When I looked up the definition for “too close for comfort” it said “close enough to make a person feel nervous, worried or upset.” That is exactly how this show made me feel.
I realize that I was hard to please in the 1980s. Coming out of the 1970s with M*A*S*H,The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show, I did not enjoy All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Alice, Maude, or Diff’rentStrokes. I did watch Cheers, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, and Moonlighting during that decade. Too Close for Comfort, along with Three’s Company, just didn’t strike me as funny.
When you invest in a show, you feel like these characters are part of your life. Ted Knight’s role of Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a flawed human being for sure, but I felt like we had spent a lot of time together, and I was able to see beyond the brash, obnoxious exterior to the vulnerable and kind being inside. It was if we had spent lots of hours over the kitchen table having coffee. Characters like Baxter teach us about the world and about ourselves. Ted Knight as Henry Rush was more like the neighbor whom I caught glimpses of out the kitchen window but there was no way to learn more about the character other than the surface appearances. The show was based more on plots than characters.
Too Close for Comfort was based on the British sitcom Keep It in the Family. It debuted in 1980. Henry Rush is a cartoonist who writes about the Cosmic Cow (a space crime fighter) and lives in San Francisco with his wife Muriel, a photographer (Nancy Dussault) and his two adult daughters Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who works at a bank and Sara (Lydia Cornell) who is a college student.
The house was a two-family residence and the girls decide to rent from their parents. Henry is not sure it’s a good idea, but it’s the only apartment they can afford because he charges $300 rent for the bottom of the Victorian house. Monroe (Jim Bullock) is a friend of Sara’s who was cast only in one episode but ended up joining not only the cast but living with Henry and Muriel.
The show was on Tuesday nights. The show followed Three’s Company and its main competition was BJ and the Bear.
In season two, Muriel becomes pregnant and Henry’s niece April also comes to live with the Rushes.
One of the signatures of Henry Rush was the variety of college sweatshirts he wore. Fans from around the country would send them to the network hoping to see them on the series. The first sweatshirt to make an appearance was the University of Michigan.
The third season found the show on Thursday nights and ratings declined significantly. The show was up against Cheers on NBC and Simon and Simon on CBS. April moves out and Muriel’s mother Iris (Audrey Meadows) moves in to help with the baby. The show was cancelled by the network. The fourth season went into syndication with new episodes.
A fifth season began, but the show changed so much it really was a new series. The title was changed to The Ted Knight Show, the family now lived in Marin County where Henry bought a newspaper, a new theme song was created, a new opening was shot, and both daughters left the show. However, Monroe moved with Henry and Muriel. The new episodes began airing in April of 1986; 22 episodes were taped and after the first 12 aired, Knight passed away from colon cancer. The final ten episodes were run, and then the series ended.
During the various seasons, the girls changed careers a lot. Jackie moved from the bank to a department store to a fashion designer. Sara held a bunch of part-time jobs while she was in college. She then became a bank teller, a weather woman at the local station KTSF, and an entrepreneur who sells Cosmic Cow Cookies.
In a Fox News interview, Cornell discusses how she received the role of Sara. She said she had to take a bus for the audition and showed up an hour late after being in the rain. The secretary told her auditions had closed but Arne Sultan said to let her audition as long as she came in. They gave her a script to read and a line said “She gives her dad a raspberry.” Sara picks up an imaginary raspberry and hands it to her dad. Sultan asked her what she was doing, and then explained a raspberry was a Bronx cheer. She felt very stupid and they were all laughing. The casting director and executives decided at that time she was perfect for the part and asked her to report to work the next day.
I know that there have been far worse shows than Too Close for Comfort, but I’m not content having the bar set there because there have also been far better shows. Rather than my usual recommendation of buying the DVDs for a weekend of binge watching, I’m going to tell you to buy a good book instead.
As we wind up our blog series, “The Movie Came First,” we finish with a show from the late seventies, House Calls. The original movie hit the big screen in 1978. The description of the movie is that Charley is a surgeon who’s recently lost his wife. He embarks on a tragicomic romantic quest with one woman after another until he meets up with Ann, a single woman, closer to his own age, who immediately and unexpectedly captures his heart.
Walter Matthau played Charley and Glenda Jackson was Ann. Art Carney and Richard Benjamin were cast as friends and doctors who work with Walter. Max Shulman and Julius Epstein wrote the screenplay.
Jump ahead to 1979 and we find House Calls on the television schedule. The writers/creators are still Julius Epstein and Max Shulman. The same four top characters are featured but I thought it was interesting that only three of them got new names. Instead of Charley Nichols, we now have Wayne Rogers as Charley Michaels, Lynn Redgrave took on the role of Ann Anderson in place of Ann Atkinson. Charley’s coworkers are Amos Weatherby played by David Wayne where the original character was Amos Willoughby but Benjamin’s Norman Solomon role is now Normon Solomon, just one vowel change played by Ray Butenika. If there is a meaning behind the names, I never learned about it. Charley and Normon are the Hawkeye and Trapper of the hospital community and Willoughby is the senior doctor who tries to reign them in and doesn’t fire them only because they’re such good doctors.
In this version of the story, Charley and Ann are dating. He’s a surgeon at a San Francisco hospital and she is the new administrative assistant. He doesn’t like to conform to rules, while she insists on it, so while they are dating in their personal life, they often butt heads in the work life.
Redgrave and Rogers had a great chemistry and apparently the relationship of the three doctors provided a lot of funny situations. Providing additional humor were practical head nurse Bradley played by Aneta Corsaut, an older but enthusiastic candy striper Mrs. Phipps played by Deedy Peters, and everyone’s favorite character to hate, Conrad Peckler (Mark Taylor), the executive who was trying to bring order to the hospital.
Fans and critics liked the show; Redgrave was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but lost the Emmy to Isabel Sanford for The Jeffersons in 1981.
CBS scheduled the show for Monday nights after MASH, Rogers’ previous show. Its competition was Monday Night Football/Baseball on ABC and The Monday Night Movie on NBC. The show stayed on Monday nights for its final two years up against Flamingo Road on ABC and depending on the time of year, Monday Night Football or Dynasty on NBC. The first season it was in the top 20; the second year, it jumped to the top ten and the third season it was in the top 30.
During season three, Lynn Redgrave left the show. There is some confusion as to why she left. Universal Television claimed there was a dispute about her salary; Redgrave insisted it was because the studio would not allow her to breastfeed her baby between takes.
