Sisters at Heart: A Gift to Bewitched and Its Fans

This month we are looking at stories about some unique television writers. Today we are looking at a large group of writers who were lucky enough to write an episode for Bewitched.

Photo: wikipedia.com

In 1969, Marcella Saunders, a young teacher at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles realized that her freshmen students were not able to read the short stories and poetry in their textbooks. She decided to try to teach them about writing using a television series. Her students were fans of Bewitched, Room 222, and Julia so she contacted the studios for each program. Bewitched was the only show to respond to her.

Saunders was able to meet with star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband William Asher who produced and directed the show. She said most students at the school were unable to read, write, or comprehend at a high school level; 44% of students read at a third-grade level and less than 1% were at their ninth-grade level.

elizabeth-montgomery-bewitched
Photo: closerweekly.com

The Bewitched cast and crew invited the 26-member class to visit the set of Bewitched, and they paid for the transportation of the class from school to the studio. The students were impressed with their tour and decided to collaborate on a teleplay for the show with their teachers’ supervision. They wrote a script titled “Sisters at Heart” and presented it gift-wrapped to Montgomery and Asher. Montgomery and Asher were impressed with the quality of the script. Elizabeth said, “We’ve had bad scripts submitted by professional writers that weren’t as well written or creative.”

Barbara Avedon - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Barbara Avedon
Photo: alchetron.com

Asher said the script only needed a little bit of reworking and asked Barbara Avedon if she would work with the class. Avedon, who had written for a variety of shows including The Ann Sothern Show, The Donna Reed Show, Bewitched, and Cagney and Lacey, agreed. She visited the school and described the scene she entered upon: “I was horrified. Locker doors were hanging off their hinges. There wasn’t a blade of grass in sight.”

Avedon said that she explained that they had to expand the script to fit a full half-hour. She promised the kids that no changes would be made without their approval. To work with industry requirements, the final script credited the teleplay to Avedon and Asher and the story to the students who were all listed in alphabetical order. Asher produced and directed the episode.

The class was able to attend a production and rehearsal meeting. The State of California gave the high school a grant to allow students to participate in the filming and post-production work. Screen Gems, along with Montgomery and Asher individually, also contributed to the funding. Two additional trips were planned, allowing fifty students to visit the set. Asher sent 30 copies of the script to be used in classrooms.

Saunders considered the project a great success. She said kids who thought they could not write were now writing three pages of script. One of Dick Sargent’s favorite memories of the show was one of the high school students who was given the role of assistant director. At one point, the kid screamed “Quiet on the set.”

The show became the thirteenth episode of season seven; it aired December 24, 1970 and was rerun around Christmas 1971. Montgomery introduced the episode by telling viewers that it “evoked the true spirit of Christmas . . . conceived in the image of innocence and filled with truth.”

Photo: pinterest.com

So, what was the episode about? The concept is that Tabitha’s (Erin Murphy) friend, Lisa Wilson (Venetta Rogers), was visiting. Lisa is African American and Tabitha is Caucasian. Tabitha is excited that they get to spend a few days together and says they will be sisters. Lisa’s father Keith (Don Marshall) works with Darrin (Dick Sargent) at McMann and Tate. Darrin fails to land a million-dollar advertising account with a toy company owned by Mr. Brockway (Parley Baer) because Brockway is racist and when he stopped by the house, he assumed Lisa was Darrin’s daughter and his wife was Lisa’s mother Dorothy (Janee Michelle) because Lisa mentioned her father worked at the agency.

Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) takes the girls to the park and when they announce they are sisters, another kid tells them they can’t be sisters because they have different skin colors. Tabitha creates a spell so that both girls have spots in the other’s skin tone. When Samantha finds the girls, she tells Tabitha to reverse the spell. She can’t, and Sam realizes that Tabitha wants the spots to remain subconsciously so they can be sisters. She explains to the girls that their appearance does not prevent them from being sisters, so Tabitha is able to reverse the spell before Lisa’s parents arrive.

In the meantime, Mr. Brockway tells Larry Tate (David White) that he wants Darrin removed from the account. When Darrin and Sam host a Christmas party that Lisa’s parents are at, everyone is introduced and Mr. Brockway realizes Darrin is married to Samantha. Mr. Brockway says to put Darrin back on the account, but when Larry learns he originally removed him because he thought he was married to a black woman, Larry tells him they don’t want his business. To teach Brockway a lesson, Samantha puts a spell on him so he sees everyone, himself included, with black skin. Realizing how unfair he has been, Mr. Brockway returns to the Stephens to apologize and is invited to Christmas dinner, which is an integrated turkey, white and dark meat.

Elizabeth And Husband William Asher - Elizabeth Montgomery Photo (7716361)  - Fanpop
Photo: fanpop.com

Montgomery always mentioned this episode as her favorite. Of course, the entire series was about overcoming prejudice but it was witches who were stereotyped. The episode received The Governor’s Award at the Emmy Awards in 1971.

I love this story at so many levels. How great that a teacher cared enough about her students to think outside the box to help them learn to read and write, and that Montgomery and Asher cared enough about the kids to give them such an amazing opportunity. I would love to know if any of those students ended up writing for a living. What a fun experience! And what a great Christmas message. 

Jay Sommers Figured Out the Formula for Good Writing

I thought it might be fun to look at some unique aspects of writing for sitcoms in this blog series. This month we’ll take a look at a variety of writing subjects.

To begin this series, I wanted to learn a bit about a classic sitcom writer, and Jay Sommers came to mind immediately. He wrote more than 400 scripts.

Sommers was born in 1917 in New York City. Before veering into comedy, he attended the City College of New York and studied the not-so-funny topic of chemistry. Apparently, he had good chemistry with his girlfriend’s father who thought he was pretty funny. The dad was an executive with Bristol Myers and the company sponsored many radio shows.

