Lassie: This Series Had Five Lives

We are finishing our series Life with Pets. Although the shows we have looked at so far this month have featured some unusual pets, I knew that we had to include man’s best friend at some point, and really, how could you have a blog series about pets without Lassie who was a very unusual dog?

Except for The Hathaways, the other shows we learned about this month were based on a movie, which was often based on a book. Lassie is no exception. English author Eric Knight wrote a book in 1940 called Lassie Come Home. Several films were produced between 1943 and 1951 about Lassie. Once the seventh and final film was completed, Lassie’s (or Pal as he is known in his real life), owner Rudd Weatherwax was given all rights to the Lassie trademark and name. Weatherwax began taking Pal to local fairs and rodeos.

File:Lassie cast 1955.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Clayton, Rettig, Cleveland Photo: wikimedia.com

Robert Maxwell convinced him to feature Pal in a weekly television show. The men developed the story of Lassie who lived with a young boy named Jeff Miller (Tommy Rettig), age 11; his widowed mother Ellen (Jan Clayton); and her father-in-law (George Cleveland) who all lived on a farm. The show was approved, Campbell’s Soup agreed to sponsor the first year of shows, and the series debuted in 1954 on Sunday nights at 7 pm EST.

Campbell’s would continue its role as sponsor for 19 more years, which totaled 591 episodes. The company asked to have their products featured on the set, so you will see them in background shots. The soup company held a contest in 1956 to name Lassie’s puppies. Grand prizes included $2,000 and ownership of the pups which were hand-delivered by executives. In 1958, viewers could send in 25 cents and a label from a Swanson’s TV dinner to get a friendship ring; the company mailed 77,715 of them to fans. In 1959, fans could send in five labels from Campbell’s products and receive a wallet with a photo of Lassie. More than 1.3 million were mailed and Campbell’s profits rose 70% after its sponsorship began.

In 1957, Jack Wrather who owned The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon purchased the show for $3.25 million. In 1958 Lassie received new owners. Both Clayton and Rettig expressed an interest in wanting to leave the show. Cleveland had passed away the year before. Adoptee Timmy Martin (Jon Provost) becomes his master and they live with his parents, Ruth Martin (Cloris Leachman) and Paul Martin (Jon Shepodd).

Lassie (TV Series 1954–1974) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

In 1958 Wrather dropped Leachman and Shepodd, replacing them with June Lockhart and Hugh Reilly. A neighbor Cully Wilson (Andy Clyde) was also added.

Lassie received good ratings from 1954-1958. In 1959 it fell out of the top 30. By 1960 with the change in characters, the show shot back and made it to #13 in 1964.

However, just as things were looking up, Provost declined to renew his contract. So, ten years after its debut, the show changed its focus to conservation and environmentalism, teaming Lassie with a group of US Forest Service members. In 1965 the show transitioned to color, but the ratings decline had already begun.

Season 17 transitioned again and this time it was an anthology season with Lassie traveling on her own, finding adventures along the way. CBS cancelled the show after season 17, but it became a syndicated show for networks to pick up.

The final two seasons were spent with Garth Holden (Ron Hayes) on the Holden Ranch, a home for orphaned boys. After season 19, the show went off the air for good.

Five of Pal’s descendants also played the role of Lassie. They included Lassie Jr. (1954-59), Spook (1960), Baby (1960-1966), Mire (1966-1971), and Hey Hey (1971-73). Like the show, Pal lived to be 19.

The show was filmed at Stage One of KTTV in Los Angeles from 1954-57 and then moved to Desilu for a year. The Timmy seasons were filmed at the Grand Canyon and High Sierra and the Forest Service seasons were filmed in Alaska and Puerto Rico, among other sites.

Photo: ashroudofthoughts.com

Most of the plots involved the boys or other characters needing help and Lassie coming to the rescue. However, ironically the biggest spoof of the show is Timmy falling down a well and Lassie saving him, but no one ever fell down a well on the show except Lassie in season 17. It is such an iconic plot, that Provost wrote his autobiography in 2007 and called it Timmy’s in the Well: The Jon Provost Story. On his website, Provost says he kept in touch with Rettig. He says that he always ended their conversations with “Thanks for the dog, Jeff” which was his line in the series when he took over the show.

