Celebrating National Kansas Day with Vivian Vance

As we continue to celebrate National State Days, this week we are visiting Kansas. Our Sunflower star is Vivian Vance. Vivian was born in Cherryvale, Kansas in 1909. Her family moved to Independence when she was six. She knew she wanted to be an actress, but her mother’s strict religious beliefs prohibited her. She began sneaking out of her room at night to perform and eventually moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she changed her last name from Jones to Vance.Vivian married Joseph Shearer Danneck Jr. in 1928 at age 19 but they divorced in 1931.

Vivian Vance Hated One Thing About Being On 'I Love Lucy'
Photo: showbizcheatsheet.com

In 1930 she was hired for her first job at the Albuquerque Little Theatre. After appearing in many other plays for the group, the local theater community paid her way to New York so she could study with Eva Le Gallienne.

In 1932, Vance began working on Broadway and was often a chorus member. In 1937 she replaced Kay Thompson in “Hooray for What!” and then began receiving supporting roles. In 1941, she joined Danny Kaye and Eve Arden in Cole Porter’s musical “Let’s Face It” for 500 performances. She would appear in 25 plays with her last being “Harvey” in 1977.

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In 1933 Vance tried marriage again, wedding George Koch, but that relationship also ended in divorce in 1940. Her third marriage to Philip Ober in 1941 would also last only 8 years.

Until 1950 she was offered some small roles in big screen in several films. In 1949, she appeared in her first television series, Philco TV Playhouse.

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In 1951, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz decided to launch their sitcom I Love Lucy. Ball was hoping to cast Barbara Pepper or Bea Benarderet in the role of Ethel Mertz. Bea had already taken the role of Blanche Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. CBS declined to hire Pepper because they said she had an addiction to alcohol. After many roles as “The Dame” in the movies, Pepper later played Doris Ziffel on Green Acres. It’s interesting that CBS allowed William Frawley to be hired for the show because he had a well-known alcohol problem at that time, but Desi gave him strict rules.

Director Marc Daniels had seen Vance perform in the “Voice of the Turtle” and suggested her for the role. She would play Ethel for 179 episodes. She was nominated for her work in 1954, 1956, and 1957, winning in 1954.

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Apparently, she was a very good actress because although she and William Frawley who played her husband Fred had great comedic timing, they could not stand each other. Vivian wasn’t happy that she had to wear frumpy clothing and that Frawley was supposed to be her husband because he was 22 years older than her. He overheard a derogatory comment she made about their age difference, and they never developed any type of cordial friendship after that. However, their coworkers claimed they were professionals and treated each other with respect on the set.

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Vance with Frawley, Arnaz, and Ball–Photo: hollywoodmemorabilia.com

When the sitcom ended, Vance continued to play Ethel on The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show. She and Frawley were offered a spin-off series, but Vance passed because she didn’t want to continue working with Frawley. Vance was interested in another show however, and Desilu, Ball and Arnaz’s production company, put together a show called Guestward Ho! for her, but the network rejected the pilot. Desilu made some changes to the show and hired Joanne Dru for the lead. ABC picked it up but cancelled it after one season.

In 1961, Vance married John Dodds, an agent, editor and publisher. They moved to Stamford, Connecticut, and Vance always felt pulled between her marriage and career. In 1974 the couple moved to California. Vivian had no children from her four marriages but was godmother to Lovin’ Spoonful band member John Sebastian.

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Candy Moore, Ball, Jimmy Garrett, Ralph Hart and Vance–Photo: hitstv.com

When Ball put together a new show, The Lucy Show in 1962, she invited Vance to costar on the show. The concept featured Ball as Lucy Carmichael, a widow, raising two children in Danfield New York. Vance played her best friend Vivian Bagley, a divorced mother of one son. After a few years, Vance wanted a bit more control and a bit of controversy developed between Lucy and Vivian. Vivian left the show, but they resolved their differences and she guest starred on the show and joined Lucy on reunion shows and on her third sitcom, Here’s Lucy which ran from 1968-1974.

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Vance had very few television roles after leaving Ball’s sitcom, although she did make appearances on Off to See the Wizard, Love American Style, Rhoda, and Sam.