Photo: rusc.com

In 1940 his relationship with his then girlfriend’s dad led to Sommers receiving an offer to write for Milton Berle’s radio show. Jay did not keep the girl, but he kept the career. He would go on to write for a variety of radio shows including The Alan Young Show, Eddie Cantor, Spike Jones, Lum and Abner, and Red Skelton.

In 1950 he became the producer, director, and writer for a show called Granby’s Green Acres. It only ran for two months, but it would inspire him to create Green Acres for television a decade later. The show was based on a book by S.J. Perelman titled Acres and Pains. The premise of the show was that a wealthy banker wants to become a farmer, so he and his wife move to the country. The banker was played by Gale Gordon and his wife was Bea Benardaret.

Gordon and Benardaret Photo: wikiwand.com

Sommers’ first job as a writer on television was for The Peter Lind Hayes Show in 1950; the episode starred Gloria Swanson. In 1951 he wrote for the Colgate Comedy Hour, along with an episode of the Buster Keaton Show.

1953 brought him recognition for an episode of Our Miss Brooks (“Clay City Chaperone”). He became busier in 1954 writing for My Friend Irma, The Red Skelton Hour, and The Great Gildersleeve.

In the late fifties, he contributed to Blondie, Bachelor Father, and The Donna Reed Show.

Sommers really came into his own as a writer in the sixties. Along with a few screenplays, he wrote for The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Jim Backus Show, Dennis the Menace, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Grindl.

Sommers enjoyed the most lucrative part of his career from 1964 to 1970, working on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. Paul Henning had created The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction for CBS. In 1965, the network asked Henning to come up with a new sitcom and said he did not have to film a pilot or give a pitch; they trusted him to develop whatever he wanted. Sommers suggested a television version of his old radio show, Granby’s Green Acres. With Gale Gordon and Bea Benardaret already committed to other shows, the hunt began for two new stars for Green Acres.

Tom Lester, last-surviving 'Green Acres' cast member, dies at 81 - National  | Globalnews.ca
Photo: globalnews.com Cast of Green Acres

In the television show starring Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert, the banker is replaced by an attorney. Oliver Wendell Douglas and his wife Lisa leave glamorous Manhattan and move to a run-down farm in Hooterville. Lisa considers their handyman Eb their son and they bond with all the neighbors including Fred and Doris Ziffel and their pet pig Arnold, general store owner and postmaster Sam Drucker, and the folks from Petticoat Junction.

During an interview with the Television Academy, Paul Henning said his contribution was casting, and he let Jay do most of the writing and producing. The show resulted in 170 episodes and was canceled in 1971 when CBS decided to do a “rural purge” and get rid of any shows that fit that theme.

In another Television Academy interview with Richard L. Bare, who directed Green Acres, he said that he was the only director, Jay was the only producer, and that Jay and Dick Chevillat did all the writing. He said that the only other person on staff was a secretary. And, he said things worked out great. He said today there are way too many people on the set and it gets confusing. 

More Hooterville favorites Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Jay continued writing in the seventies, but he did not write a lot. His shows that decade included Hot L Baltimore, Good Times, Ball Four, Alice, and Hello Larry.

Jay passed away in 1985 in Los Angeles from a heart ailment. It was very hard to find much personal information about Jay and no photos. I do know that at some point he married Barbara and they had several children. So sad that we don’t know a lot about some of the people who contributed so much to the golden age of television.

Jay Sommers left us much too early. He came out of a chemistry background, proving you don’t have to teach someone to be funny. He wrote for some of my favorite shows including The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, and Bachelor Father.

Photo: findagrave.com

Sommers worked on three of the most iconic television sitcoms in the 1960s: The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. If you have been with me for a while, you know I never really cared for The Beverly Hillbillies. I really enjoy Petticoat Junction and I think it’s well written, but I think Green Acres was one of the best-written sitcoms on television. It’s not easy to write about quirky characters without them seeming unbelievable, but Jay did it. He created characters we fell in love with and truly liked. He produced and wrote brilliant scripts week after week for more than five years. They were clever, witty, and sophisticated without being over the top. His grave marker sums it up, “WRITER.” Thank you, Jay Sommers for introducing us to the good folks in Hooterville.

Celebrating National Minnesota Day with Marion Ross

For those of you who are big fans of the “National Day of” calendars, you know that there are celebrations for National State Days. In my blog this month, we are learning about celebrities from those National State Days. We begin with National Minnesota Day and one of the stars born there is Marion Ross.

Marion was born in Watertown, MN in 1928. She moved from Waconia to Wilmar and then to Albert Lea. She must have always had stars in her eyes because at age 13 she changed the spelling of her name from Marian to Marion because she thought it would look better on a marquee. After her sophomore year in high school, she enrolled at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. A year later, her family moved to California where she graduated from Point Loma High School.

Photo: ihearthollywood.com

Ross was named Most Outstanding Actress at San Diego State University; however, her major was archeology. After graduating in 1950, she did some summer theater in California and then began auditioning for films. The year she graduated, she eloped with Freeman Morse. They were married for 18 years.

Marion was successful in her movie career. Her first film was Forever Female with Ginger Rogers and William Holden in 1953. She would appear in 26 movies including The Glenn Miller Story and Sabrina. Ross recalled her time in Hollywood. She says it was a great time to be an actor. “All the stars ate in the studio’s dining room. Marlene Dietrich would come swooping into the room, and a hush would fall over the place. Those early days in Hollywood were just so thrilling, almost more than I could bear.”

Ironically, her first television role on Calvacade of America also took place in 1953. She would go on to have an amazing television career with more than 140 different roles on the small screen. While most of her appearances in the fifties were on the drama shows or westerns, she did show up on Life with Father as an Irish maid from 1953-55. She also was a teacher on The Donna Reed Show.