Her leave was explained on the show by Charley reading a letter out loud to the staff that she had gone back to England to marry her former husband. After more than two years of the relationship developing between Ann and Charley, I’m guessing that the audience didn’t buy the abrupt ending of their romance. Sharon Gless was brought in as Jane Jeffries who develops a similar relationship with Charley. I’m also assuming that fans weren’t thrilled to think Charley would jump right into a new relationship with Ann’s replacement and the chemistry just wasn’t the same. The network cancelled the show after season three even though it was still in the top 25.
In an interview on “Pop Goes the Culture,” Rogers discussed the show. He said that he loved his time on House Calls. He related that the pilot had been filmed with another actor and for whatever reason, they needed to replace him and called Rogers to see if he was willing to take over the role.
He said he truly enjoyed working with Redgrave and she was very gifted. He wasn’t sure how much of her firing had to do with the baby demands and how much was subterfuge for more money, but she was managed by her husband at the time and the entire situation backfired. Rogers especially loved her use of language, and they would sometimes improvise tongue twisters into the script.
He said like MASH, the show took a serious subject and turned it on its head. One of his favorite episodes had to do with medical marijuana. The older Willoughby was growing pot in the hospital for his patients’ use. He said it was a very funny episode. Rogers wrote two episodes and directed three of them. He talked about one of the shows he wrote, “Institutional Food” which he took a different take on hospital food which was always stereotyped as bad. In this situation, the hospital had a Mexican chef whom everyone liked. He didn’t have a green card and was getting ready to be deported, so the hospital staff was trying to come up with a solution. Finally, Charley decides to adopt this man as his son so he could continue to cook for them.
Rogers was very upset they took the show off the air. They were currently the eleventh most popular show when it was cancelled. He said he wrote a letter to the head of the network programming and to Bill Paley to protest. Paley invited him to lunch in his private quarters but refused to put the show back on the air.
I did find several episodes of the show on YouTube but did not see the DVDs available. I have to admit I saw this show infrequently and never saw the original movie, so I will add that to my list of things to watch in the future. This one sounded like a fun show, but I guess if I’m going to watch Wayne Rogers as a doctor, I’d rather continue watching reruns of MASH. It makes you wonder how long the show would have lasted if the network had not fired Redgrave.
Although the Rat Pack have all passed on, their influence still surrounds us. We can listen to Frank Sinatra’s music channel on Sirius. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies still play late at night. Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford can both be seen on a variety of sitcom reruns. One member we don’t see as often is Joey Bishop. While he is not as well known as the other friends, he actually was the only one of the group who starred in his own sitcom.
Two series went by the name “The Joey Bishop Show.” One was a sitcom and aired from 1961-1965, producing 125 episodes. For most of the run, Joey played a talk show host named Joey Barnes. The other show was an actual talk show that he hosted which ran from 1967-1969 and produced 682 episodes.
This blog looks at the sitcom created by Danny Thomas and Louis F. Edelman specifically for Joey Bishop. Danny served as executive producer, and the show was filmed at Desilu Studios before a live audience. When it debuted in 1961, it was filmed in black and white. One episode was shot in color and then the second and third seasons followed suit. NBC canceled the show after season three and CBS picked it up but filmed that season in black and white again. I imagine fans of the show weren’t happy to go from color to gray tones again; it would be like visiting Oz and then being sent back to Kansas.
Like The Andy Griffith Show, the pilot was an episode of the Danny Thomas Show. Joey played Joey Mason who was an incompetent public relations staffer. Danny arrives in Los Angeles exhausted but has no place to stay and is forced to sleep at Joey’s house with his parents and his two sisters, the younger one being Stella, an aspiring actress played by Marlo Thomas.
Before airing the next fall, the pilot had some revisions. Now Joey’s last name was Barnes. His father was dropped from the cast but two family members were added: a younger brother named Larry (Warren Berlinger) and a brother-in-law Frank (Joe Flynn) who was married to Betty (Virginia Vincent), the older sister. His mother continued to be played by Madge Blake who would go on to play Aunt Harriet on Batman.
Joey continued his public relations career and supports his family. The secretary at the PR firm, Barbara (Nancy Hadley) is his girlfriend. A lot of the plots revolve around family members taking advantage of Joey’s influence which they think is significant but is really almost nonexistent.
The show didn’t do well in the ratings, so it was retooled once again. Betty, Frank, and Barbara were all dropped from the show. The series was renewed for a second season, but the show would change its format again.
From season two on, Bishop became the host of a New York City talk show. The cast from the first season disappeared altogether in this fourth reincarnation. Abby Dalton plays Joey’s wife Ellie. The couple now live in a posh apartment building and, at the end of the second season, they have a baby boy. Hilda (Mary Treen) is the Barnes’ maid and baby nurse, and she often trades insults with Joey similar to the banter Florence and George had on The Jeffersons a decade later. The Jillsons (Joe Besser and Maxine Semon) are the superintendents of the building. Like Howard’s mother on The Big Bang, Maxine is heard but not seen. Guy Marks played Freddie, Joey’s manager.
There were some rumors that Joe Flynn had been let go the prior season because he was too popular; this would mean that Bishop was so insecure that he was willing to totally revamp his show to get rid of one character. That doesn’t seem to make sense. However, Cynthia Lowry’s column in The Evening Independent from September of 1963 reported that “Actor’s feuds can be very fierce. Joe Flynn, who now plays the sarcastic Captain Binghamton in McHale’s Navy still is so annoyed with The Joey Bishop Show that he doesn’t even mention it in his list of acting credits – although he included brief appearances on Hawaiian Eye, Ozzie and Harriet, and The Eddie Fisher Show. Flynn played a sharp-tongued ne’er do well brother-in-law during the first year of the Bishop comedy, a role that was swept away with a lot of others when the series was completely revamped.”
One review for the second season by Bob Thomas, AP Movie-TV Writer in the Ocala Star-Banner from August of 1962 stated:
“About the only resemblance between last season’s Joey Bishop show and the coming season’s is the name. It’s still The Joey Bishop Show, NBC having vetoed the comedian’s suggestion to call it The New Joey Bishop Show. Bishop fans may be startled to find their hero is no longer a press agent but a late-night television comic. Furthermore, he has jettisoned his mother, bless her heart, for a curvy wife. And he has acquired a whole new bunch of pals. That Joey was able to make these changes is one the minor miracles of television. Just about everyone, Joey especially, agreed that something was wrong with last season’s shows. When a series pulls a wrongo, it is usually yanked at the first sign of spring. But the series had somehow managed to best its competition on ABC and CBS and rack up an impressive rating. So, when Joey promised a clean sweep in format for the next season, NBC went along. I found Joey in the midst of his fourth show, and absolutely happy – for him. That is, he smiled every 15 minutes. I asked what went wrong the first season. ‘I showed up,’ he replied. But on a more analytical basis, he continued: ‘We did many things wrong. We didn’t have enough time to prepare. We violated a very basic concept in comedy. When you have a clever comedian -and in modesty I think I am-you surround him with funny people. When you have a funny comedian, you surround him with clever people. I made the mistake of working with clever people,’ he said. ‘Now I am working with funny people – Guy Marks, who is a bright young comedian; Joe Besser, who can get laughs just walking on stage; and Abby Dalton from the ‘Hennessy Show, a brilliant talent.’”
