Allan Melvin: What a Character!

We are winding down our blog series, “What A Character.” If you watched television between 1959 and 1989, you will definitely recognize this week’s character actor: Allan Melvin.

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

Melvin was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri, but he always said he grew up in New York City where his parents moved to not long after his birth. After high school, he attended Columbia University, studying journalism before joining the US Navy in WWII.

He married Amalia Sestero in 1944 and they were together for his entire life and had two children. Amalia was also an actress and Melvin met her when he attended an actor’s group that she helped start.

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

After being discharged from the Navy, Allan worked in the sound effects department of NBC Radio. He also had a nightclub act. He was on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio show which he won. His first television role was that of Corporal Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show. Melvin’s wife remembered that time fondly: “I think the camaraderie of all those guys made it such a pleasant way to work. They were so relaxed.”

After the show ended, Melvin was often typecast as a military character or the abrasive, but happy-go-lucky guy. Even when he was not a recurring character, he often had multiple appearances on a series.

Allan and Amalia moved their family to California, hoping for more television roles in the early sixties.

Throughout the sixties, Melvin was kept busy with television work, appearing on The Danny Thomas Show, The Bill Dana Show, Perry Mason, Lost in Space, Love American Style, and The Andy Griffith Show. He had two recurring roles: Art Miller on The Joey Bishop Show and Sol Pomerantz on the Dick Van Dyke Show.

Allan Melvin Bio
Photo: imayberry.com

He was often cast as the tough guy on The Andy Griffith Show, with eight appearances in all. Melvin discussed his time on the show and said “I always enjoyed doing the show. We had a lot of fun doing it, and they were a great bunch.”

From 1965-1969 you could find him on Gomer Pyle USMC as Sergeant Charlie Hacker.

As early as 1963, Melvin was doing voice work on The Flintstones.  His animation work would continue throughout his career and after about 1974, cartoon voices were his only gigs. One of his best-known roles is Magilla Gorilla.

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

I’m not sure why, but Melvin only appeared in one movie, although it was a good one.  He was the desk sergeant at the end of the Doris Day-Brian Keith film, With Six You Get Eggroll. A couple of Andy Griffith writers wrote the screenplay, and Howard Morris, known as Ernest T Bass, directed the film.

In the 1970s he was cast in his two most memorable roles.

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

He was Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend on The Brady Bunch. Sam owned a butcher shop and was an avid bowler. In a later movie, we learned that he finally made an honest woman of Alice. Ann B Davis said “Allan Melvin, neat guy, very tall. He was just a nice, open, big guy, and it was fun to play with him.”

He was also neighbor and friend of Archie Bunker as Barney Hefner on All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. Allan said it was a good experience and everyone’s input was welcome. Jason Wingreen, who played Harry the bartender on the show talked about Melvin in anther wordpress blog, classictvhistory (https://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/tag/allan-melvin/). When asked if he was the same in person as he was in character, Wingreen said, “He was more intelligent than that. Allan wrote little poems, little couplets of sorts, and they were very funny. Like limericks, but not quite limericks. Some of them were very intelligent and very, very funny. Never published. Allan and I became very close friends.”

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

Melvin also did a lot of commercial work.  You could see him pitching products from Sugar Frosted Flakes to Remington razors to Liquid Plumr. He was the plumber for Liquid Plumr for fifteen years.

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

In 2008, Melvin died from cancer.

Melvin certainly had a career to be proud of. One thing I never learned was when he decided that acting was the career he wanted. He became one of the most beloved and most-recognized character actors in the sixties and seventies–definitely a character worth celebrating.

Isabel Randolph, What a Character!

October is “What a Character,” blog series month, and we are taking a look at some of our favorite character actors. This blog features the wonderful Isabel Randolph.

Randolph was born in Chicago in 1889. After high school, Isabel began performing in regional theater throughout the Midwest until the mid-1930s. She married J.C. Ryan, a Chicago newspaperman, in 1917. Unfortunately, he passed away at a young age and she raised their two girls. She was the leading lady at the Princess Theater in Des Moines, Iowa. In a 2012 article, Ryan Ellett quoted Conrad Nagel as saying the Princess Theater “was recognized as one of the outstanding stock companies of the entire country, and is still referred to by some of the old timers as the best of them all.” Ralph Bellamy also spent time with the theater.