Photo: metv.com

Ross on Perry Mason

The sixties found her primarily on dramas such as Outer Limits, Dr. Kildare, and The Fugitive. However, she also received recurring roles on three series: The Gertrude Berg Show, Mr. Novak, and Paradise Bay. She was Mary Morgan on Paradise Bay, a soap opera set in California. Although the show was only on for a year, she appeared on 158 episodes before it ended.

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Photo: metv.com

Her last role of that decade landed her on The Brady Bunch. When the kids get sick, Mike calls the boys’ male doctor and Carol calls the girls’ female doctor.  Instead of choosing one, they decide to keep seeing their same patients.

The early seventies kept Ross busy on shows such as Hawaii Five-0, Love American Style, and Marcus Welby. In 1974 that Love American Style skit led to the show Happy Days where Marion reprised her role as Marion Cunningham. She continued her role as biological mother to Richie and Joanie (and poor Chuck occasionally) and as a surrogate mother to Fonzie for eleven years.

Photo: pinterest.com

In May of 2020, Ross did an interview on TVLine.com with Matt Webb Mitovich. He asked if she had a favorite episode from the show. She said there were two that were definitely favorites. One was when Marion gets mad at the family because they expect so much. She stood up for herself, told Howard he could have his food and took it out uncooked and put it in front of them, then storms out the door and went to work at Arnold’s. Her other favorite was the scene when she did the tango with Fonzie. She said Henry Winkler caught on right away but she had to work with a coach for a week to get it down right.

Photo: parademagazine.com

She also discussed the softball team Garry Marshall put together to keep everyone out of trouble in the off season. She said they played all over the US and continued, “And then at one point, we were invited to go to Europe. We went to Germany and played softball with the US infantry which was incredible. And then once our show was totally over, after we did our last show at Paramount, we all got on a plane at the crack of dawn and flew to Okinawa and played softball with the US infantry there.” She played rover but said she could hit. Her strategy was to hit the ball and then run with her arms raised up.  Everyone was so afraid of hitting “the old lady” she would make it on first base.

Photo: yahoo.com

After the demise of Happy Days, Marion wasn’t content to sit back and enjoy life. She continued her television appearances and from 1984-2018 you could catch her on a variety of shows including Night Court, MacGyver,Grey’s Anatomy, and Hot in Cleveland. She had recurring roles on another six series. She played several different women named Emily on The Love Boat, as the iron-willed Jewish matriarch on Brooklyn Bridge, mean Grandmother Forman on That Seventies Show, Drew’s mother on The Drew Carey Show, Marilyn Gilmore on The Gilmore Girls, and Ida Holden on Brothers and Sisters.

Marion was also able to get back on the stage. She took roles in “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Steel Magnolias”, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “Pippin”, and “Barefoot in the Park.” She also toured the country in a one-woman show as poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in “A Lovely Light.”

Photo: albertleatribune.com

In 2008 the Albert Lea Civic Theater in Albert Lea, Minnesota changed the name of its venue to the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. Marion retired in 2018. She could then concentrate on some of her hobbies which include gardening, reading, spending time with family, watching movies, listening to the radio, praying, and singing. Marion’s two children are also in the entertainment business, Jim as an actor and Ellen Kreamer as a writer/producer on many shows including Friends and one of my recent favorites, Trial & Error.

In 2018 Ross published her memoir, My Days, Happy & Otherwise. The book is described as “funny, poignant, and revealing.” It features Garry Marshall’s final interview, a foreword from Ron Howard, conversations with her own children, and her entire story.

Photo: parademagazine.com

With the Covid pandemic continuing, Ross is happy to be spending her time at her California home being in her garden and spending time with family. As she put it, “It is such a wonderful time to bond and connect with family even if we are not together. I also have been calling friends to see how they are and have a little chat.”  Some good motherly advice for all of us.

Milton Frome: What a Character!

As we continue looking at some of our well-known character actors, today we consider the career of Milton Frome. Frome was born in Philadelphia in 1909. He began acting in his mid-20s.

Photo: watchviooz.com

His first major movie role was in Ride ‘em Cowgirl in 1939. Frome would go on to appear in 55 movies (including The Nutty Professor, Bye Bye Birdie, and With Six You Get Eggroll), as well as five made-for-TV movies. He also had a thriving television career beginning with Chevrolet Tele-Theatre in 1950.

Photo: amazon.com

Appearing in 34 different shows during the fifties, he performed in a variety of genres including dramas, comedies and westerns.

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The Adventures of Superman

During that decade you would have seen him on I Love Lucy, Lassie, The Adventures of Superman, Playhouse Theater, The Thin Man, and The Gale Storm Show. He also worked with many comic legends on television, including Milton Berle, Red Skelton, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

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I Love Lucy

His career escalated in the sixties when he would accept roles in 48 programs. He showed up in dramas, including The Twilight Zone, 77 Sunset Strip, and Dr. Kildare. He also found his way into many westerns such as Bat Masterson, Death Valley Days, Gunslinger, Big Valley, Rawhide, and Wagon Train. However, he seemed to excel at comedies and during the 1950s you could have spied him in many sitcoms. He accepted parts in Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, The Jim Backus Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mister Ed, The Joey Bishop Show, I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, The Donna Reed Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, Bewitched, The Monkees, The Patty Duke Show, Petticoat Junction, and The Andy Griffith Show.

Photo: coolcherrycream.com
The Monkees

Frome was never offered a permanent role in a series, but he did have a recurring role in The Beverly Hillbillies, appearing eight times as Lawrence Chapman, who managed Jed Clampets Mammoth Studios.