She was best known during those years as the Maxine, the Maxwell Coffee lady starring in numerous commercials for the coffee company. She was paid $250,000 for her three-year contract.

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The last time Vivian and Lucy appeared together was Ball’s special Lucy Calls the President in 1977. Not long afterward, Vance suffered a stroke which left her partly paralyzed. She died in 1979 from bone cancer.

Both Ball and Arnaz commented on her death. Desi shared that “it’s bad enough to lose one of the great artists we had the honor and the pleasure to work with, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of one of your best friends.”

Ball commented on Vivian’s performance as Ethel: “I find that now I usually spend my time looking at Viv. Viv was sensational. And back then, there were things I had to do—I was in the projection room for some reason—and I just couldn’t concentrate on it. But now I can. And I enjoy every move that Viv made. She was something.”  Both Vance and Frawley were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in March of 2012.

When Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance Said Goodbye For The Last Time
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Some actors have the ability to adapt to a variety of television roles and we’re grateful for them. Other stars create one that is so memorable it becomes completely entwined with part of our life. Thank you Vivian Vance for being Lucy’s best friend. While we love Lucy’s antics, you are the one the majority of us identified with and for seventy years you have been influencing comedy and making new fans.

Just a Couple of Characters, Part 3: Henry Jones and Olan Soule

My series, “Just a Couple of Characters” continues with Part 3 today. This month, we learn more about actors we recognize but may not know much about. This week Henry Jones and Olan Soule are on the hot seat.

Henry Jones

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Born in New Jersey in 1912 and raised in Pennsylvania, his grandfather was a first-generation Prussian immigrant who became a Representative. Henry went to St. Joseph’s College, a Jesuit school. He landed his first Broadway show in 1938, playing Reynaldo and a grave digger in “ Hamlet. ” Like many of the actors in the late 30s and early 40s, Henry joined the Army for World War II. He was a private. During his service, he was cast as a singing soldier, Mr.  Brown, in Irving Berlin’s “This is the Army.”

When he came back to the US, he married Yvonne Sarah Bernhardt-Buerger in 1942. I think that it took longer for her to sign her name on the marriage certificate than the marriage lasted because ten months later they were divorced. Jones continued his stage roles and began a movie career. He had bit parts in 35 films, including The Bad Seed, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Vertigo, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He won a Supporting Actor Tony in 1958 for his performance of Louis Howe in “Sunrise at Campobello.”

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In 1948 he married Judith Johnson. They had two children (one is actress Jocelyn Jones) but divorced in 1961.

Bridging the gap of television and film, he starred in seventeen tv movies as well.

Although his movie career kept him somewhat busy, it was nothing compared to his television work. Jones was credited with 205 acting appearances, meaning he had roles in 153 different television series. Jones was able to tackle a wide range of roles, being believable as a judge, a janitor, a murderer, or a minister. Jones had no illusions about becoming a romantic lead. He once said that “casting directors didn’t know what to do with me. I was never tall enough or good looking enough to play juvenile leads.”

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His first television appearance was in drama series, Hands of Mystery, in 1949. His work in the 1950s was primarily in theater shows about dramas. He also appeared in the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and Father Knows Best.

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He continued his drama roles into the 1960s. He also appeared in 3 episodes of The Real McCoys and westerns including Wagon Train, The Big Valley, and Daniel Boone. He showed up on mysteries such as the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Name of the Game. He also found work on unique shows including Lost in Space, Route 66, and the Alfred Hitchcock Show. Hitchcock liked his work and used him five times. He also appeared in several comedies, Bewitched and That Girl. He starred in Channing in 1963-64.  Jones played Fred Baker, a dean who mentors Professor Joe Howe who teaches English at Channing College while he writes his memoir about the Korean War.

During the 1970s, he continued to work on a variety of genre shows. We see him on westerns, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. We see him in thrillers like The Mod Squad; McMillan and Wife; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; and The Six Million Dollar Man, on which he had a recurring role as Dr. Jeffrey, a scientist who built robots. However, comedies continued to be his mainstay, and he appeared in many of them including Nanny and the Professor, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Paul Lynde Show, The Doris Day Show, the Partridge Family, and Barney Miller.