Actor Isabel Randolph Movies List, Isabel Randolph Filmography, Isabel  Randolph 10 Films
Photo: spicyonion.com

In the thirties, Randolph decided to try out radio. She was on the air on Fibber McGee and Molly from 1935-1943. She played a variety of roles but was best known for Mrs. Abigail Uppington, a society matron. During this time, she also was in several other soap opera-type shows. When the McGees moved their show to Hollywood, Isabel went to California with them where she took a chance at motion pictures.

Isabel specialized in the “grand dame” roles which continued into her film career. Of her 110 acting credits, 69 of them were for movies on the big screen, her first being in 1939 in The Women.

In 1953, she made the foray into television. Her first role was on The Dick Tracy Show in 1951, based on the popular comic strip.

The Missing Corpse by Albert Herman, Albert Herman, J. Edward Bromberg, Isabel  Randolph, Eric Sinclair | DVD | Barnes & Noble®

In 1952, she got her second role, and her first recurring role in a sitcom, when she was offered the part of neighbor Mrs. Boone in Meet Millie. Meet Millie was about Millie Bronson (Elena Verdugo), a secretary who lives with her mother (Florence Halop) in Queens. Her boss is JR Boone (Roland Winters) and she sometimes dates his son Johnnie (Ross Ford). Family friend and poet Alfred Prinzmetal (Marvin Kaplan) often drops by. We don’t hear about this show very often but it was on for four years and produced 124 episodes. 

Randolph did a variety of work in television throughout the rest of the fifties. She did a lot of theater programs, westerns, and also comedies including Burns and Allen, The Ann Sothern Show, December Bride, and The Bob Cummings Show.

Isabel Randolph, who played Mrs.... - Masquers Club of Hollywood | Facebook
Photo: facebook.com

She had another recurring role during the last season of Our Miss Brooks when she played Ruth Nestor who ran a private boarding school. John Rich was the director on the show. He loved the cast and said especially Eve Arden was a joy to work with, very nice and very funny. He described the entire cast as “adorable.”

Although she didn’t have a recurring role on Ozzie and Harriet, she was on the show five times between 1956-61. My favorite of her roles on that show was “Busy Christmas” when she played Mrs. Brewster and was heading the Christmas caroling group.

During the sixties, Isabel kept busy. She appeared on Perry Mason three times, twice on The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Ben Jarrod, Arrest and Trial, and Many Happy Returns.

Recap and React: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Season 5, Episodes 16 – 20 – The  Motion Pictures
Tom Tully and Randolph as Clara Petrie with Photo: motionpictures.com

Her last recurring role was that of Mrs. Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In last week’s blog, we looked at one of the best Dick Van Dyke episodes, “Pink Pills and Purple Parents.” When Sally considers taking one of Buddy’s pain pills for her headache, Rob relates a time when Millie gave Laura some of her relaxation pills. Laura takes her first one when Rob’s parents arrive and as she becomes more nervous, she continues to take pills. Eventually, she is a bit loopy making strange comments, forgetting to put ice cream in the sundaes, and dancing to music before passing out. Rob’s parents are sure she has a drinking problem but later find out what happened. Randolph is a gem in this episode.

Randolph passed away in 1973 of undisclosed reasons.

I Wish You a “Busy Christmas” | thewritelife61
Randolph with Ozzie Nelson–Photo: youtube.com

Sadly, like so many of our great character actors, there is not as much information about Isabel’s life. Character actors deserve to have more websites or books of their own. Isabel played the snobby rich woman in many of her roles, but I always think of her as an elegant, gracious mother type.  Thank you, Isabel, for so many decades of entertainment and memorable characters. She was a character, indeed.

Celebrating Nevada Day with Abby Dalton

This month is all about National Days for States. Today we are celebrating National Nevada Day which is March 29, 2021. Our star who was born in Nevada is Abby Dalton. Abby was born Gladys Marlene Wasden in 1932 in Las Vegas.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Dalton began working as a teen model and also appeared on several record album covers. In 1957 she was cast in several unmemorable and hard-to-watch movies including Rock All Night, Teenage Doll, Carnival Rock, and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.