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St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

His television career slowed down a bit in the 1970s and became nonexistent by 1983, but he did make appearances in shows like Ironside, Columbo, Here’s Lucy, The Streets of San Francisco, Sanford and Son, and Trapper John MD. He also appeared in two Love American Style episodes in 1971 and 1973. In the 1973 episode, “Love and the Anniversary,” he played “The Man” and his son Michael played a bellhop.

Photo: sitcomsonline.coom
The Jerry Lewis Show

At some point, Frome married Marjorie Ann Widman, but I could not verify when they married. I also could not verify if Michael was their son, or his son from another relationship.*

Photo: batman.wikia.com
Batman

Frome passed away in 1989 from congestive heart failure.

While it is now easy to analyze and detail an actors professional career, it was very tough to find any information about Fromes personal life or his working relationships with other actors. It makes me sad that these hard-working actors who provided so much to our classic television-watching experiences are just not well known. Hopefully blogs like mine keep them in television viewers memories, and some day maybe I will have time to write a book about these unsung heroes of our pop culture history. Thanks for all you contributed to the golden age of television Milton Frome!

*In June of 2021, I heard from Jane Wallace Casey who provided some additional information for us: “I am Milton Frome’s niece. His first wife was Barbara Wallace with whom he had his son Michael.”

Charles Lane: What a Character!

My blog theme for this month is “What a Character!” I am looking at the careers of four successful and hard-working actors. With 372 acting credits, perhaps there was no more prolific character actor than the beloved Charles Lane. He perfected the grumpy sourpuss always ready and gleeful to make life more complicated for others. His bio on imdb.com captures his type perfectly as the “scrawny, scowling, beady-eyed, beak-nosed killjoy who usually could be found peering disdainfully over a pair of specs, brought out many a comic moment simply by dampening the spirit of his nemesis.”

Photo: pinterest.com

However, despite that, we always knew there was more to him, and that his real persona was being covered up by his crotchety outward characteristics. His character Herman Bedloe on Petticoat Junction portrayed this dual-personality perfectly. Bedloe was always trying to shut down the train, but we knew he actually liked the Bradley family, and occasionally you would get a glimpse of the lonely and soft-hearted side of him.

He was born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco in 1905. His family survived the 1906 earthquake. His father was an insurance executive, and Charles would follow in his footsteps for his first career.

Photo: newsfromme.com
The Music Man

A friend, actor Irving Pichel, convinced Lane to try his hand at acting, and Lane joined the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1920s. His first movie was City Girl in 1930, and his last was Acting on Impulse in 1993. During those six decades he had a successful career in both television and Hollywood. In 1933, Lane became one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). In that year alone he made 23 films. There was an anecdote told about Lane that it was not uncommon for him to go to a movie, see himself on screen, and be surprised because he completely forgot he had been in the film. Starting out at $35 a day, by 1947 he was earning $750 a week.

His longest-running role was husband. In 1931 he married Ruth Covell; the couple had two children and were married until her death in 2002.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Perhaps most people recognize Lane from his role of rent collector for Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra signed Lane to roles in ten of his movies. Lane was a corrupt attorney in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), an IRS agent in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), a newsman in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a reporter in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Blink Moran in State of the Union (1948). Among his most-cherished possessions was a letter from Capra where he wrote “Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.” Other popular films he was in include The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and The Music Man.

Photo: blogspot.com
You Can’t Take It with You

During World War II, Lane joined the Coast Guard. When he returned to civilian life, his television career took off. His first role was on Burns and Allen in 1951. During the 1950s, he appeared in more than 30 shows including Topper, The Thin Man, Perry Mason, and The Ann Sothern Show. He was often seen on Lucille Ball shows. He and Lucy had become friends when they both worked for RKO, and he had a great respect for Desi Arnaz’s acting ability.

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I Love Lucy

During this decade he was cast on the show Dear Phoebe in 1954. Peter Lawford starred in the show as a former college professor who writes an advice column under the name Miss Phoebe Goodheart. Meanwhile, his romantic interest is Mickey Riley portrayed by Marcia Henderson, the paper’s sports writer. Lane took on the role of Mr. Fosdick, their boss.

Photo: blogspot.com
The Andy Griffith Show

The 1960s found him on almost every popular show of that decade. Tuning in to your favorite series, you would spy Lane on Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, Mister Ed, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Get Smart, The Bing Crosby Show, The Man from UNCLE, The Donna Reed Show, Green Acres, Bewitched, and The Wild, Wild West, among many others.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Gomer Pyle USMC

Lane had recurring roles on five shows during the 1960s. On Dennis the Menace, he was the pharmacist Mr. Finch. He also could be seen on his friend’s series, The Lucy Show as Mr. Barnsdahl, a local banker. The Phyllis Diller Show had a cast that should have made it a hit and from 1966-67, Lane played Maxwell. Although many characters appeared on both The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, Lane had two different roles on the two series. He appeared in 24 episodes of Petticoat Junction between 1963-1968 as Homer Bedloe, a railroad executive who is always trying to find a reason to shut down the Cannonball. On the Beverly Hillbillies, he portrayed Foster Phinney.

Photo: filmstarfacts.com
Petticoat Junction

Lane continued with both his movie and television appearances throughout the 1970s, taking roles on The Doris Day Show, The Odd Couple, Family, Rhoda, Chico and the Man, and he continued his television appearances into the 1980s and 1990s with shows that included Mork and Mindy, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, and Dark Shadows.

Photo: pinterest.com
Bewitched

The decade of the seventies would find him cast in two additional series, Karen and Soap. Karen debuted in 1975, starring Karen Valentine as Karen Angelo. Karen works for an advocate group for the common American citizen, Open America, founded by Dale Busch, who was played by Lane. On Soap, Charles took on the role of Judge Petrillo who presided over Jessica Tate’s murder trial; however, because of Jessica’s husband, the judge lost $40,000 in a bad investment.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Soap

Charles Lane was honored in 2005 when he turned 100. SAG proclaimed January 30 “Charles Lane Day,” and TV Land honored him in March for his long career. After receiving his award, he let it be known “in case anyone’s interested, I’m still available!”