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In addition to all his guest spots, he was cast in three shows during this decade. In The Girl with Something Extra, he played Owen Metcalf in 1973. The role he was best remembered for was Judge Johnathan Dexter on Phyllis. He was Phyllis’s father-in-law from 1975-1977. As Josh Alden, he appeared on Mrs. Columbo for thirteen episodes.

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Recurring roles comprised most of his television appearances in the 1980s. He continued to accept guest roles on such shows as Quincy ME, Cagney and Lacey, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, and Mr. Belvedere. He would make regular appearances on Gun Shy, Code Name: Foxfire, Falcon Crest, and I Married Dora.

Jones continued to appear in shows in the 1990s, including Coach and Empty Nest. In 1999, he passed away after suffering from complications from an injury from a fall.

Olan Soule

Photo: pinterest.com

Olan Soule’s timeline was similar to Jones. He was born in Illinois in 1909, growing up in Iowa, and he passed away in 1994. While Jones’ grandfather arrived in America, Soule’s ancestors included three Mayflower passengers. He began his acting career on the radio.

In 1929 he married Norma Miller. They would be married until her death in 1992 and they had two children.

For eleven years, he was part of the cast of the soap, “Bachelor’s Children.” His roles changed when he transitioned to television. On radio, he could play any role, but his 135-pound frame prohibited him from getting many roles he played on radio. He told the Los Angeles Times during an interview that “People can’t get over my skinny build when they meet me in person after hearing me play heroes and lovers on radio.”

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However, he certainly was not lacking in roles. Soule is credited with more than 7000 radio episodes and commercials, 60 films, and 200 television series.

The 1950s found him appearing in many sitcoms, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, I Married Joan, I Love Lucy, December Bride, the Ann Sothern Show, and Dennis the Menace.

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He would appear regularly in Dragnet from 1952-59 and in Captain Midnight from 1954-56.

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He got even busier in the 1960s, working nonstop. The only show he had a recurring role on was The Andy Griffith Show where he played choir director and hotel clerk John Masters. Other comedies he appeared on included The Jack Benny Show, Pete and Gladys, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy, Mister Ed, My Favorite Martian, The Addams Family, The Monkees, Petticoat Junction, and That Girl. He also took on roles in suspense shows including One Step Beyond, the Alfred Hitchcock Show, and the Twilight Zone. He also specialized in westerns, including Maverick, Stage Coach West, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley.

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He started the 1970s continuing to show up on series such as Family Affair, My Three Sons, McMillan and Wife, Cannon, Police Woman, and a recurring role on the comedy Arnie.

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In the mid-1970s he began appearing on Battlestar Galactica and Project UFO. Most of his career in the decade was spent providing voiceovers for animated shows, primarily Batman.

The Towering Inferno Director: John Guillermin US Premiere: 10 December 1974 Copyright 1974 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Warner Bros. Inc.

In 1994, Soule died from lung cancer at age 84.

Both Soule and Jones were prolific actors who had long and successful careers. Neither one of them were the leading men type of actors, but they could tackle a wide range of roles. Soule once said, “Because of my build and glasses, I’ve mostly played lab technicians, newscasters, and railroad clerks.” Not a bad life for someone who loves acting. If you watch Antenna or Me Tv, chances are you will see these two characters pop up quite often.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

Elinor Donahue Through the Decades

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Elinor Donahue always displays a warmth and comes across as a genuinely nice person. Her first sitcom became her most famous role.  She played Betty in the iconic Father Knows Best. Although none of her later sitcoms reached the same popularity, she has had a long and full career.

She was born in April of 1937 in Tacoma, Washington. She began tap dancing at 16 months old. As a toddler, she did some acting and received a contract with Universal at the ripe old age of 5. From 1955-1961 she was married to Robert Smith. She was married her second husband, Harry Ackerman, from 1962-1991. Ackerman was a producer for shows including Leave It to Beaver, Gidget, and Bewitched.  She married her third husband Louis Genevrino in 1992.