Photo: ebay.com

Abby started her television acting career by being cast in a variety of westerns, including Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, Maverick and The Rifleman.

Dalton caring for Bobby Darin–Photo: wikimedia.com

In 1959, Abby received the role of Nurse Martha Hale on Hennesey. Jackie Cooper played US Navy physician Lt. Charles “Chick” Hennesey. The two medical professionals meet at a hospital where they work for the US Naval Stations in San Diego, CA. Both Dalton and Cooper received Emmy nominations for their roles on the series. The show continued on the air for three seasons before it was cancelled.

When the show ended, The Joey Bishop Show was beginning its second season. The series was going through an overhaul and season two debuted with Dalton married to Joey Bishop as Ellie Barnes.

Joey Bishop with Dalton–Photo: wikimedia.com

Dalton was married in real life to Jack Smith in 1960. When her character has a baby, her son on the show was played by her real-life son Matthew and her daughter Kathleen also appeared on the show. Unfortunately, her marriage ended in 1972. (Her first marriage to husband Joe Moudragon also ended in divorce in 1959.)

Ironically, the finale to Hennesey when she married Chick Hennesey was shown two days after The Joey Bishop Show’s show’s first airing of her character.

Dalton was cast in the pilot for Barney Miller as his wife, but the show was not picked up by any of the networks and later the role was given to Barbara Barrie.

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Dalton and Bob Crane–Photo: ABC – Love American Style

Abby was also a favorite in Love American Style and The Love Boat. She did make some appearances on several shows during the seventies on Nanny and the Professor, Police Story, Apple’s Way and The Waltons.

In later years, Dalton was known as a game show panelist, appearing on Match Game, Super Password, and Hollywood Squares. In the eighties, you could see her on Hardcastle and McCormick, Murder She Wrote, and Hotel.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is etour-1.jpg
John Astin and George Furth with Dalton–Photo: ABC – Love American Style

During the 1980s Dalton accepted another permanent role as Julia Cumson on Falcon Crest. She is the daughter of Angela Channing (Jane Wyman) and a vintner. While she appeared as a decent woman, the season two finale clues us in that she was a murderess. Season three finds her navigating life in both a psychiatric ward and a prison. She escapes, planning on killing her mother. We believe her to have been killed at the end of the year, but in the fourth season, true to the soap opera formula, we realize she is alive, although maybe not well. She would make occasional appearances on seasons five and six but is not seen after that year.

Her daughter Kathleen Kinmont was married to her “son” on Falcon Crest, Lorenzo Lamas. Kinmont was also married to actor Jere Burns after her divorce to Lamas but that marriage also ended in divorce.

Dalton died in 2020 after suffering from a long illness.

Abby Dalton, 1982. (Photo by Getty Images)

Although Dalton’s career has to be labeled successful, I think with a break here or there, it could have been much more fulfilling. She seemed to be a good actress and could be very funny. Perhaps a sitcom rather than a tv drama might have catapulted her into a second wave of television acting roles. Despite, the fact that you feel like she never got that big break she deserved, she had permanent roles in three television series and entertained many people during her game show circuit era. Considering how many people never get a chance to star in a television show, she had a long career; thanks Abby Dalton for bringing us three decades of entertainment.

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

The Joey Bishop Show: Versions 1, 2, 3, and 4!

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.

Photo: mentalfloss.com

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.

Photo: amazon.com

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.

Photo: tumblr.com
Version 2

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.

Photo: wikimedia.com

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.

Photo: newsfromme.com
Newly married

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.

Photo: akaguymarks.weebly.com
Version 3

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.’

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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 Joeys manager, of a flamingo. Don’t ask how they managed to get that in, but it was very funny! —-”

Photo: youtube.com
Despite the rumors, Bishop proves he’s a team player

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 didnt 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.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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.

Photo: allstarpicsfamousfix.com

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.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.com

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.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

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.












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Milton Frome: What a Character!