During the nineteen years that the show was on the air, several theme songs were used. For the first season, the theme was “Secret of the Silent Hills” composed by William Lava. The song was originally created for a 1940 radio show, “The Courageous Dr. Christian.” The song was tweaked a bit for the second and third seasons. An orchestral version of an aria from Faust, “Dio Possente” came in for the next year. Beginning with year five, the most famous version was aired: “Lassie Main & End Title” was created by Les Baxter and whistled by Muzzy Marcellino. After the Martin years, an orchestral version of “The Whistler” was used for a few years, and then Nathan Scott’s arrangement of “Greensleeves’ finished the run.

The series received two Emmy Awards for Best Children’s Program in 1955 and 1956 and a nomination in 1960. In addition, June Lockhart was nominated for Leading Actress in a Dramatic Series in 1959, Jan Clayton was nominated for the same award in 1957 and 1958, and the show was nominated for Best Dramatic Series in 1957.

The series was released on DVD during the years 2001-2007.

I do remember watching Lassie during the Provost years, but I actually was not aware of the other seasons. Like Flipper and Gentle Ben, it was a family show where everyone could sit around the television and watch together on a Sunday evening. With the show being on the air for 19 years, it is fondly remembered by several generations and made a ton of money marketing merchandise.

One of the things I love most about the show is that people are sure they remember Timmy falling into the well. It would be fun to do a blog about things that people are positive they remember but never happened. It’s similar to the Robot on Lost in Space saying “Danger Will Robinson” which he never actually did. It just proves that some shows live on in our imaginations for a long time.

The Hathaways: Getting Paid to Monkey Around on TV

This month we are taking a look at our favorite unusual pet sitcoms. We start our series with a show that began in 1961: The Hathaways.

Photo: tvparty.com

This one-season show was on ABC. Elinore (Peggy Cass) and Walter (Jack Weston) Hathaway were a suburban Los Angeles couple who took in a trio of chimps (Candy, Charlie, and Enoch) which they were surrogate parents for. Walter was a real estate agent, while Elinore looked after the chimps. The chimps had their own bedroom and a full wardrobe of children’s clothing. Before becoming sitcom stars, the chimps had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Show, and a variety of commercials.

Photo: imdb.com

Rounding out the cast were the great Mary Grace Canfield as housekeeper Amanda; Elinore’s best friend and neighbor, Thelma Brockway (Barbara Perry); theatrical agent Jerry Roper (Harvey Lembeck); and Belle Montrose who was another neighbor (and in real life was the mother of Steve Allen). Montrose’s only other acting credits were for the two Disney movies, Son of Flubber and The Absentminded Professor.

Eleven different writers wrote the 26 episodes and four men took on the role of director. The show was on Friday night before The Flintstones but it went up against Clint Eastwood’s western, Rawhide.

The storylines were similar to other sitcoms from the early sixties. In the first episode, the Brockways move in next door and don’t like pets. In the succeeding episodes, Elinor winds up in jail for an unpaid parking ticket that Charlie pocketed before she saw it, Elinor is worried when they leave the chimps with a babysitter while they vacation in Palm Springs, and Elinor and Walter try to find their housekeeper a boyfriend.

The Hathaways with Jack Weston and Peggy Cass | Classic tv, And peggy, 60s  sitcoms
Photo: pinterest.com

It sounds like the type of show that would have been very popular in that era, but ratings were extremely low. In 1982, critics Castleman and Podrazik called the show “possibly the worst series ever to air on a network,” due to the “utterly degrading” premise, bad scripts, inept production, and the “total worthlessness” of the program. The pair wrote seven books about pop culture.

The show was specifically created to star the Marquis Chimps, and when that was shared in 1961, TV columnist Bill Fiset, wrote, “Heaven help us all? It may be that by the time you read this I’ll have taken the gas pipe, a victim of sheer frustration from trying to work as a serious essayist on a subject matter put into the hands of monkeys.”

Star Peggy Cass had mixed feelings. She admitted that she took the job for the money because she did not think the pilot would sell. While the show was on the air, she did an interview, stating that “Those chimps are natural comics. And believe me, they’re hard to top.”