Another review a few weeks later agreed: “Joey Bishop also returned to NBC – on Saturday night. This season he is more poised, more famous, and a successful established night club comedian. He also picked up a wife on the show. The first show involved one of those typical newlywed situations that television situation comedies specialize in. High point of the show, however, was an imitation by Guy Marks, who plays Joey’s manager, of a flamingo. Don’t ask how they managed to get that in, but it was very funny! —-”
Once again there was talk of feuding between the star and a cast member, this time Guy Marks, because he was receiving great reviews. Marks was around for the first 18 episodes and when he left, Corbett Monica came on board as Larry Corbett, Joey’s head writer.
The Montreal Gazette in January of 1963 featured an article by Dorothy Kilgallen that explained, “It’s no secret that the parting between Joey Bishop and Guy Marks was far from friendly, but no one revealed that they were close to the fisticuffs stage.” Some cast members sided with Marks. Other cast members claimed Joey was not egotistical and wanted everyone to succeed. I was not able to determine whose version was closer to the truth, but it is not surprising that the show didn’t last as long as it could have between constant cast changes and in-fighting on the set.
There were also some controversies regarding the writing on the show. In the book Sitcom Writers Talk Shop by Paula Finn, Irma and Austin Kalish who wrote for many great sitcoms in the sixties and seventies were interviewed. She asked the pair if they ever recycled stories for show. They responded no, and continued with this story:
“IK: We were once writing The Joey Bishop Show, and we went in to pitch shows to the story editor.
AK: We pitched five shows to him.
IK: And he said, ‘Those sound like good ideas, but you know, I have to pitch them to Joey first.’ And then our agent called and told us he got word that Joey didn’t like any of those ideas. Fine.
AK: Five weeks later–week after week after week after week after week–
IK: Our ideas came on.
AK: Our ideas were stolen. Eventually that guy, the story editor on The Joey Bishop Show, came to us for a job. Needless to say, what goes around comes around.”
Another great writer, Joel Rapp, shared another story about this series. “We had a contract for six Joey Bishop Shows and we wrote the first one, and then we went to watch the taping. And there were about three words of our script left in what they finally shot. We asked the producer what happened, and he said ‘Joey got hold of the script, and he changed everything.’ But we still got the writer credit, which was fine. So then we wrote a second script, and the same thing happened. So for the third script, we turned in thirty-six blank pages, and we were fired. And it was fine with us. We were making plenty of money and had other jobs.”
Of course, many guest stars appeared on the show as themselves being interviewed by Joey, including The Andrews Sisters, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Willie Davis, Don Drysdale, Robert Goulet, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jack Paar, and Andy Williams.
Other guest stars who appeared on the show in roles other than themselves included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Frank Cady, Jackie Coogan, Nancy Kulp, Sue Ane Langdon, Howard McNear, Barbara Stanwyck, and Dawn Wells.
The theme song was also axed from the first season. “Sometimes I’m Happy” by Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans was exchanged for “Joey” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Huesen.
During the third season, one episode was filmed but never shown. John F. Kennedy was a friend of the Rat Pack. On November 15, 1963 Vaughn Meader, who often impersonated the President, was filmed in an episode as the impersonator of President Kennedy. A week later the assassination in Dallas occurred, and the episode was never seen live or in syndication. Most of the sources I consulted could never determine if the episode had been archived or destroyed.
Following all the changes, the ratings had increased during season two but season three saw lower ratings once again, and NBC decided not to renew the show. At the same time, Danny Thomas decided not to return for a twelfth season in his show, so CBS picked up Joey’s show. However, the show went up against the much-loved Bonanza, and the ratings never recovered, so CBS then canceled the show after the fourth season.
Chuck Rothman, who wrote a blog about the show May 28, 2017 on blogspot.com, described it as “filled with gentle comedy. The jokes may have worn a little thin, but the stories hold up surprisingly well. Barnes is a decent guy with a sense of humor and Bishop’s relaxed and subtle style—he never appeared to work to be funny—was charming to watch.”
Another viewer on imdb wrote that “personally, I failed to see the humor of the situations in this show that centered around a dull, middle-aged man who was still living with his mother . . . who was repeatedly being fired from his job.”
Obviously, they were describing two different versions of the show, but there certainly was a difference of opinion.
If you never had a chance to watch the show, Antenna TV began airing it in 2017; the network even transferred the first season’s 35mm film to a more modern technology so it can also be aired. Currently, you can view the show on Antenna TV at 7-8 am (EST) weekdays and 3-4 am (EST) Saturdays.
I have watched a few of the shows on Antenna TV and enjoyed them. All the episodes I was able to watch were during the final three seasons, but it would be interesting to catch a couple from the first year and compare them.
For some reason, the group including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr. have been referred to the Rat Pack since the 1960s. The original rat pack was coined by Lauren Bacall about a group who gathered at her home whom she referred to as a pack of rats. The group we know as the Rat Pack preferred to call themselves the Clan or the Summit. Whatever they chose to call themselves, they had a hip, cool aura.
When one of the members of the group was scheduled to perform at Las Vegas, another one or two of the Clan would often show up as well. Because concert goers knew this, their shows tended to sell out. The Sands marquee promoted the possibility during one of Dean Martin’s shows when they put up “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY.”
I thought it would be fun to look at
the Rat Pack on television and see how much influence this group had. Let’s
start with Old Blue Eyes.
his film career in the 1940s. In 1953 he had one of his most famous roles in From Here to Eternity. I was surprised
to learn that he began appearing on television in the mid-1950s as well. He
showed up in The Colgate Comedy Hour
in 1954, The Producer’s Showcase in
1955, and The Thin Man in 1958.
In the 1970s
we find Frank showing up on Laugh-In
for several appearances.
He also sang
a few lullabies on Make Room for
Granddaddy, Danny Thomas’ revival of his hit show Make Room for Daddy from the 1950s. I was amazed at the talent of
actors who guest starred on the reboot considering the short time it was on the
air, but that is a topic for a future blog. On this episode, he bumps into
Danny. His wife Kathy is not happy Danny is bringing home a guest for dinner on
“hamburger night” but then she learns it’s Frank. He sings “All the Way” and
“Baa Baa Black Sheep” for Danny’s grandson, Michael.