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

Photo: watchviooz.com

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

Photo: amazon.com

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

Photo: jimnolt.com
The Adventures of Superman

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

Photo: tumblr.com
I Love Lucy

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

Photo: coolcherrycream.com
The Monkees

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

Photo: imdb.com
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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

Photo: sitcomsonline.coom
The Jerry Lewis Show

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

Photo: batman.wikia.com
Batman

Frome passed away in 1989 from congestive heart failure.

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

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

Charles Lane: What a Character!

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

Photo: pinterest.com

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

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

Photo: newsfromme.com
The Music Man

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

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

Photo: pinterest.com
It’s a Wonderful Life

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

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

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

Photo: imdb2freeforums.net
I Love Lucy

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

Photo: blogspot.com
The Andy Griffith Show

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

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Gomer Pyle USMC

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

Photo: filmstarfacts.com
Petticoat Junction

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

Photo: pinterest.com
Bewitched

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

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Soap

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

Photo: allmovie.com
TV Lands Award March 2005

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

Photo: blogspot.com
Homer Bedloe

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

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

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

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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

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The John Forsythe Show

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

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

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

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


Photo: famousfix.com
Photo: pinterest.com

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

Photo: tvmaze.com

Photo: tvmaze.com

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

Photo: metv.com

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

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

Photo: incredibleinman.com

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

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

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

Photo: dailymail.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Summers

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

Photo: cscottrollins.blogspot.com
On The Rifleman

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

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

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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

Photo: mash.fandom.com

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

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

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

Photo: famousfix.com

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

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

Madge Blake

Photo: listal.com

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

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

Photo: imdb.com

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

Photo: actorz.ru

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

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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.  

Photo: channel.superhero.com

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

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

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On I Love Lucy

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

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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.

Photo: allstarpics.famousfix.com
On Dennis the Menace

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

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

Just “Ellen”: The First Ellen DeGeneres Show

I remember watching Ellen when it first aired. I don’t recall many details, but I remember it being funny and the characters rang true to me. I recently watched the episode about bowling for another blog (see September 3, 2018), and it prompted me to take a closer look at the show.

Photo: celebrities-galore.com

Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana into a middle-class family. When she was sixteen, her parents divorced and later when her mother remarried, she moved to Atlanta, Texas with her new husband and children. Ellen started college but decided it wasn’t for her and made her living in various jobs before trying stand-up comedy. Only four years after graduating from high school, she was touring the nation with her comedy. In 1986 she would appear on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

From 1989-1990, Ellen starred as Margo Van Meter in Open House. Open House was about a real estate company. Ellen played the man-hungry secretary. In 1992 she gave sitcoms another try, portraying Nancy MacIntyre on Laurie Hill. This time the show was about the medical profession, and Ellen was a nurse with a great sense of humor.

Ellen appeared in a handful of shows and movies and then received her own show, Ellen, not to be confused with The Ellen Show which debuted in 2001 or The Ellen DeGeneres Show which aired in 2003 and is still going strong. Ellen ran on ABC from 1994-1998. The show was created at an interesting time in her career. Now a household name, Ellen had established herself as a respected comedian but was not the typical star who carried a self-named sitcom. Think of The Doris Day Show, The Jimmy Stewart Show, or The Joey Bishop Show, all well-established stars.

Photo: pressfrom.info

Ellen was created by Carol Black, Neal Marlens, and David S. Rosenthal. (Black and Marlens had created Growing Pains and The Wonder Years as well. Rosenthal would go on to produce many successful series.) Originally titled “These Friends of Mine”, the show is centered around Ellen Morgan, a bookstore employee and her friends and coworkers, whose lives become intertwined. Like Seinfeld, the show was primarily about Ellen’s relationship with her quirky friends and dealing with day-to-day life and issues. Ellen works at “Buy the Book” bookstore. She lives in an apartment with Adam (Arye Gross), a college friend.  Adam just can’t find the right woman and gets dumped often.

Recurring characters throughout the series were Ellen’s parents, Harold (Steven Gilborn) and Lois (Alice Hirson). Her dad is a bit naïve. Her mom spends a lot of time interfering in Ellen’s life. At one point, they plan on getting divorced but later reconcile.