Photo: allmovie.com
TV Lands Award March 2005

Despite his being typecast in cranky roles, friends and family described him as funny, kind, and warm-hearted. Lane’s one vice was smoking. In 1990 he was rushed to the hospital when he was having problems breathing. When the doctor asked if he smoked, Lane informed him he had kicked the habit . . . 45 minutes earlier. He never smoked again and he lived another 12 years, dying peacefully in 2007.

Photo: blogspot.com
Homer Bedloe

Although it’s tough on actors to be typecast so early in their career, it’s a double-edged sword, because it also provides a lot of opportunities for roles. Lane was an enigma; while he always convinced us that he was just as mean as could be, we also knew if someone would give him a chance, he could be reformed like Scrooge; he just needed the opportunity. It always makes me smile to come across Charles Lane in a move or television episode. It’s like seeing an old friend, or perhaps the neighbor who yelled at you to get off his yard. However, if you looked closely, you would see him watching and wanting to be part of the action. As you watch your favorite older classic shows, keep an eye open for him.

Mr. Johnson Teaches Us About the “Art” of Television Acting

As we continue honoring revered television actors who passed away in 2019, Arte Johnson certainly is at the top of the list. Although he accepted roles in movies, most of his work was on the small screen.

Photo: blogspot.com

Arte was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1929. Acting was not Arte’s first profession. He graduated with a radio journalism major from Illinois and decided to pursue a career in the advertising world. He left Chicago when he could find no ad agency jobs and moved to New York where he began at Viking Press. He loved books and collected them throughout his life.

Unlike the stories of people who hone their craft in hundreds of auditions in the Big Apple, Arte impulsively stepped into an audition line for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and got the part. His real name was Arthur and he decided on Art E. Johnson for his stage name, but “Arte” was mistakenly printed on the playbill, and he decided he liked that better.

Although acting began easily for him, after he moved to LA, his career hit a rough spot and he did take a job as a men’s clothing salesman for a while at Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills.

Photo: cvta.biz
It’s Always Jan

Arte began on television in the 1950s. In the mid-50s, he had a recurring role on It’s Always Jan starring Janis Paige and Merry Anders. A widowed nightclub singer, Janis Stewart, shares a small apartment with an aspiring actress, a secretary, and her daughter. Arte plays a deli employee, showing up in 4 of the 26 episodes.

He was cast as in his first ongoing role later that year. He played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr. on Sally. His father, a department store owner, was played by Gale Gordon. This show about a girl who worked in a department store who became a wealthy matron’s companion also lasted 26 episodes.

Photo: sharetv.com
Cousin Edgar on Bewitched

During the 1960s, Arte would appear in 32 different series, including The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale’s Navy, Bewitched, Lost in Space, The Donna Reed Show, and I Dream of Jeannie. Once again, he was cast as a regular on a show, Don’t Call Me Charlie. If you’re not familiar with the show, you are not alone. The show starred Josh Peine as a rural veterinarian who is drafted into the Army. He leaves Iowa and heads for Paris. Like Gomer Pyle he retains his simple view of life and his “Sargent Carter” is Colonel Barker. Johnson played the part of Col. Lefkowitz.

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The Cast of Laugh In

In 1968, Arte was offered a job that would change his life. Along with a handful of other cast members, he appeared on the new edgy Laugh-In. This is a hard show to describe if you never watched it. (It does appear on the Decades channel quite often.) The show was comprised of fast-moving comedy bits featuring guest stars, skits, regulars performing specific characters, gags, and punchlines in rapid format. It was quite different from anything else that had ever appeared in television. Arte was on the show from 1967-1971.

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“Wolfgang”

He was a master of accents and is best known for the characters he created on this show. “Wolfgang” was a cigarette-smoking German soldier hiding out who refused to believe WWII had ended. One of Arte’s taglines was “Verrrrry Interrrrresting.” He would also be seen in a yellow raincoat riding a tricycle that he would fall off from.

Photo: blogspot.com
Tyrone and Gladys

Another favorite was “Tyrone” who was an old man wearing a trench coat, always trying to seduce Ruth Buzzy’s “Gladys” on a park bench. She would hit him with her purse, and he often fell off the bench. Oddly, in a far-reaching concept, years later these two characters formed the nexus of a Saturday morning cartoon show, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits.

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On The Partridge Family

During the 1970s, Johnson continued his television appearances with 17 different series, including two roles on The Partridge Family and several on Love American Style. He also could be seen on Match Game and Hollywood Squares.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

His prolific career continued through the 1980s where he was seen on 25 different shows, including Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat. At the end of the ’80s, he began voicing characters for animation shows, but in the 1990s he accepted roles on 14 shows, including Night Court.

At the end of his career, his love of books provided him an opportunity to begin recording the narration for more than 80 audiobooks, including Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up in 2005.

Photo: vulture.com

Married to his wife Gisela since 1968, he survived a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1997. In 2006 he retired from acting. He passed away mid-year in 2019 after suffering from bladder and prostate cancer. Ruth Buzzy, his comrade on Laugh-In, shared this message upon his death: “Thank you for a wonderful half-century of friendship. I could not have shared the spotlight with a nicer guy. Rest in peace. And yes, Arte Johnson, I believe in the hereafter.”

I like to think Arte is working on some skits, waiting for Ruth Buzzy, and some day when we get to heaven, we’ll be able to watch Gladys and Tyrone team up for us again.

Did You Know Shirley Partridge, Samantha Stephens, Jeannie, Donna Reed, and Hazel Lived in the Same Neighborhood?

