrations increased by 500%. During one day of filming, a call came to Paramount Studios. It was from a teenage boy who was contemplating suicide. He wanted to talk to Fonzie. Winkler picked up the call and gave the boy hope, convincing him not to take his life.

The only negative thing about Fonzie was the result he had on Winkler’s future acting career.  It took a long time before he could shake that image and be considered for other types of acting roles.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

In 2019, the cast reunited to celebrate the life of Garry Marshall who passed away in 2016. In an article by Gina Vivinetto in Today on November 14, 2019, Donny Most discussed the cast. “We were so good at what we did because we respected each other and loved each other.” He went on to say “we made it look easy and it wasn’t.”

In another article during that same event written by Zach Seemayer November 17, 2019], Williams and Howard both talked about the mentoring they received from Marshall. Williams said, “He really cared about us. More than as actors. He really inspired us to learn because he said [we might] wanna wear many hats.” Howard also learned from his mentor, saying “Garry was a natural teacher and he loved collecting theories and axioms about life but also making a show. They were all hilarious but they all rang true and they were great lessons.”

Both Howard and Winkler told writer Stephanie Nolasco of Fox News how they felt about each other and their time on Happy Days. Winkler had a hard time dealing with his sudden fame, and Howard was able to provide some grounding for him. Winkler described this time, “It’s unnatural—the human condition does not prepare you for stardom. That’s just the way it is. So, you have to hold on to yourself and then you’ve got friends like Ron who doesn’t take it all seriously. I learned from him; he was my teacher. And Garry Marshall never took bad behavior from anybody. He was a father figure. He was very funny and very idiosyncratic, and then he was very strict.”

UNITED STATES – JULY 10: HAPPY DAYS – Gallery – Season Two – 7/10/75 Fonzie (Henry Winkler) Richie (Ron Howard) Potsie (Anson WIlliams) and Ralph (Donny Most) (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Winkler also discussed his friendship with Howard. “I think people gravitate to the Fonzie/Richie relationship because Ron and I are ten years apart. He was 19 and I was 27. We had a connection that you cannot describe in real life, and it was similar off-camera. He gave me my first mitt; I’d never played baseball before. He’s my brother.”

Howard echoed the sentiments. “We were fast friends from the beginning. It continues all these years later. It was exciting for me to work with Henry because he was really a trained actor who attended Yale Drama School; just a trained New York actor. And, I’d grown up sort of through the Hollywood television system, so for me to work with this guy who was so thoughtful, so creative, and yet so hilarious, was really an opportunity for me to learn and grow and we just clicked, you know.”

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 11: HAPPY DAYS – “Get a Job” 2/25/75 Ron Howard, Henry Winkler (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

The entire cast spent a lot of time together and participated in softball events. Marshall put the league together with casts from other television shows partly to help keep actors out of trouble and away from drugs. Winkler described the cast being “very much like a family. I love them, I talk to them, I email them, and I see them.”

Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

For eleven years Happy Days provided all of us with lovely memories of the Cunningham family and their friends. It is one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s and has held up beautifully in syndication. Life in the fifties was a fun and heart-warming time (at least on television), but all good things must come to an end, and Happy Days was no exception. The good news is we can get immersed back into the Cunninghams’ lives whenever we want to. Eleven seasons provides for a lot of binge watching. Better make some extra popcorn.

Just a Couple of Characters, Part 2: Hope Summers and Madge Blake

Today we continue our series, Just A Couple of Characters, about character actors we recognize but might not know much about. Hope Summers and Madge Blake are two actresses you will recognize if you watched sitcoms in the 1960s or 1970s.

Hope Summers

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Born Sarah Hope Summers in 1902 in Mattoon, Illinois, Hope Summers often played the friendly, but nosy, neighbor. She’s best recognized as Clara from The Andy Griffith Show.

Summers became interested in theater early in her life. She attended Northwestern, majoring in speech. After graduation she stayed at the University and taught speech and diction. She then moved to Peoria and headed the Speech Department at Bradley University. She joined a few community theaters, putting on one-woman shows. She also acted in a few dramatic radio shows.

She married Claude Witherell in 1927, and they were married until his death in 1967. The couple had two children.

In 1950, she transitioned to television. She appeared in an early comedy series, Hawkins Falls: A Television Novel. Like Edward Andrews, she was often cast in roles older than her actual age. She became a popular actress quickly. She continued to appear in a variety of shows throughout the 1950s including Bachelor Father, Private Secretary, Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, and the Loretta Young Show.