Donahue appeared in 18 movies between 1942 and 1952 including Tea for Two with Doris Day and My Blue Heaven. She made the transition to television in 1952 appearing in 8 shows in the 1950s. One of the shows I remember her in although I only saw it in reruns was one of my favorite shows, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. She was typically cast as the girl-next-door type. Her most famous role came in 1954 when she was cast in a new sitcom, Father Knows Best.

Father Knows Best – 1954-1960

This was one of the typical family shows of the 1950s. The Andersons lived in Springfield with three children: Betty, called Princess (Elinor Donahue), James Jr., or Bud (Billy Gray) and Kathy, usually called  Kitten (Lauren Chapin). The show debuted in the fall of 1954 on CBS. The show was cancelled in 1955 and the public was furious. Letters came pouring in, so it was reinstated. NBC took over the next year until 1958 when it went back to CBS.  In 1960, Robert Young decided he was done. These were warm and inviting parents, providing guidance and object lessons galore. Critics panned it later because it was not reality.  We have reality shows today, and please, give me fiction. We did learn life lessons on the show – following through on promises, working for what you want, being yourself, and taking responsibility for your mistakes.

Shortly after Father Knows Best left the airwaves, Donahue accepted the role of Elly Walker in The Andy Griffith Show.

The Andy Griffith Show – 1960-1961

Most of us are very familiar with The Andy Griffith Show and many of the characters who inhabit Mayberry:  Widower Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his son Opie (Ron Howard) live with Andy’s Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) who takes care of them;  Barney (Don Knotts) is the inept deputy but also Andy’s best friend;  Helen Crump (Anita Corsaut), the school teacher and Andy’s girlfriend later in the series; Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn), Barney’s girl; Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), town drunk but nice guy; Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), who runs the gas station; and his cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey). Andy had several romances early in the show.  He dated the county nurse Mary Simpson (played by several actresses), spent a limited amount of time with Daphne (Jean Carson) who had a crush on him; and in the first two seasons, he was sweet on Ellie Walker (Donahue), who ran the local drug store. Ellie cared about Andy, but she always stood up for herself and women’s rights.  Andy and Ellie never had the chemistry they were hoping for but they respected each other and like each other. Elinor raved about the cast and her opportunity to be on the show. She said Andy was in charge and expected quality but was fair and a nice man. She described Ron Howard as the best child actor she ever worked with.  She liked Frances Bavier and got along well with her.  She had a huge respect for Don Knott’s comedic ability. She is still friends with Betty Lynn.

She appeared on a variety of shows in the mid-1960s including 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, The Virginian, Dennis the MenaceStar Trek, and The Flying Nun. She tried her luck with one other sitcom in the 1960s.

Many Happy Returns – 1964-1965

This sitcom was also about a widower.  Walter Burnley (John McGiver) ran the Complaint Department at a LA department store. The show also featured his daughter (Donahue) and a coworker Lynn Hall (Elena Verdugo). His boss (Jerome Cowan) did not want him to take in any returns, so he had to resolve complaints without making his boss mad. Apparently Burnley couldn’t solve the complaints that came in from viewers because the show was cancelled after 24 episodes.

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Father Knows Best came out with two television movies in 1977: The Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best – Home for Christmas, and Elinor was in both. While still showing up in random shows during the 1970s such as The Rookies, Police Woman, and Diff’rent Strokes, Donahue found time to appear in two 70s shows on a regular basis.

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The Odd Couple – 1972-1975

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple came to Friday nights in 1970. Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), two divorced men who are complete opposites but best friends, try to live together without killing each other. The show had a great supporting cast including Donohue as Miriam Welby from 1972-1974, Felix’s girlfriend.

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Mulligan’s Stew – 1977

This show from 1977 starred Elinor Donahue as Jane Mulligan.   She and her husband Michael (Lawrence Pressman) are trying to raise three kids on his teacher’s salary when they suddenly add four orphaned nieces and nephews to their family. One of the kids was played by Suzanne Crough, Tracy from The Partridge Family, one of the few shows she was in. The series only lasted for seven episodes.

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The 1980s found Donahue still working regularly.  She was in Barnaby Jones, Mork & Mindy, One Day at a Time, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Golden Girls. One sitcom in the 1980s captured her attention about Beans Baxter.