As we proceed with our Behind the Scenes series this month, today we are thinking about set designers. Before the interior designs are done, the production team needs to find the perfect home for our television friends.

Did you ever daydream about places you might want to live in, even if you never would actually consider leaving your home?  Perhaps it’s a small rose-covered cottage in the English countryside, maybe a ski chalet in the Swiss alps, or a house on the Maine coast with green shutters and a widow’s walk. I’ve thought about all of these places, but now I have another one to consider. It’s an historic neighborhood where some of my favorite television friends lived. Today we learn a bit about the Columbia Ranch.

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Now called Warner Brothers Ranch, the former Columbia Ranch was in Burbank, CA. In addition to dozens of television shows, it was the setting for many movies as well such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, High Noon, and Lost Horizon. The neighborhood interiors were typically shot at other studio locations.

In 1934, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, purchased 40 acres in Burbank. In 1948, Columbia got into the television business under Screen Gems.

Photo: pinterest.com

During the 1950s, Captain Midnight, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Dennis the Menace were filmed here. By the 1960s, the ranch was used continuously for television and movies. The set was about six blocks but looked much larger on camera shots. Shows during the 1960s included My Sister Eileen, Hazel, Our Man Higgins, The Farmer’s Daughter, Bewitched, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, and The Flying Nun.

In 1970, a fire destroyed a quarter of the neighborhood, including many buildings on Blondie Street. After rebuilding, taping continued on the set. During the next three decades, shows included The Partridge Family, Bridget Loves Bernie, Apples Way, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Life Goes On.

In 1971, Columbia and Warner Brothers combined their companies and merged into The Burbank Studios. The Ranch then was relegated to a back backlot.

Photo: columbiaranch.net

When Columbia Pictures moved its production facilities to Culver City in 1990, Warner Brothers gained ownership of the Ranch.

Photo: pinterest

Photo: pinterest

It’s continued to be a busy spot for filming. The fountain in the park was the one shown in the opening credits in Friends.

Nearby is also a swimming pool used on a variety of shows, including The Partridge Family.

The most famous street in the Ranch was Blondie Street. Blondie Street was named for Blondie Bumstead because the Blondie movies of the 1940s were filmed here. Walking down Blondie Street reveals homes that we were all familiar with growing up in the sixties and seventies.

Photo: columbiaranch.net

It’s a curved residential street with twelve different houses, surrounding a large, central park. There is also a brick church and paved sidewalks. Three of the buildings—the Lindsay House, the Little Egbert House, and the Oliver House—were original to the 1935 set production.

The Blondie House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

This set, constructed in 1941, was the home for Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace, and the Andersons on Father Knows Best, in addition to the Blondie movies. Later it housed the operations office for the Warner Ranch. Of course, Jeannie’s house was not here, it was a Jim Beam decanter that was sold during Christmas of 1964.

The Corner Church

Photo: columbiaranch.net

When thePartridge Family drives off for a show in their bus, you can often spot the church which is just down the road from their home, across from The Stephens’ home on Bewitched. It was moved here in 1953. When any of the series needed a church, this was the one. It can be seen on an episode of Hazel when the family attends church.

The Deeds Home

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Originally built for Frank Capra’s movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936, the house is only seen briefly in the movie. The Three Stooges filmed there in the thirties and forties. In the sixties it was seen in Batman. Both Gidget and The Partridge Family used the house as the high school and Bewitched used it as a civic building. In 1989, the original house was demolished. In its place, The Chester House and the Griswold House were built. The Griswold House was built for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The Lindsay House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Constructed in 1936, this house was best known as the Baxter home on Hazel. It also served as the Lawrence home on Gidget.

The Higgins House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

This structure was constructed for the show Our Man Higgins in 1962. It was later the home of Darrin and Samantha Stephens on Bewitched from 1964-1972. On I Dream of Jeannie, it was the home of Alfred and Amanda Bellows.

Photo: pinterest.com

For Bewitched, the interior and backyard scenes were filmed on a sound stage. The stairs ended in a hallway, but the doors only led to small closets, not the master bedroom.  A modular first floor served as a setting for all the rooms. The den doubled as the nursery. A fake wall was put up to hide the view to the kitchen. When the den was needed, brown paneling was put over the nursery walls and the window was covered with a wall near the fireplace.

Photo: darkershadows.com

If you look closely, you’ll notice the avocado and gold flowered sofa in the Stephens’ living room was the same one used by Alfred and Amanda Bellows in their living room. But the shows shared well.  On one episode of Bewitched, Louise and Larry Tate are seen at their kitchen table, but the kitchen looks identical to Major Nelsons’s. Roger Healey’s bedroom eerily resembled Darrin and Samantha’s.

Photo: youtube.com
Photo: pinterest.com

I guess I was too busy crying to notice that this house was also Brian Piccolo’s home in Brian’s Song.

The Partridge Family House

Photo: pinterest.com

The house across the street from the Stephens’ house was home to Abner and Gladys Kravitz. During the filming of Dennis the Menace, it was Mrs. Elkins’ house. It was also the home of The Partridge Family. In 1989 it became the Thatcher home on Life Goes On.

The home was built in 1953, modeled after a Sears, Roebuck & Co. plan. The modest two-story home was a perfect fit for the Partridges with its white, picket fence. The interiors were filmed at the Ranch as well. Located next door to the Blondie House, there were shrubs between the homes that were featured several times on the Partridge Family. In an episode where Keith shoots a movie, Shirley is clipping the hedges and begins dancing for the film, not realizing her neighbor is watching her. We see the hedges again when Keith moves into the room above the garage next door and gets free rent in return for yard work.

Photo: flickr.com
Photo: flickr.com

Because they were filming the show when the infamous fire broke out, some of the structure had to be rebuilt for the remainder of the series. From season 1 to 2, Danny and Keith’s bedrooms switch back and forth a couple times, and I wonder if this is the reason.