Photo: cscottrollins.blogspot.com
On The Rifleman

From 1958-1960, she would appear in The Rifleman as Hattie Denton.

In 1961, she received the role she would become most famous for, Clara, Bee’s best friend on The Andy Griffith Show. When Andy Griffith left the show in 1968, Hope continued with Mayberry RFD in her role of Clara for five episodes. Clara was a lonely spinster who lived next door to Andy and his family. She and Bee had fun sharing bits of gossip and talking about current events. Clara had a good heart and though she and Bee could get upset with each other, they truly cared about each other.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

While playing the role of Clara, she continued to guest in series throughout the 1960s. She appeared on many of the hit shows of that time such as Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, Hazel, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Petticoat Junction, The Phyllis Diller Show, Marcus Welby, That Girl, and Bewitched.

Photo: mash.fandom.com

During the 1970s, Summers kept her career going strong, appearing in Hawaii Five-0, M*A*S*H, Little House on the Prairie, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Photo: peorian.com
Playing a nice witch in Rosemary’s Baby

Although, Summers began her acting career during the second half of her life, she was also featured in several well-known movies. In 1960, she was in Inherit the Wind, The Shakiest Gun in the West, and Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, among others.

Photo: famousfix.com

Summers also was famous as the voice of Mrs. Butterworth in commercials.

In 1978 she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and quit acting. She passed away from the disease in 1979.

Madge Blake

Photo: listal.com

While Hope Summers was part of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show, Madge Blake was busy portraying Aunt Harriet on Batman.

Born Madge Cummings in 1899 in Kansas, she, like Hope Summers, became interested in acting at a young age. Her father was a Methodist minister and he refused to allow her to give it a try. Oddly enough, Madge’s maternal uncle was Milburn Stone, Doc on Gunsmoke.

Photo: imdb.com

Although they later divorced, Madge married James Blake and they had one child. She had a fascinating career. Both she and James worked for the government during the war. They had top secret clearance for their project working on the construction of the detonator for the atomic bomb in Utah. They also performed tests on equipment used in the Manhattan Project.

Photo: actorz.ru

Also, like Summers, Blake turned to acting at a later age. When she was 50, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse to study acting. She only had twenty years in the business, yet she managed to achieve an impressive 124 acting credits.

Photo: icollectors.com
Singin’ in the Rain

Blake would appear in 47 films in smaller, but impressive, roles. Some of her movies included An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon, The Tender Trap, Bells Are Ringing, Ain’t Misbehaving, and The Solid Gold Cadillac.

Photo: pinterest.com
Margaret Mondello

Beginning her television career in 1954, she racked up an impressive amount of guest star roles and several recurring roles. She played Tillie, the president of the Jack Benny fan club on The Jack Benny Show. She played Larry Mondello’s mother on Leave It to Beaver. An interesting aside is that she was asked to play Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show where she would have worked with Hope Summers. Because she was locked into the role of Mrs. Mondello, she declined. She took the role of Mrs. Barnes, Joey’s mother, on The Joey Bishop Show. On the Real McCoys, she played Flora MacMichael, Grandpa McCoy’s love interest; Nurse Phipps on Dr. Kildare; and the role she became best known for, Aunt Harriet on Batman.  

Photo: channel.superhero.com

The network was worried about Batman and Robin living alone together on Batman, so the role of Aunt Harriet was added. The story line was that she raised Bruce Wayne in the family mansion. Their interaction with Aunt Harriet was also a reason for the dynamic duo to appear in their non-hero roles more often.

It would seem that coming into acting later in life and then appearing in so many movies and recurring television appearances would have kept her quite busy. But in addition to these appearances, she was cast in many of the most popular shows during her twenty years on television. During that time, you can find her on dramas like Public Defender, Lassie, The Restless Gun, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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On I Love Lucy

Of course, she was meant to play comedy and she appeared on an incredible number of sitcoms. Just to name a few, there of them: George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, I Love Lucy, Private Secretary, Father Knows Best, Bachelor Father, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Make Room for Daddy, Bewitched, The Addams Family, My Favorite Martian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, and The Doris Day Show. Pretty amazing.

Photo: vitabrevis.americanancestors.org
On Bewitched

I read over and over that one of her best performances was in the pilot for Dennis the Menace where she plays Dennis’s babysitter. I have not been able to watch that show, but I will definitely check that out.