Jumping ahead a decade, we find Frank’s last two television roles, one as himself and one as a New York cop.
Frank had met
Tom Selleck in Hawaii on one of his trips. In 1987 Frank appeared as Michael
Doheny, a retired police sergeant on Selleck’s show, Magnum PI. Frank and his entourage traveled to Hawaii (although he
worked for scale) and took over a floor at The Colony Surf in Diamond Head. In
this episode he returns to help find the men who kidnapped his granddaughter.
There were plans for Sinatra to return in season eight as well but Selleck cut
back on the number of episodes he was filming, and the show was never written.
In 1989 Sinatra showed up on Who’s the Boss as himself. Angela is invited to an exclusive party, but she gets waylaid by a work issue. Mona and Tony decide to take the tickets, but they can’t get in when they get there and then Angela shows up, which results in all three of them being thrown out of the gala. As Frank is showing up to sing, Tony gets to meet him and tell him he is his idol.
Not surprisingly Dean’s first appearance on television was on Make Room for Daddy in 1958. He portrayed himself. Danny calls on Dean to help him out with his daughter Terry who has been not very nice to a boy at school who likes her. Danny learns she is ignoring the boy because she has a crush on Dean. The plan works, and she and Donald get together.
During the same year, Dean shows up on The Phil Silvers Show. Bilko (Silvers) is sent to Yucca Flats to work on a nuclear test program. Ritzik is amazed by one of the scientist’s machines. They skip the base and head for Las Vegas, so Rupert can demonstrate his gambling skills. Dean Martin is an unnamed gambler they run into.
In 1964 Martin got on the western bandwagon, appearing in Rawhide. Martin is stalking Hispanic cattlemen. His wife wants him to drop the assignment and retire to her family’s plantation with her, but he refuses, and she seeks help from Gil Favor, the boss of a never-ending cattle drive.
We see Martin
pop up on a Bob Hope special in 1968 and a Red Skelton show in 1970.
In 1978 Martin made an appearance on a show that surprised me: Charlie’s Angels. Martin plays the owner of the Tropicana Casino who hires the Angels to investigate several suspicious deaths that he thinks are part of a plot to make him think he’s going crazy. This was a two-part season opener and instead of singing, Martin got to display his magic skills. Naturally, he becomes romantically involved with one of the Angels, Sabrina played by Kate Jackson.
Dean’s last appearance was in the show Vega$
in 1979 as himself.
Bishop’s first role was not much of a stretch. He played a
comedian on RichardDiamond in 1959. Bishop’s plays Joey
Kirk and hires Diamond to determine who is following him and why, leading to a complicated
He appeared in the DuPont
Show of the Month in 1960 and The
Dick Powell Theater in 1963.
Like most of the Rat Pack, Bishop made an appearance on Make Room for Daddy in 1961. As Joey
Mason, he helps out Danny. Danny has flown from the east coast to the west
coast and took two sleeping pills. However, there are four conventions in town
and his assistant forgot to make him a reservation.
In 1965 he is Fred Jackson on an episode of Valentine’s Day starring Tony Franciosa
and Jack Soo about a young eligible bachelor who lives with his valet, a
poker-playing con artist who saved his life while they were in the Army.
From 1961-1965, Joey stars in The Joey Bishop Show as Joey Barnes. Barnes is the host of a talk show. He has to deal with his personal and professional life as a celebrity. A lot of guest stars show up playing themselves as guests on his show or friends of his. The show produced 125 episodes. I have recently been watching it on Antenna TV where it now is shown every morning.
In 1967, Joey had a cameo on Get Smart. Max and 99 are sent on an assignment to rescue Don
Carlos, the dictator of San Saludos. A general has imprisoned him and wants to
marry his daughter. Max and 99 try to disguise themselves as flamenco dancers.
When they are also thrown in jail, a guard, played by Bishop, attempts to bribe
the firing squad.
In the 1970s we find Joey on Chico and the Man in 1976. He plays an inept burglar and when Ed
doesn’t press charges, every lowlife crook appears at the business.
In 1981 Bishop appears as Dr. Burton on Trapper John MD.
In 1985 Bishop again takes on the role of a comedian on Hardcastle and McCormick. That same year he also played another comedian on Murder She Wrote.
shows were very popular in the early days of television. Lawford appeared in
quite a few of these shows from 1953-1965.
In 1954 he took on the role of Bill Hastings on Dear Phoebe. The show was on the air for two years, resulting in 32 episodes. Hastings works for a daily newspaper in a large city. He becomes the author of a lonely hearts column and advises his readers as “Phoebe” while trying to deal with his own issues in his personal life.
From 1957-1959, he was Nick Charles on the television version of The Thin Man. The show was very popular with 723 episodes filmed. Similar to the films, Nick marries Nora and lives in a luxurious Park Avenue apartment in New York. He was previously a private detective and many of his underworld friends get him involved in mysteries he has to solve.
appeared as himself on an episode of Jack Benny’s show in 1961.
He also played himself on The Patty Duke Show in 1965. Patty is selected to find a star to perform at the high school prom. Sammy Davis Jr. also guest stars on the episode.
Sammy and Peter enjoyed working together because they guest starred on an
episode of The Wild Wild West in 1966.
Lawford is a wealthy ranch owner and Davis is a hired hand Jeremiah.
While Bishop showed up on Get Smart, Lawford chose the more realistic I Spy in 1967.
Sinatra, he also appeared on Laugh-In
but must have enjoyed it more because he was on ten different episodes.
the 1970s, Lawford shows up on a variety of television show genres. He would be
on the western The Virginian in 1971,
Born Free about Elsa the lion in
1974, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, the bizarre comedy High Cliffe Manor, the crime drama Hawaii Five-0, the dramady Supertrain, and The Jeffersons.
In addition, he was featured on Bewitched in 1972. Lawford played Harrison Woolcott, a client of Darrin and Larry’s. Sam’s cousin Serena decides she wants to date him and try the mortal life for a while.
He made several appearances during seasons four and five of The Doris Day Show. As Dr. Peter Lawrence, he begins a romance with Doris in 1972-1973.
Sammy probably appeared in the most television shows. Like
Peter, he began in drama shows and guest starred in several episodes of General Electric Theater.
He then appeared in The
Lawman in 1961, Frontier Circus,Cain’s Hundred, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman,
and Hennessey in 1962.
In 1963 he was on Ben
Like the other Rat Pack actors, he was on Make Room for Daddy in 1963 and the
revival Make Room for Granddaddy in
As mentioned before, he guest starred in The Patty Duke Show in 1965 and The Wild Wild West in 1966, both with
In 1967, he showed up on I Dream of Jeannie as himself. Tony tries to get Sammy Davis Jr to sing for General Peterson’s party. When he is already booked, Jeannie tries to help by duplicating himself, so he can be in two places at one time.