The Oliver House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Constructed in 1935 for a movie, the Oliver house was moved to Blondie Street for the home of the Stone family in The Donna Reed Show. It was also the Mitchell home where Dennis resided with his parents.

The Little Egbert House

Photo: columbiaranch.net

Technically, Little Egbert is not on Blondie Street but on its own, Little Egbert Street, basically an alley. Fortunately, the 1970 fire did not damage any of the original structure. The house was also used in Minding the Mint and as The Shaggy Dog, the hangout for Gidget and her friends.

Photo: retrospace.org

For sentimental reasons, I would choose the Partridge Family home to live in. However, I would have to remodel the kitchen. I could live with the red breakfast table set. The avocado and gold flowered wall paper may have been very chic in its day, but even I am not that sentimental!

Make Room for Daddy: The Show That Persevered

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

Photo: famousfix.com

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

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

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

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

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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

Photo: pureflix.com

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

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

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

Photo: youtube.com

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

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

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

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

Photo: jacksonupperco.com
Mary Wickes in the background

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

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

Photo: peoplequiz.com

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

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

Photo:closerweekly.com

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

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

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

Photo: pinterest.com

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

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

Photo: pinterest.com

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

Photo: facebook.com

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

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

*Thanks to reader Howard Ian Stern for letting me know I originally had the wrong network listed.

While John Forsythe Chose “To Rome with Love,” The Network Let the Show Roam Without Much Love

We continue our series with a salute to fathers looking at one of my favorite actors, John Forsythe in a little-remembered show, To Rome with Love.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

The show debuted on CBS in September of 1969 and aired until spring of 1971. In 1967 Forsythe had starred in The John Forsythe Show and in the successful sitcom, Bachelor Father, seven years before that.

Photo: pinterest.com
The John Forsythe Show

After the acclaim of Bachelor Father, The John Forsythe Show was a big disappointment. The premise of the show was that Forsythe as retired US Air Force Major John Foster inherits a private girls’ school in San Francisco. A buddy of his and former sergeant helps him run the school and they have conflicts with the principal Miss Culver. Forsythe once commented on it, saying “I choose to froget about that one. It was a disaster from the start. I hope the world forgets it too, especially the name.”

To Rome with Love also had a school setting. Forsythe played Michael Endicott, a widow with three daughters. He accepts a teaching position at an American school in Rome and relocates his family there from Iowa. His sister Harriet (Kay Medford) comes with the family for season one to help out. Endicott’s father-in-law, Andy Pruitt (Walter Brennan), comes to Rome to visit and ends up moving there during the second season.

Photo: nndb.com

The oldest daughter is Alison (Joyce Menges), the middle is tomboy Penny (Susan Neher) and the youngest is Mary Jane, nicknamed Pokey (Melanie Fullterton). None of the girls continued in television past 1974. Menges had been a former tv and magazine model.  She appeared in two films, one before (1967) and one after (1972) the show. Fullerton made an appearance on High Chaparral before this show and appeared in two movies (1972 and 1974). Neher had the most productive acting career. She was cast on Accidental Family before appearing on To Rome with Love. After the show, she would guest star on Young Lawyers, Getting Together, Love American Style, The Partridge Family, with her last appearance was on Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers in 1974.

Photo: allstarpic.famousfix.com
Photo: famousfix.com


Photo: famousfix.com
Photo: pinterest.com

Rounding out the cast was Vito Scotti who played Mr. Mancini and Peggy Mondo who was Mama Vitale in Rome.

Photo: tvmaze.com

Photo: tvmaze.com

The show was on Sunday nights at 7:30 for the first year. It was up against Land of the Giants and The Wonderful World of Disney. The second year it switched to Tuesdays at 9:30 for the first half of the year on against movies of the week and then was moved to Wednesdays at 8:30 for the rest of the season. On Wednesdays it was up against The Smith Family and the Men from Shiloh. They were one-hour shows and To Rome with Love was on during the second half of both shows. The show never received the ratings the network had hoped for.

Photo: metv.com

Jack Gould reviewed the show before its debut. His comment was “the personable John Forsythe is the main asset of the series, but it is doubtful if he alone can overcome the handicap of imposing Hollywood nonsense on a city rich in drama and laughter and yet to be explored with understanding by TV. For the viewer, one solution is to turn off the sound and settle for incidental scenic background.” Donald Freeman from the San Diego Union called the show “all stereotyped and unfailingly pleasant.” Terrence O’Flaherty of the San Francisco Chronicle described it as a “giant pizza which appears to be filled with every situation comedy cliché in TV history and every Italian character actor south of San Luis Obispo. Dwight Newton of the San Francisco Examiner said it was “another little innocuous comedy drama series.” Apparently, viewers agreed with their opinions.

The combination of bad reviews and going up against Disney before moving to two different nights almost guaranteed its failure.

Photo: incredibleinman.com

Don Fedderson and Edmond Hartman produced the show. They were also the creative forces behind My Three Sons and Family Affair. An interesting concept was the cross-over episode. In season two, Anissa Jones and Johnnie Whitaker from Family Affair appear on the show on episode 4, “Roman Affair.” Episode 6 featured William Demarest, Don Grady, and Tina Cole from My Three Sons in “Rome is Where You Find It.”

After the show ended, Forsythe commented that his “fate is to be surrounded by ladies at home and at work which is not at all painful. I have a wife and two daughters at home. But on the television, I’ve always been unmarried. We might have started the single-parent trend with ‘Bachelor Father.’ Now the air is filed with widows and widowers raising children alone. There’s a reason for it. One unqualified parent dealing with children is more amusing because of the difficulty it presents.”