Photo: allstarpics.famousfix.com
On Dennis the Menace

In 1969, Blake passed away from a heart attack after she broke her leg. She was only 70, or we might have had a much longer list of television series for her.

Hope Summers and Madge Blake had a lot in common. They both became interested in acting at an early age, they both had major careers before acting, they both began acting in the second half of their life, they both played neighborly types–Summers, nosier, and Blake, more ditzy. They also both had respectable film careers paralleling their television ones. Their television roles may have been smaller, but they were memorable, they are definitely two characters worth watching.

Hey, Hey They’re The Monkees: Then Who Are Those Guys Writing Songs and Playing Instruments?

We are continuing our Oddly Wonderful series and today’s show captures the theme perfectly.

There were quite a few shows from the 1960s that just can’t be viewed outside that decade because they were such an anchor to the psychedelic flower power times of that era—Laugh-In, Batman, Lost in Space, and The Banana Splits were some of those series. The Monkees was another one of those shows.

Recently I watched a couple of episodes, both about Davey’s love life. The shows always had a plot, but sometimes you had to search long and hard for it. It was even more bizarre than I remembered. It was like a creepy bug. You weren’t sure it was safe, but you couldn’t turn away from it either.

Photo: brittishclassiccomedy.co.uk

The show was put on the fall schedule of 1966 on Mondays. It is quite memorable to most viewers from that time, yet it was only on the air a year and a half, producing 58 episodes.

Riding on the coat-tails of the Beatles, the show featured a four-member band. The only thing in common about each episode was that it featured one of their songs. Many of the shows were surreal and featured bizarre encounters.

Photo: rebeatmag.com

Filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider who created Raybert Productions were inspired by the film A Hard Day’s Night starring the Beatles. They decided to develop a television show with a similar vibe. Screen Gems agreed to it, and they asked Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker to write a script for the pilot.

Sponsors were secured. Yardley of London and Kellogg’s Cereals alternated weeks. Yardley sold a variety of beauty products.

Photo: monkeeslivealmanac.com

Originally, Screen Gems thought about using a real band including The Dave Clarke Five or The Lovin’ Spoonful, which both turned them down, so they decided to go with four unknowns. The production company ran ads seeking musicians for an audition. Apparently about 400 people showed up, including Paul Williams and Stephen Stills. (Stills suggested his roommate Peter Tork because he did not want to give up his song publishing rights which the company demanded.) Fourteen actors were asked back for screen tests.

Micky Dolenz, whose father was actor George Dolenz, was in Circus Boy at age ten (under the name Mickey Braddock). Micky’s daughter Ami has also become a well-known actress. His agent sent him to the audition. Micky became the drummer and also played guitar at times.

Davy Jones had appeared on stage in “Oliver!” and on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was cast in some Columbia Pictures productions and he was identified before the ad went out as an actor who would be on the show. Davy played the tambourine and maracas but was the primary singer.

Photo: hollywoodreporter.com
Notice the spelling on Dolenz’s chair, who went by “Micky”

Michael Nesmith had been in the US Air Force. He had done some recording for Colpix, as had Jones. When he showed up at the audition, he had on a wool hat that kept his hair out of his eyes when he rode his motorcycle. It looked so well on him that he wore it for every show. Nesmith’s mom Betty was the inventor of Liquid Paper. Nesmith played guitar.

Peter Tork was Stephen Stills’ roommate. He had been performing regularly in Greenwich Village clubs but had recently moved to California and was working as a busboy. Peter was the busiest of the band members; he played guitar, keyboards, and sometimes banjo.

The main characters were only paid $450 per episode for the first year. The second season, they received a raise of $750. As a comparison, Dick Van Dyke made about $1500 per episode for his show. A decade later Valerie Bertinelli would earn about $20,000 an episode on One Day at a Time. Although they have made the show a hit, the top stars on The Big Bang Theory are making about $900,000 an episode. But that’s another blog! While they did receive standard royalties for their recordings, they received nothing from all the merchandising.

Photo: groovyhistory.com

Rafelson and Schneider hired director James Frawley to work with the quartet on improvisational comedy. The characters were stereotyped with Dolenz the funny guy, Jones the heart throb, Nesmith the smart one, and Tork the gullible one. Most people described the personalities as fitting for each of them except Tork. He was always painted as quiet and intellectual. The improv training helped because a lot of new film techniques were employed for the show including quick cuts, jump cuts, breaking the fourth wall, and rambling scenes that didn’t really fit into the theme of the show. When the show was short on time, bizarre additions included interviews with the boys about life or their views on current events. In one of the episodes I recently watched, they added Nesmith’s audition tape to the end of the show.