TV When I was Born: 07/09/16
Photo: tvwhenIwasborn.com

Cass would go on to a variety of television series and guest appearances. She was a regular on the game show circuit and might best be remembered for more than 270 episodes of To Tell the Truth. Weston also stayed very busy on television till the 1980s. And the chimps? Don’t feel too bad for them. They continued to show up on variety shows, including numerous appearances with Ed Sullivan. Ironically, they appeared on more Ed Sullivan episodes than they did their own sitcom. When they weren’t working, they could relax on their Las Vegas ranch. I’m sure they were treated to many luxuries there since they were making a quarter of a million dollars at the peak of their career!

Mary Grace Canfield Nails Her Performance

We are devoting this month to some of our favorite television actresses.  If you ever watched Green Acres, you will have fond memories of Ralph Monroe, played by Mary Grace Canfield.

Vale: Mary Grace Canfield | TV Tonight
Photo: tvtonight.com

Canfield was born in Rochester, NY in 1924. In her late twenties, she began acting with regional theater companies. She appeared in a few Broadway plays, but they were not big successes. In 1950 she married Charles Carey Jr, but they divorced five years later.

While she continued to appear on stage until 1964, she tried her hand on television in 1954 on an episode of Goodyear Playhouse.  

During the fifties, Canfield continued appearing in a variety of televised drama series and several big-screen movies, including Pollyanna.

12+ Mary Grace Canfield Pictures
Pollyanna Photo: femaleartswallpaper.com

From 1961-62 she was part of the cast of The Hathaways. She played Amanda Allison, the housekeeper, on the show. Starring Peggy Cass and Jack Weston, the series was about a couple who were raising three chimps: Candy, Charlie, and Enoch.

During the early sixties, Canfield appeared on many of our favorite shows including Hazel, The Interns, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, and General Hospital. Mary Grace showed up on Bewitched as Harriet Kravitz, Abner’s sister.

Andy Griffith Show Cast Members | Mary Grace Canfield/"A Date for Gomer" -  Sitcoms Online Photo ... | The andy griffith show, Funny people, Andy  griffith
Gomer’s date in Mayberry Photo: pinterest.com

From 1965-71, she played Ralph Monroe, handyman to her brother Alf on Green Acres. Canfield appeared in forty of the episodes of the show’s run. Ralph always showed up in bib overalls with her baseball cap on backwards, a somewhat better carpenter than her inept brother. The brother and sister team could not finish a project on time or in an acceptable condition. In one episode, Lisa gave her a makeover. In later shows, Ralph admits she is in love with farm agent Hank Kimble.

In a 2006 interview in the Bangor Daily News, she said she felt a bit bad about being remembered for Ralph, not because she didn’t appreciate the character but “only in the sense that it was so easy and undemanding. It’s being known for something easy to do instead of something you worked hard to achieve.”

The Ten Best GREEN ACRES Episodes of Season Six | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
Photo: thatsentertainment.com With Oliver and
Louie The Movie Buff: MARY GRACE CANFIELD
with Lisa Photo: louisthemoviebuff.com

In the seventies and eighties, Mary Grace made a handful of appearances on shows including Love American Style, The Love Boat, Family, and Cagney and Lacey.

About this time, she moved to Sedgwick, Maine which she fell in love with while performing in the area. Surprisingly, after more than three decades of being single, Canfield tried marriage again when she wed John Theodore Bischof; they were together until she passed away from lung cancer at age 89. Canfield had to move back to California when her health became an issue.

New COZI TV Schedule Starts Feb. 24 with Make Room for Daddy; Remembering Mary  Grace Canfield of Green Acres - SitcomsOnline.com News Blog
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Although I tried, I could not find much information about Mary Grace which made me sad.  I could not learn anything about her personal life other than that she had two children, so I don’t know what her hobbies were, what dreams she did not achieve in her career, or what her favorite role was.  I would have loved to have seen Canfield get a part in another sitcom after life on Green Acres. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Green Acres and part of that enjoyment came from the quirky but lovable characters who inhabited Hooterville.  Ralph Monroe was one of the best.

Father of the Bride is Better on the Big Screen

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

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

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

Photo: hulu.com

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

Photo: wikipedia.com

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

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

Photo: youtube.com

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

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

Photo: blogspot.com

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

Photo: amazon.com

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

Photo: amazon.com