This sounded a bit exaggerated to me, so I went back to take a closer look at the shows that were on during the 1960s, and he was right. I always think of the typical sitcom as a nuclear family like the Donna Reed Show or Leave It To Beaver, but during this decade many shows were about adults. Think of Get Smart, The Joey Bishop Show, That Girl, The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or The Flying Nun. When shows were about families, the norm was almost to have a single parent. In addition to Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, and Family Affair, we had The Farmer’s Daughter, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Doris Day Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, Gidget, and Julia. It wasn’t confined to sitcoms either; consider The Rifleman, Bonanza, and The Big Valley. The genre would continue into future decades as well. Some of the most popular shows featured single parents: The Partridge Family, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Nanny and the Professor, Diff’rent Strokes, One Day at a Time, Eight is Enough, and Alice.

Photo: dailymail.co.uk

Fortunately for viewers, Forsythe did not throw in the towel and retire into obscurity. Forsythe would go on to star as Blake Carrington on Dynasty.

DNX6N3 Jan. 1, 1976 – F3353.”Charlie’s Angels”.FARRAH FAWCETT, KATE JACKSON, & JACLYN SMITH. 1976(Credit Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The show he is best remembered for is Charlie’s Angels, continuing his tradition of being surrounded by beautiful women on television.

Paging Dr. Stone: The Career of Carl Betz

For the month of June, we are celebrating some of our favorite fathers. One of my favorite dads was Carl Betz in his role as Dr. Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show.

Photo: imdb.com

Betz was born in Mary of 1921 in Pittsburgh, PA. He came from an upper middle-class family, and his father was a laboratory chemist.

While still in school, Betz started a rep theater company with several friends. They performed plays in his grandmother’s basement.

During WWII, he served in the army.  He was deployed to Italy and North Africa and left the military as a technical sergeant with the Corps of Engineers.

Photo: loadtve.biz

When he returned to the States, he enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh, majoring in drama. While going to school at Carnegie, he played football and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl against Texas Christian University.

His first job after graduation was a radio announcer. He moved to New York and worked as a doorman at Radio City Music Hall while auditioning for Broadway productions. He received his first part in “The Long Watch” in 1952. He then toured in “The Voice of the Turtle” with Veronica Lake.

In discussing his work as a young adult, he said, “Those were good times for the beginning actor. There were so many summer stock companies. We worked for room and board and the princely sum of $45 a week.  By eliminating haircuts, we managed to keep ourselves in shaving cream, clean shirts, and beer.”

Twentieth Century Fox offered him a contract, and he received a number of supporting roles in films. In 1953, he made an incredible six movies.

In 1952 he married Lois Harmon. They had one son and divorced in 1961.

His first job on television was a soap opera, Love of Life. Throughout the fifties and sixties, he performed in a variety of plays, including “The Seven-Year Itch” and “The Zoo Story.”

Photo: ebay.com
On Perry Mason

In the mid-1950s, he began appearing on television shows, and shows up in reruns on Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Mike Hammer.

Photo: famousdude.com

In 1958, Carl was offered the role of Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show, and he was with the show until it ended in 1965. The heart-warming show centered around Donna and Alex Stone, a pediatrician, and their two children, Jeff (Pete Petersen) and Mary (Shelly Fabares). Betz continued his stage career in his off time with the show.

Photo: betrendsetter.com

Both Carl and Donna were protective of their television children. In an interview in 2011 when Petersen was 66, he discussed his second set of parents. “They made a commitment to Shelley and me as surrogate parents to be on our side and be with us for the long haul. They kept that commitment up to their deaths.”

As Alex, Betz was the voice of reason. When anyone got too worried, he gave advice and put things in perspective. He had a fun side to him and could always see the humor in situations. He was a caring doctor and had fun in life, realizing death and illness were always lurking around the corner. He often made fun of Donna and the kids but in a loving way, not cruel. His comments typically illustrated that things were not as dower as they appeared. But when there was an emergency or a serious situation, he was calm and collected and took charge.

Carl continued to take roles during breaks in taping for The Donna Reed Show. In 1964, Betz received amazing reviews for his performance as the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in “The Night of the Iguana.”

During his time on the show, he ironically married Gloria Stone, and they would remain married until his death in 1978.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org
With co-star Stephen Young

In 1967, he starred in Judd for the Defense where he played an attorney. Clifton Judd, a lawyer based in Texas, would travel across the country to defend a client. Many cases involved labor unions, draft evasions, civil rights, and murder. The series featured a number of guest stars, including Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Norman Fell, Beverly Garland, Ron Howard, Ted Knight, Cloris Leachman, Ruta Lee, Gavin MacLeod, Vera Miles, Tom Selleck, and Dennis Weaver. The critics gave the show great reviews, but the ratings were always a struggle. In 1969, ABC cancelled the series and that same year, Betz won the Emmy for Outstanding Performer by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series.

Photo: moviestore.com

Once the series was cancelled, Betz continued in plays and also picked up several television appearances on a variety of shows, such as Love American Style, Medical Center, McCloud, The Mod Squad, Ironside, The FBI, Mission Impossible, Barnaby Jones, and Quincy ME. Since he handled comedy so well on The Donna Reed Show, I was surprised to learn that most of his career was spent on drama or crime shows.

Photo: mashable.com
On Love American Style with Harrison Ford

In 1977, Betz was diagnosed with lung cancer. He kept the illness a secret until November when he was hospitalized. He died in January of 1978, 56 years young. Ironically, thinking about celebrating fathers, my dad also died at age 56.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

From all accounts, Carl Betz wanted to be an actor from a very young age. Fortunately, he was able to spend most of his life in the entertainment business.  Unfortunately, his life ended much too early, and his career was cut short. Any time someone can spend their life pursuing their passion, it’s a life well spent. Happy Father’s Day to one of our favorite dads.