Davis also took a role in The Beverly Hillbillies in 1969.
The same year he took on his first of three roles on Mod Squad. His first role was a black priest who becomes the target of a bad guy after the church suspends him. The hood is afraid he will reveal his confession now that he no longer is part of the church. The next episode he appeared on was in the role of Billy Lee Watson, a recovered drug addict. He runs a half-say house and is accused of rape of a man’s daughter who he has been trying to help. Her father accused Billy of the rape and after investigating, it turned out Billy was her actual father. The last episode of Mod Squad he appeared on in 1970 had Davis portraying Willie Rush and actor and friend of Linc’s. He says someone is trying to kill him.
The 1970s continued to be a productive time for Davis on television. He would go on to appear in The Name of the Game in 1970, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in 1972, nine episodes of Laugh-In, and like his friend Dean Martin, an episode of Charlie’s Angels in 1977. He plays himself on Charlie’s Angels. When he hosts a charity event that includes a celebrity look alike contest, an attempt is made to kidnap him. The Angels take on the job of his bodyguards and Bosley becomes his chauffeur.
The 1980s were also busy times for him. He appeared as
himself on several Norman Lear shows including Archie Bunker’s Place and The
Jeffersons. He also could be seen on Fantasy
Island, Pryor’s Place, Gimme a Break, The Cosby Show and Hunter
in the 1980s.
One thing that surprised me was his roles on One Life to Live and General Hospital. I have seen a few stars like Carol Burnett who chose to appear on a soap opera. Davis had a recurring role on General Hospital; he didn’t seem to me to be the type of actor who would be interested in a soap opera, but he did receive an Emmy nomination for his role on General Hospital. Sammy was also nominated for an Emmy for his work on The Cosby Show.
While Joey Bishop hosted some of the Emmy Award shows, I
did not find any nominations for the other members of the Rat Pack.
Overall, I was surprised how extensive the television careers were for the Summit members. I think of them more in their performing or movie careers and did not expect them to see that they guest starred in so many shows and starred in some of their own television series. Check out some of these shows or make a batch of popcorn and watch the ensemble in the original Ocean’s Eleven.
During my research for one of my blogs, I encountered a reference about Webster. I was surprised to learn that Webster was on the air for six years. It was a show I had watched a bit in the 1980s but have rarely seen since then.
Webster chronicles how life changes for three people when a young boy is adopted by his godfather, a former NFL player, and his new wife. Webster has lost his parents, and George was his father’s best friend. The show ran for 6 seasons, resulting in 150 episodes.
Set in Chicago, Webster’s (Emmanuel Lewis) parents are killed in a car accident. George Papadopolis (Alex Karras) is retired and recently married to Katherine (Susan Clark), who comes from a wealthy family and has few domestic skills. Katherine is a consumer advocate in the first season but later works as a family psychologist. George is now a sportscaster at a local television station. Karras and Clark were married in real life also. Both of them had acting roles in movie and television series before they starred in Webster. Karras was also a favorite Tonight Show guest. Everyone seemed to like him. Former teammate Greg Barton described his humor: “He is one of the funniest men I have ever been around.”
After living in a high-rise apartment that was burned down during one of Webster’s science experiments, the family moved to a large Victorian house which is on Chicago’s Gold Coast. In 2016 the Chicago home was for sale for 9.5 million dollars.
Webster called his “dad” George and his “mom” Ma’am. When she asked Webster why he was so formal with her, he explained that the name was as close as he could get to Mom without replacing his birth mother.
In addition to these three characters, the show featured Katherine’s secretary and confidante Jerry (Henry Polic II) and Webster’s uncle Phillip (Ben Vereen), who doesn’t approve of Webster’s adoption by a white couple.
We also got to know many of Webster’s classmates. During the second season, George’s father, George Sr. (Jack Kruschn) appears. He would make more regular appearances in 1985.
After Karras and Clark married, they started a production company called Georgian Bay Ltd. ABC wanted to create a romantic comedy series for them. After signing the couple, ABC’s programming chief Lew Erlicht saw a Burger King commercial featuring Emmanuel Lewis and wanted to develop a show for him as well.
With the fall schedule quickly filling up, it was decided to combine the two shows into a new one, Then Came You. In September 1983 when the show premiered, the title had become Webster. After much infighting among the creators, the show focused both on the romantic angle of George and Katherine as well as Webster’s plots.
The show was often compared to Diff’rent Strokes, where a white family adopted two black brothers. Personally, I found Diff’rent Strokes grating and predictable. I did not enjoy many of the shows or the spinoffs developed during this time, including All in The Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, and Facts of Life. I think Webster was well written and the dialogue was more sophisticated. Webster was a little boy, but he was very intelligent, and the writers gave him credit for that.
Karras became a surrogate father to Lewis. The relationships between the major cast members were very close. When Karras passed away, Lewis said “He was a giant of a man with a big heart, a great sense of humor, and very grounded outlook on life. He might have towered over you . . . but he had a knack of being able to get down to your level without being small about it.”
The show sustained high ratings the first three years, but in season four, they dropped significantly. After landing in the top 30, it plummeted to 46. ABC made the decision to drop the show. Webster would continue two more years in syndication but never achieved the ratings of those first three years. In 1989, Emmanuel was outgrowing the show and he was beginning to get bored playing a younger child while in real life he had already graduated from high school.
One fun fact about Webster is that Jerry Seinfeld was employed as a writer for exactly one week. None of his material made it to the air.
Webster seems to be one of those forgotten shows from the 1980s. While it appeared in reruns for a short time, I don’t hear much about the show anymore. It was heart-warming and tackled both social issues occurring at the time and private family issues that adoptive parents would face. George and Katherine had a great relationship, but it was different from most parents on television. They were equals in every way. Webster assumed an equal footing with them, even though he was their child. George was a nurturing and caring father, while Katherine often provided the practicality that Webster needed to learn life lessons. You can currently watch Webster Sunday mornings on Antenna TV.
As Black History Month comes to an end, I wanted to look at the early years of television featuring African American characters. I don’t know if young people today realize how much culture has changed in the past fifty years. While there are a lot of negative changes that have occurred in the movie and television industry, there have been a lot of positive changes as well.
It’s hard for young adults to realize today how different things are. When I was growing up in the sixties, married couples on television had twin beds; you could not say “pregnant” on the air; black people and white people were not friends, and certainly did not date or marry; the “jobs wanted” ads in the newspaper were divided into jobs for men and jobs for women; and if a married woman wanted to join the armed forces, her husband or father had to sign a letter giving his approval.