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The New Adventures of Beans Baxter – 1987

Here is the plot for this one: Beans Baxter’s (Jonathan Ward) father who he thought was a mailman disappears one day.  Teenage Bean discovers that his dad worked for a secret government agency.  He is then drawn into becoming a spy for the government. The show features his adventures as he tries to find the enemy agents who are holding his father hostage while his mother played by Donahue is completely oblivious that anything strange is happening. Viewers also didn’t realize anything was happening because the show was cancelled after 17 episodes.

Entering her 60s, Elinor joined the cast of three sitcoms in the 1990s. She also made several movies including Pretty Woman in 1990 and The Princess Diaries 2 in 2004.

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Get a Life – 1990-1992

Shows don’t get much weirder than this one. Comedian Chris Elliot plays a 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson who lives with wacky parents (Donahue and Bob Elliott, Chris’s real father).  Some of the strange things that happen during the 36 episodes include eating a space alien, beheadings, and a robot paperboy. In this bizarre series, Chris actually dies in a third of the episodes. During the run of the show, he died from old age, tonsillitis, a stab wound, a gunshot wound, was strangled, got run over by a car, choked on his cereal, was crushed by a giant boulder, and actually exploded.

 

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Eek!stravaganza – 1992-1993

Donahue plays “The Mom” in this animated show about Eek, a purple cat who always finds himself in dangerous situations. The series was on the air for five seasons.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman – 1993-1997

During the six years the show was on the air, Donahue reprised her role as Rebecca Quinn ten times. The show followed the ups and downs experienced by a female doctor practicing in a wild western town.

Interestingly, Donahue appeared in three different soap operas toward the end of her career: Santa Barbara, Days of Our Lives, and The Young and the Restless.  Elinor also appeared on a variety of documentaries and award shows. She was in the Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour. In 1998, she wrote her memoirs titled, In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue. The book included about 150 of her favorite recipes. Elinor’s career has been long and she appeared in many shows and movies over the years. She hasn’t appeared in a movie or television show since 2010, although she did do some theater.  In September of 2015, she appeared in one of my favorite plays, “Harvey” in North Carolina.

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Donahue’s career reminds me of many of the actors we have gotten to know in this blog including William Christopher, Betty White, Ken Berry, and Shelly Fabares.  These actors and actresses all appear to be very nice, talented people who have careers they should be proud of.  In a day when bad decisions and selfish actions are splattered across our television screens and newspapers, perhaps one of the best compliments we can give someone is that they had a long and fulfilling career and didn’t step all over other people to achieve it.

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When a rainy day shows up this summer, take a moment to watch some of Elinor’s sitcom episodes. Thank you Elinor Donahue for the entertainment and memories you gave us.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Happy Monday.  It’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” Day. They say fences make the best neighbors, but sitcom television proves otherwise.  In honor of the day, I decided to compose my list of the top ten sitcom neighbors.

10. Wilson from Home Improvement.  We don’t see much of Wilson, literally, but we hear him talking behind the fence.  Wilson W. Wilson, played by Earl Hindman, can solve any problem Tim has. Wilson spouts a lot of philosophical advice for Tim.  He has a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, and has traveled the world studying extinct languages and forgotten cultures.  Much of his wisdom comes from these not-well-known societies. Wilson’s face was never revealed in full; it was always covered by something, most often the fence between the homes.  He calls Tim “Neighbor” and his wife Jill “Neighborette”. One of his pieces of advice is “If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise your price.”

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9. Charlie from Empty Nest.  We all worry about having a neighbor like Charlie.  Empty Nest was about a pediatrician, Dr. Weston, whose wife has died and  his two daughters (Barbara and Carol) move back in with him.  Charlie, played by David Leisure, is their next-door neighbor.  He is  lazy and has no respect for women. He often barges in to borrow food. He is a kind of son to Dr. Weston, but he and Carol have a love-hate relationship.  In one episode they get together, and try to make the relationship work, but both are relieved when they realize it never will, and they can go back to bickering. Charlie really does consider the Westons his family, and there are times he shows how much he cares about them; unfortunately, it never takes long for him to go back into annoying mode.