Photo: imdb.com
Clea Lewis

Ellen’s friend Holly (Holly Fulgar) is only seen in season one. She is very shy and introverted but would like to be an extrovert. Anita is another first-season friend who is not seen in subsequent years. Joe (David Anthony Higgins) is a sarcastic Canadian and the coffee barista at the bookstore café. He becomes closer to Ellen as the series continues. Audrey (Clea Lewis) began as Ellen’s neighbor and eventually becomes a coworker as well. Audrey has a high voice and is extremely perky and cheerful and she loves pink. She was born into a wealthy family but has put her money aside for a job at the bookstore.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

During season two, Joely Fisher joined the cast as Ellen’s friend Paige. She works for a movie studio and is a little arrogant. Paige had previously dated Spence (Jeremy Pivens), Ellen’s cousin, and she leaves her fiancé at the altar to resume the relationship.

The show always did well in the ratings but because some of the characters were more appealing than others, most of the main cast was dropped for the third season.

The theme song from season three on was an altered version of “So-Called Friend” by a Scottish band, Texas. A running gag on the show centered around the altered lyrics which changed from time to time. The lyrics resulted in different opening sequences as Ellen searched for the perfect opening.

During season three, Adam moves out when his character takes a job in England. and Ellen lives alone. Eventually her cousin Spence moves in. Spence has been going to medical school but wrestles with a career decision, going to law school for a bit before returning to the medical profession.

Photo: visiontv.ca

During the fourth season, Ellen buys her first house. Paige is still having a hard time adjusting to Ellen’s being out of the closet but accepts it at the end of the fourth year. Another change during season four is the arrival of Ed who manages the bookstore. He often disagreed with Ellen on how to run the business.

Of course, you can’t discuss the show without talking about a 1997 episode, “The Puppy Episode” that made television history. DeGeneres revealed that she was gay in real life which the writers and producers decided to carry over into the sitcom, making Ellen Morgan the first openly gay sitcom character who was the star of a show. Other gay characters appeared on shows; e.g., Billy Crystal as Jodie was a gay character in Soap, but he wasn’t the star. Ellen’s therapist on the show was Oprah Winfrey. The revelation caused a lot of controversy and media exposure.

Photo: tvguide.com

While the show made it easier for gay characters on television in the future, it didn’t help Ellen. Ellen DeGeneres not only was chastised by members of society who didn’t approve of gay characters, she also was criticized by the LGBT community as well. They were unhappy when she said she never wanted to be a role model for LGBT. “I was looked at as the new leader, and I didn’t want to be a leader and I didn’t want to be political . . . I just wanted to be free from a secret and that’s all I wanted.” She was portrayed as not gay enough for some groups and too gay by others, a no-win situation.

Photo: imdb.com

With so much controversy, I think the powers that be on the show could not make the announcement and then ignore it but to put too much emphasis on it detracted from the relationship all the characters were involved in. Most of the subsequent episodes focused too much on the gay issues, destroying the camaraderie of the group by focusing more on one character. Rather than shows being about the group or even Ellen, it was about being gay. Ratings declined and the show was cancelled, but it had an impact, making way for gay characters in the television community. Despite all the backlash the show received for featuring a gay character, Will and Grace debuted the same year Ellen was cancelled and became a huge hit.

Of course, Ellen DeGeneres would go on to become a superstar with an award-winning talk show and a producer extraordinaire of eclectic shows. She does games shows, she has a line of home goods and shoes on QVC, and she has hosted a design competition on HGTV. Like Oprah, she has the avenues open now to explore whatever types of shows capture her interest. I have not seen Ellen on syndication in years, but episodes exist on YouTube. The DVDs were released from 2004-2006.

It’s too bad the show could not return to its original premise. Like Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it had a cast of interesting personalities that had a special bond. Ellen DeGeneres received Golden Globe nominations for best comedy actress for the show three of its seasons. Joely Fisher received best supporting actress in 1998. Ellen also received the Emmy nomination for best comedy actress every year from 1994-1998. The show was also nominated for Emmys for directing, writing, and guest stars. It was a hilarious show, and it would have been amazing to see how long it could have lasted if it had not been forced off the air for non-creative reasons.

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As I mentioned, I recently watched the bowling episode which brought out Ellen’s competitive streak. I remembered how funny the show was and what an amazing ensemble cast the show featured. I will definitely watch more episodes.