The pilot was filmed in San Diego and LA. Like earlier shows from the 1950s, the cast members often wore their own clothing. The final version received such high ratings that the show was given a two-year contract.

Photo: collectors.com

Of course, the music was central to the show. The theme song was “(Theme From) The Monkees” written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Part of the lyrics included, “We’re the young generation, and we’ve got something to say.” This captured the entire theme of the show. Some of the hit songs were “I’m A Believer”, “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.

Photo: lettyrydell.wordpress.com
Playing in the band . . . or are they

Everyone one the show was a musician and could play a variety of instruments, but The Monkees did not actually play instruments for their songs. The public did not realize that the band did not really write or perform most of their music. Like the Partridge Family which debuted a few years later, they only provided the vocals. When this came out, viewers were unhappy. For the second season, the quartet began to write their own music and wore more hippy attire. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and the show never recovered its higher ratings.

While traveling around, the Monkees often ran into rival bands. The three who showed up most often were the Jolly Green Giants, The Four Martians, and The Foreign Agents.

Photo: monkees.coolcherrycream.com
Here we see members of the Jolly Green Giants, The Four Martians and the Secret Agents.

Rose Marie, best known as Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show, made two guest appearances on the show during the first season.

Photo: monkeescoolcherrycream.com
Here is Rose Marie in their beach house. The mannequin behind her is Mr. Schneider.

The band lived in a two-story house on the beach. The first floor contained the living room, dining room, and kitchen. A bathroom was off one part of the kitchen and Davy and Peter’s bedroom was off the other end of the kitchen. The Monkees kept their instruments in the back alcove. A spiral staircase headed to the second floor where Mike and Micky had a bedroom. There were a lot of kitschy signs on the walls. There was also a mannequin named Mr. Schneider (he’s in the above photo behind Rose Marie) that would spout advice when his cord was pulled. Their landlord was Mr. Babbit who chastised them for breaking rules and not paying rent. Sometimes the Monkees pulled Babbit into their plots.

Photo: ounodesign.com
The living room of the beach house

Another character on the show was the Monkeemobile. The car was a modified 1966 GTO. A third seat was added where the trunk had been. A fiberglass grille was added to the front of the car and exhaust pipes were on the back wheels. In all, three cars would be used for the tapings.

Photo: wikipedia.com

When the first season ended, Davy Jones was no where to be found. While many rumors were flying, the real story was that he had received a draft notice. He fasted for a few weeks in order to fail his physical, which he did.

For the second season, the stars wanted to switch from half hour to an hour variety show with new artists appearing. NBC gave them an ultimatum to stick to the original idea or be cancelled. The group continued to push the new concept and in March of 1968, the show was cancelled.

Photo: guitarspotting.com

The series won two Emmys during its short time on the air—Directorial Achievement in Comedy and Outstanding Comedy Series. This win surprised me. The other nominees that year were The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart, and Hogan’s Heroes.

Photo: loadtve.biz
Bob Rafelson is wearing glasses and Bert Schneider is beside him.

It was seen on Saturday mornings in syndication from 1972-1973 which is when I remember watching it.

In 1986, MTV began airing the old shows, and many other networks put it on their schedules. Columbia Pictures decided to create a reboot of the show in 1987 called the New Monkees, but it flopped and lasted half a season. No surprise; of course it did. How could you recapture the same look and feel of the original 1960s show?

The DVDs came out in 2001, and in 2016 Blu-rays were introduced for their fiftieth anniversary.

Photo: tvseriesfinale.com

I was never able to take this show as seriously as the industry did. To me, it seemed a bit too wacky and exaggeratedly fast-paced. The plots were off the wall and hard to follow. I think part of it was my age. I was only five when the show was originally on. I do remember watching Batman live, but I think I was too young to follow the action in The Monkees and not quite the age where the music spoke to me. Perhaps I should give it another try; then again, perhaps it’s a show best kept in the memory of that time period. After watching several episodes, I must admit that I think it’s amazing that so many of us from the 1960s turned out as good as we did!

Photo: biography.com

A few day after I wrote this blog, Peter Tork passed away. RIP Peter. Thank you for the memories and music.