Sometimes we get so caught up in how far we are from the journey’s end, we forget to appreciate how far we have traveled. Looking at the current television schedule we see a variety of shows about capable women. While certainly racism and gender discrimination exist, most people don’t think twice about whether a lead character is a man or a woman; is black, white, or Asian; or single or married.
Just a quick review of shows on the air reveal complex, intelligent characters who are African American. We see this in Black-ish, This Is Us, Empire, Scandal, House of Lies, Last Man Standing, and Gray’sAnatomy, just to name a few. This was far from the reality of early television.
We often think of that era as the golden age of television, but honestly, it was the white age of television.
In 1950, two shows debuted with main characters who were black: Amos ‘N Andy and Beulah. A radio transplant, Amos ‘N Andy dealt mostly with Kingfish’s schemes to gain wealth, often at the expense of his friends. Beulah also got its start on radio where she was a character in Fibber McGee and Molly. She worked for a well-to-do middle class white couple with one son. Both of these shows were demeaning and stereotypical. In 1953, they were both yanked from the air due to NAACP protests.
Unfortunately, it would take almost 20 years before another show would feature a black character as a star. In 1968, Julia debuted. Julia, played by Diahann Carroll, was a black woman with a young son Corey (Marc Copage). Her husband is killed in Vietnam and she moves to LA to start a new life in her nursing career. Like Tom Corbett on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, she is raising a son; like Doris Day she is a working mother; and like Ann Marie on That Girl, she has a fabulous wardrobe. She is hired at Astrospace Industries, an industrial-health office where she works with Dr. Chegley (Lloyd Nolan). Her life is normal. She goes to work, takes care of her son, and goes on a few dates, but the concept of an African American, or a woman, starring in a show as the sole breadwinner, intelligent and fashionable, was not normal for the times. The show was on for three seasons until 1971.
Julia was a controversial show at the time, but it scored high in the ratings and became a popular series. I think it gets a lot of unfair criticism today. The show gets complaints because during the time of the Watts riots, sit-ins, and so much racial unrest, it portrayed Julia living a fairly normal life. I think people forget how groundbreaking it was to have a working woman or a black character star in a show. I think the fact that she was able to live a “normal” life gives even more credit to not bowing to stereotypes of the late sixties. It’s like criticizing someone who is just learning to walk for not running and doing handstands. They might be small steps, but they are steps going forward. I am one of those people who actually prefer not to see too much “real life” in sitcoms. Honestly, I watch them to escape real life.
I also wanted to mention a few other shows that were featuring black characters in their cast during the time Julia was on the air: Hogan’s Heroes, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Barney Miller.
Hogan’s Heroes had a diverse cast, including Ivan Dixon as Sgt. James Kinchloe, striving to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. The Mary Tyler Moore Show included a quirky news staff including weatherman Gordy Howard played by John Amos. Barney Miller centered around a police department made up of personnel who each had their own dysfunctions. One of those members was Lt. Ron Harris played by Ron Glass. Each of these shows quietly featured black characters. The races of any of the characters could easily have been switched during an episode and the character would not change. It was just real people living real lives and some of them happened to be white and some black. After these creative and well-written shows, I prefer to ignore the Norman Lear era of shows. They may have their merits, but I couldn’t stand All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, or Good Times. The Jeffersons was tolerable, but I would not choose to watch it either. In the mid-1980s, television began to get more diverse.
Don’t get me wrong. Things are far from perfect in the world of television and movies, but we have made a lot of progress. We have a lot of work to do, but just think how many choices Diahann Carroll would have today if she wanted to develop a television series. She could pick any career she wanted, including the military without anyone’s else’s approval; she could marry a white man and not sleep in twin beds; she could announce on the air she was pregnant—small steps but 5280 small steps turn into a mile. So, let’s devote one day to appreciate the hundreds of miles we have come before getting too caught up despairing about the hundred we still have to go.
February has finally arrived. Some of us are getting a bit tired of winter, so this is a popular month for travel to a warmer destination. If you aren’t able to physically get away, stay home and watch the February Sweeps, the only time you’re guaranteed new episodes of your favorite show for a month straight. This week I decided to look at sitcoms set in hotels or resorts. I did not discuss Fantasy Island or The Love Boat because I thought we could talk about them another time.
Based on the length of many of these shows, the hotel business is a tough one to be successful in. Let’s look at a bunch of shows that didn’t last too long.
Stanleywas a show starring Buddy Hackett and his girlfriend played by Carol Burnett that aired in 1956. Stanley ran a newsstand in the lobby of a New York City hotel. The hotel owner was played by Paul Lynde. The show was cancelled in March of 1957, supporting the philosophy that no news is good news.
Happy starred George and Gracie’s son, Ronnie Burns. Ronnie was married to a woman played by Yvonne Lime and they were co-owners and managers of the Desert Palm, a ritzy resort. Included in the cast was their Uncle Charlie and the co-owner played by Doris Packer. Happy was their son who commented on what was going on, sort of like Family Guy’s Stewie. It was a summer entry in 1960, but 9 months later it gave birth to a cancellation which made the cast not Happy. I don’t know why, but apparently viewers could accept a talking horse or a talking car, but not a talking baby.
Another show that began as a summer replacement was Holiday Lodge in 1961. Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, two comedians from Canada, played social directors at a New York state hotel. They tried to provide entertainment but always ran into trouble, including being taken off the air after a few episodes.
The Bill Dana Show was interestingly based on the character Jose Jiminez developed by Dana for the Steve Allen Show and later brought to the Danny Thomas Show. In 1963 The Bill Dana Show portrayed Jiminez as a bellhop at the New York City Park Central Hotel and the show centered on him trying to get used to life outside Mexico. Often his dream sequences took him into bizarre situations. The most interesting fact about this show might be that the house detective was played by Don Adams who went on to star in Get Smart. Jimeniz’s dream became a nightmare when the show was cancelled after 42 episodes.
One of the most controversial shows to air on television in the 1970s was Hot L Baltimoredebuting in the fall of 1975. Many stations refused to air the show because it was lewd and racy. Norman Lear, the producer behind All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons developed the concept based on a play. The cast was made up of a desk clerk, his girlfriend, the manager, a hooker, an unemployed waitress, a dying man, a gay couple, and an eccentric woman. After four months, the waitress was not the only one unemployed because the show was done.
The Last Resort was developed by MTM in 1979, the company that created The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis. The resort, set in the Catskills in upper New York, included a bunch of college students working their way through school. It featured a stereotyped crew including the brilliant premed student, a bookworm, a snob, an overweight clumsy guy, the pastry chef who left her wealthy husband to pursue her career, a Japanese chef, and a maitre’d who ran the place like a drill sergeant. It was cancelled after three episodes. Retooled, it came back in December only to be finished for good in March when the last resort of The Last Resort was no more.