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8. Marcus from About a Boy.  If Mr. Wilson had met Marcus, he wouldn’t have complained about Dennis.  Will Freeman (David Walton) is a single man who enjoys the single life.  He’s quite wealthy because he wrote a huge best-selling song.  Then Marcus (Benjamin Stockman) moves in next door.  Marcus wants to be best friends; he lives with his mom and rarely sees his dad. Will thinks being his friend will cramp his style until he realizes girls rate single dads favorably. Of course, after a short amount of time, Will does become Marcus’ best friend and father figure, even though Marcus can make life difficult for him at the worst times.

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7. Chuck Larrabee from Last Man Standing.  Mike and Chuck spend a lot of time trying to come up with put downs for each other, but we know it’s only because as friends, they spend more time lifting each other up. Jonathan Adams plays Chuck, a retired Marine who runs a private security business and later works full time heading security at Outdoor Man, the store Mike co-owns. Although they joke around most of the time, occasionally, they get serious and have some in-depth, soul-revealing discussions.

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6. Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Rhoda knew instinctively how to bring out the best in Mary and encourage her to experience life more fully. Valerie Harper plays Rhoda Morgenstern who lives above Mary Richards in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She becomes Mary’s best friend.  She has little self-esteem, and often makes fun of herself.  She is single and often tells Mary about her bad date stories.  After the fourth season, she moves to New York where she marries and gets her own series, Rhoda. Harper won four Emmys for her portrayal of Rhoda, three for the Mary Tyler Moore Show and one for Rhoda.

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5. Yosemite Sam from The New Looney Tunes. Only Bugs could handle a neighbor like Yosemite Sam. Yosemite has a quick temper, doesn’t like anyone, and insults all his neighbors.  In the New Loony Tunes, Bugs and Daffy are roommates. Porky Pig is one of their good friends.  Sometimes Bug’s girlfriend Lola or Daffy’s girlfriend Tina are part of the plot.  Yosemite admits he is a cheat, a thief, and a liar.  He has a lot of terrific one-liners.

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4. Kramer from Seinfeld.  Who wouldn’t want a wacky neighbor like Kramer to keep life more interesting. Kramer (Michael Richards) is eccentric, but kind-hearted and tries to help others.  Kramer is honest to the point of being rude at times. Kramer has the ability to talk Jerry into making choices against his better judgment.  Jerry forgives his quirks and views him almost like a brother. Most of the time, Jerry is highly entertained by the antics that Kramer gets involved with.

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3. Gladys and Abner Kravitz from Bewitched.  The residents of Morning Glory Lane might not have a lot of privacy, but no criminal could get away with anything with Gladys Kravitz on the watch. Gladys is convinced that something strange is going on at the Stephens.  However, her husband Abner is never around at the right moment to back her up. She gets frustrated because she can never prove anything is out of the ordinary. Gladys was played by Alice Pearce and Abner was played by George Tobias.

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2. Blanche Morton from Burns and Allen. No matter what else is happening, Gracie and Blanche (Bea Benaderet) are never too busy to stop and have coffee together.  They are able to discuss everything and accept each other with all their strengths and weaknesses. Blanche truly loved Gracie and accepted her with all her quirks.  Gracie livened up Blanche’s life. Blanche’s husband Harry thinks Gracie is ridiculous, so Blanche loves her all the more.

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1. Howard Borden from The Bob Newhart Show. My favorite sitcom neighbor has to be Howard Borden.  Howard (Bill Daily) definitely gives Bob and Emily a purpose in life.  He takes as much work as any child, and eventually becomes family when he marries Ellen, Bob’s sister.  Howard is often at their apartment mooching their food or borrowing something again, but we know they wouldn’t have it any other way.  On one episode, Bob and Emily are going on vacation for ten days.  Howard is beside himself. They introduce Howard to a psychologist and when they come home, Howard is responsible and competent, but boring.  When they try to talk to him, they realize he is a carbon copy of the therapist. Bob and Emily bribe him with his favorite foods and, eventually he is borrowing items, being forgetful, and coming over to eat. They are relieved to have the old Howard back.

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There are a lot of interesting neighbors in TV Land.  Make a list of your favorite.

Married . . . with Children

The title is the only reference I’ll be making to that 1980s show.  In honor of our 29th anniversary today, I thought I would look at sitcoms dealing primarily with marriage.  Surprisingly, there have not been as many as one would think.  It’s amazing how many sitcoms are about single parents, families, friends, or co-workers.  If there are any similarities between our married life and Al and Peg Bundy’s life, I really don’t want to know about them.  So, let’s look at a few sitcoms that did focus on blessed unions.

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show – George Burns and Gracie Allen filmed 120 episodes for their television series.  They were married in real life, and the set design for the show was based on their real-life home. Gracie was zany, but her literal perspective of the way life worked made uncanny sense.  George loved Gracie and knew that she was the center of his marriage and career. George was very generous and made numerous gifts to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center which is at the intersection of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive. I love looking at marriage that way – it’s an intersection found at the center of a very diverse couple.

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I Love Lucy – In 1953, I Love Lucy joined the Monday night line-up with The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Lucy and Ricky (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are probably the most famous married couple. For six years, they took ordinary situations and exaggerated them. Lucy’s hare-brained schemes created an endless source of comedy. However, the problems with couple faced were believable, and they were the same problems other young couples were facing the first couple years of marriage like how to pay the rent, buying a new dress, and dealing with in-laws.

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Pete and Gladys – Starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams, this was one of, if not the first, spinoff.  Pete Porter was a neighbor featured on December Bride for six years.  When the show went off the air, we finally met Gladys, his wife.  He was an affectionate and caring husband and she was a very nice homemaker.  Unfortunately, the show only lasted two seasons, although Harry Morgan went on to star in many television shows.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show – Dick and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) showed us an intimate side of married life for five years.  They were funny and had an interesting life.  Sometimes they even watched a bit of television at night.  They were a couple who admitted they were a bit insecure about parenting.  They worked through their problems with humor and logic. Although Dick was a writer and Laura a stay-at-home mom, they were equal intellectuals and that was the basis of their relationship.

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The Bob Newhart Show – Bob and Emily Hartley (Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette) were another couple who were intellectual equals.  They were funny, understanding, and warm.  They argued about real issues, and they made up.  Both the characters had very definite identities, and they did not always see eye to eye, but they respected each other and loved each other deeply.

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Mork and MindyMork and Mindy was a sitcom about an alien and the girl next door (Robin Williams and Pam Dawber). If most American couples think they have some impossible issues to work through, they should watch a few episodes of Mork and Mindy. The show lived on for four years, primarily because of Robin Williams’ wild improvisations and Pam Dawber’s believable love for Mork. Mork and Mindy was not only a spinoff from Happy Days, but it was actually inspired by a Dick Van Dyke Show episode “It May Look Like a Walnut.” Director Jerry Paris created the idea when Garry Marshall mentioned that his son would like to see a spaceman on television. Paris, who played Jerry Helper on the Dick Van Dyke Show, remembered that episode and invented Mork.  In season four, Mork laid an egg, in more ways than one, and the show was cancelled.

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Dharma and Greg – When free spirit Dharma and lawyer Greg (Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson) get married on their first date, the show was born.  They have conflicting views on everything except how much they love each other.  These views lead to comical situations – imagine a Republican and Democrat married in today’s political climate! Dharma overshares all her views and feelings, while Greg was raised to not talk about such things.  I think a lot of us can relate to that.

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Mad About You – Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) are newlyweds who cope with life as a recently married couple.  They point out the gentle humor of everyday life situations. One description of the show said that this show starts after a party when the husband and wife are alone in the car discussing the evening. For seven seasons, they tackled the issues so when the series was over, there was no “seven-year itch” to worry about.

A fun fact, Carl Reiner reprised his Alan Brady role from the Dick Van Dyke Show on Mad About You.  The episode made several references to the classic sitcom, including Jamie saying “Oh Paul,” an aside to Laura Petrie’s famous “Oh Rob.”

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These were several of the couples we watched during our life who indirectly influenced the way we viewed marriage. Each of the couples has something to teach us about successful marriages. One review of Burns and Allen concluded that “the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show exuded excellence, with a unique format, interesting plots, a great cast, and virtually non-stop comedy featuring the unparalleled zany wit of Gracie.”  I would consider it a compliment if that was a review for our marriage as well.