Checking Inmust be in the running for the shortest show to appear on television. In 1980, Marla Gibbs, playing Florence the maid on The Jeffersons, got her own show, transferring to a hotel in New York City where she was the head housekeeper. She answered to a snobby manager played by Larry Linville who would later become Frank Burns on M*A*S*H. The rest of the cast included an assistant, a house detective, a maintenance supervisor, and a bellboy. After several weeks, the hotel was shut down and Florence went back to working for The Jeffersons.
The Golden Girls was one of the most beloved shows in television, but I’m guessing few people remember The Golden Palace which debuted in 1992. After Dorothy got married, the other three characters decide to invest in a hotel in Miami. Only two employees are left at the hotel: a manager and a chef. After 24 shows, no one was left at the hotel.
In 1999 Payne, a remake of the British show Fawlty Towers hit the air. Set in a California inn, Whispering Pines, the hotel was owned by Royal Payne and his wife Constance. It went on the air in March. At the end of April, the network ended its Payne by taking two aspirins and cancelling the show.
Compared to some of the shows, Whoopi! might have seemed successful, lasting an entire season. Set in the Lamont Hotel in New York City, a one-hit wonder musician played by Whoopi Goldberg decides to put her money into a hotel and run it the way she sees fit. She has an assistant from Iran, a brother who is a conservative Republican, and his girlfriend who is white but acts more African American than the black members of the hotel. Of course, these three characters give her much controversy to deal with. The network, acting as referee, blew the whistle and cancelled the entire thing after one year.
In 2008 Do Not Disturb debuted. If you missed it, don’t feel bad. It debuted on Fox and featured The Inn, a hip Manhattan hotel. The staff is not as competent as they appear to their guests. The manger is arrogant, the head of human resources is loud and tactless, the front desk clerk is an aging model who does not want to be a desk clerk or older, the reservations clerk is a famous musician wannbe, and the head of housekeeping has problems at home. The network, not wanting to disturb the viewing public, pulled the plug after three shows. Larry, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, would go on to star in ModernFamily in 2009.
Before you begin to think shows about hotels are doomed, let’s check in with four successful shows that knew how to make a profit.
From 1996-2001The Jamie Foxx Show on WB featured Jamie Foxx as a musician who moves to California to work at his aunt and uncle’s (played by Ellia English and Garett Morris) hotel, King’s Tower. He has two co-workers played by Christopher B. Duncan and “Fancy” played by Garcelle Beauvais. He is interested in Fancy, but she doesn’t feel the same until the final two seasons when they become engaged. The show aired 100 episodes before the network finally got reservations.
Disney’s Suite Life of Zach and Cody set in the Tipton Hotel ran from 2005-2008. The twins lived in the hotel because their mother was the lounge singer. Somewhat like Eloise at the Plaza, the boys got into mischief and interacted with other employees including the wealthy heiress London Tipton, the candy counter salesgirl Maddie Fitzpatrick, and the manger Marion Moseby. In 2008 the show sailed off, literally, and became Suite Life on Deck running until 2011.
With 184 episodes, Newhartdebuted in 1982. With its quirky cast of characters, it became a big hit. Set in Vermont, Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who buys the hotel and runs it with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). Their handyman George Utley (Tom Poston) and their maid Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) make life both easier and more difficult at the inn. Later Dick becomes a local television celebrity working with Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) who marries Stephanie. Larry, (William Sanderson) his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss) and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad) are memorable characters. Darryl and Darryl never speak until the final episode. That finale has the best ending ever in a television series when Bob Newhart wakes up in bed, tells his wife he had a really weird dream, and we see the wife is Suzanne Pleshette, his wife Emily from The Bob Newhart Show in which he played a psychiatrist from 1972-78. This series delightfully captured the life in a small New England town until 1990.
While Newhart is hard to top, my favorite hotel sitcom is Petticoat Junction which featured the Bradley Girls from 1963-1970. Kate (Bea Benaderet) ran the hotel with her three daughters Billie Jo, (Jeannine Riley till 1965, Gunilla Hutton until 1966, and Meredith MacRae until 1970), Bobby Jo (Pat Woodell until 1965 and Lori Saunders through 1970, and Betty Jo (Linda Henning), along with her Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). The Shady Rest is near Hooterville, so we get to know a variety of town folk including Sam Drucker who runs the general store; Floyd and Charley, who run the Cannonball train; and Steve Elliott, crop duster, who is Billie Jo’s boyfriend first but later marries Betty Jo; and we run into the Ziffels and the Douglases from the show Green Acres. It’s a charming and heart-warming show loaded with loveable but zany characters. It ran for 222 episodes, even surviving the death of Bea Benaderet, who was replaced by Janet Craig (June Lockhart), a woman doctor who moves into the hotel. The amazing Charles Lane shows up throughout the series as Homer Bedloe, a railroad employee whose sole mission is shutting down the Cannonball.
If you can’t physically travel this month, take some time and watch a season or two of Newhart or Petticoat Junction, and you can still get away and experience life in a small-town hotel.
This week I was inspired by the blog “Once upon a screen . . .” to take a look at television pioneers who were born in 1917. (For some great articles on pop culture, movies, and television, check out her blog at aurorasginjoint.com.) Let’s get to know 17 of the stars who helped shape the direction of television during the golden age.
Herbert Anderson. Best known for his role as Henry Mitchell on Dennis the Menace, Anderson began his career making movies. He transitioned to television in 1953, appearing on 61 shows over the years. He appeared in episodes on such shows as Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, Manfrom U.N.C.L.E.,My Three Sons, Bewitched, and The Waltons. One of my favorites is the first season of The Brady Bunch. The kids are sick and both parents call a doctor. The girls were used to a woman played by Marion Ross while the boys always had a man, Anderson. After weighing factors to pick one of them, the family decides to keep both doctors. He died from a heart attack in 1994.
Carl Ballantine. Ballantine began his career as a magician and inspired many famous magicians since. He began working in Las Vegas and on television as a magician. Eventually he transferred to movie roles and after appearing in McHale’s Navy on the big screen, took on the same role of Lester Gruber on the television series. He went on to appear on 33 additional tv shows including That Girl, Laverne and Shirley, Trapper John MD, and Night Court. He passed away at his home in 2009.
Earl Bellamy. Earl Bellamy directed episodes for 101 different television shows. He is best known for TheLone Ranger and The Tales of Wells Fargo. He directed 82 episodes for Bachelor Father, one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. In the 1960s he specialized in sitcoms including That Girl,The Brady Bunch, ThePartridge Family, and My Three Sons while the 1970s saw him transition to dramas including MarcusWelby MD, The FBI,Medical Center, and Eight is Enough. In 2003 he passed away from a heart attack.
Ernest Borgnine. Best known of his Oscar-winning role of Marty in 1955, Ernest enlisted in the Navy in 1935 until 1941. In 1942 he re-enlisted and served until 1945. After doing some factory work, he decided to go to school to study acting and began his career on Broadway. He was also in the movie McHale’s Navy and went on to tackle the role in the television series. He loved working with Tim Conway and in later years they did the voices for Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in SpongeBobSquarePants. He appeared in 47 different shows over the years, including the series Airwolf which he starred in. Borgnine appeared in the final episode of ER which he won an Emmy for. He was married five times, including a 32-day marriage to Ethel Merman. His last marriage to Tova lasted 39 years. He died of kidney failure in 2012.
Raymond Burr. Best known as Perry Mason, Burr started his career on Broadway in the 1940s and then appeared in 50 films from 1946-1957. In 1956 he auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger, the DA in Perry Mason. He was told he could have the starring role if he lost about 60 pounds which he accomplished. He later starred in Ironside, another crime drama and appeared on a variety of other shows. Burr had many interests including raising and cross-breeding orchids; collecting wine, art, stamps and sea shells; reading; and breeding dogs. He was extremely generous, giving away much of his money over the years. He passed away from cancer in 1993.
Phyllis Diller. Known for her wild hair and clothing, Diller was one of the pioneering stand-up female comedians. She appeared in films in the 1940s, worked in radio in the 1950s, and began her stand-up career in 1955. Her first television appearance was in You Bet Your Life. She appeared in 40 shows including Batman, CHIPs, Full House, and The Drew Carey Show. She had her own show titled The Pruittsof Southampton, and in reruns The Phyllis Diller Show that ran from 1966-67. She recorded comedy albums in the 1960s, wrote several books during her career, was an accomplished pianist, performing with symphony orchestras across the US and taught herself painting which she continued throughout the 1960s and 70s. Her husband Fang was not real, but she used him in her comedy routines. She died of natural causes in 2012. My first memory of Diller was in the movie Boy Did I Dial a WrongNumber with Bob Hope which my parents took me to at the drive in.
Ross Elliott. A prolific actor on stage, film, and television, Elliott appeared in 184 different shows from sitcoms to westerns to medial dramas, all between 1951 and 1983. He passed away from cancer in 1999.
June Foray. One of the greatest voice actors ever, Foray has been active in the industry since she had her own radio show. She did off-air voices for many sitcoms including I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Jack Benny, Rawhide, Get Smart, Lost In Space, and Bewitched. She also appeared in more than 76 animated series. She is perhaps best known as Rocky in Rocky and Bullwinkle and as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Karen and other voices in Frosty the Snowman. Foray is still alive today.
Zsa Zsa Gabor. Unlike her sister Eva who became known as Lisa Douglas on Green Acres, Zsa Zsa seemed to make a career out of playing herself. Of the 80 appearances she made in film and television, 20 of them were as herself. She was a true celebrity. Crowned Miss Hungary in 1936, she came to the US in 1941 and began her career. She was known for her extravagant lifestyle and many marriages: 9 with 7 divorces (including one to Conrad Hilton) and 1 annulment.
Sid Melton. Known to most viewers today as handyman Alf Monroe on Green Acres, Melton began as a film star and went on to appear in 71 shows including Topper, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy,That Girl, Petticoat Junction, I Dream of Jeannie, and Empty Nest. He died from pneumonia in 2011.
Alice Pearce. Although her career was cut short due to illness, I included Alice Pearce because her role as Gladys Kravitz in so memorable. After spending her childhood in Europe, Pearce started on Broadway and after appearing in On the Town, she was brought to Hollywood to reprise her role in the movie version. She began specializing in comedy in the 1940s. In 1964 she turned down the role of Grandmama in The Addams Family and shortly after was offered the role of Gladys in Bewitched. She was already diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she began her role but didn’t tell anyone and was able to act for two seasons before she passed away from the disease. She received an Emmy for her work on Bewitched.
Gene Rayburn. One of the kings of game shows, Rayburn began his career as an actor, taking over for Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie when Van Dyke began his television show. While he was on numerous game shows as a panelist or host over the years, Rayburn is best known for Match Game which first ran from 1962-69. It was revived again in 1973 and took several formats in the following years. He died from heart failure in 1999.
Isabel Sanford. Best known as Louise Jefferson, she grew up in Harlem and performed in amateur nights at the Apollo Theatre. Her Broadway debut was in 1965. After appearing as a maid in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, she was cast by Norman Lear in All in the Family which led to the series TheJeffersons. When the show ended in 1985, she appeared in a variety of other shows until 2002. She passed away from natural causes in 2004.
Sidney Sheldon. A writer and producer, Sheldon created The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart, writing many of the scripts for all three series. After he turned 50, he began a career writing romantic suspense novels. He died from pneumonia in 2007.
Robert Sterling. A clothing salesman before getting into acting, Sterling was best known for his role as George Kerby in Topper from 1953-55. His wife, Anne Jeffreys played his wife in the show. From 1943-49 he was married to Ann Sothern. He appeared in 36 shows between 1951 and 1986. He passed away from natural causes in 2006.
Jesse White. While White was a hard-working character actor, he is best known for his commercials as the Maytag repairman from 1967-88. After appearing in films for many years, he transitioned to television in the 1950s. His daughter Carole Ita White also became an actress best known for Laverneand Shirley. White appeared in 113 shows, never receiving a regular series.
Jane Wyman. Wyman began working at Warner Brothers at age 16, claiming to be 19. Although she was a successful film star and began in television in 1955 with her own show, Jane Wyman Presents Fireside Theater, she is probably best known for her role on Falcon’s Crest from 1981-90 and her marriage to Ronald Reagan. She died in her sleep from natural causes in 2007.
These are just a handful of television mavericks that influenced television as we know it today. I was amazed at the variety of different talents each of these stars displayed. In comparing their television appearances, it’s surprising how many of them overlap and worked on the same shows. What I found most surprising was that Ballantine, Diller, Melton, Sanford, Sterling, White and White’s daughter all appeared on Love American Style while Bellamy, Borgnine, Burr, Diller, Gabor, Rayburn, Sanford, White, and Wyman all guest starred on The Love Boat. During my research, I ran across many shows that will become future blog topics.
Another fun fact about celebrating stars born in 1917 is that this week we are traveling to Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday who was also born in 1917. Happy Birthday Mamie.