Mary Kay and Johnny and Company: The First Sitcoms

We are in the midst of our “They Were the First” blog series. In past weeks we’ve learned about the first crime drama and the first news show. Today we take a peek at some of the first sitcoms on the air.

She Was the First Lucy, but Where Is the Love?
Mary Kay and John Stearns Photo: gr8erdays.com

The very first sitcom I could find evidence for was Mary Kay and Johnny which debuted in 1947. This show was only on three or four seasons, but it produced 301 episodes so it was on more often than once a week. The description on imdb.com is that it’s about the “adventures and misadventures of the strait-laced bank employee Johnny Sterns and his zany wife Mary Kay.”

Real-life spouses Mary Kay Stearns and John Stearns played the married couple that the show centered on. Nydia Westman played Mary Kay’s mother and Howard Fischer played Howie. When the Stearns had a baby named Christopher, he also became their son on the show.

The show was shot live in New York and sponsored by Anacin. During the first season, Anacin tested the market to see how many people might be watching the show because TV ratings had not been collected at that time. They offered a free mirror to the first 200 viewers who submitted comments about the show; to their surprise, more than 9,000 viewers sent letters.

Believe it or not, this was the first married couple to share a bed. At some point, networks rethought this decision, because it would be a battle for years during the fifties and sixties.

So, what were some of the other earliest sitcoms? Here are a few of the other sitcoms that were on during the early years of the golden age.

the laytons | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
Photo: jacksonupperco.com

The Laytons. This short-lived show was on the air from August to October of 1948 on the Dumont network. However, it was notable in that it was the first show to feature an African American in a recurring role. I could only find detailed information for one episode which starred Vera Tatum as Ruth Layton, Amanda Randolph as Martha, and Elizabeth Brew as Ginny Layton. From what I could determine it moved to Dumont after running locally for a month.

Growing Paynes (1948-1949) | New york broadway, Elaines, Theatre poster
Elaine Stritch Photo: pinterest.com

The Growing Paynes. From 1948-49, this show followed the “trials and tribulations” of an insurance salesman and his screwball wife.  I’m not sure why all the wives were screwballs in the forties. The show had a cast overhaul after the first couple of months. John Harvey and Judy Parish were replaced by Ed Holmes and Elaine Stritch. The sponsor was Wanamakers Department Store. This show is historically important because it was the first sitcom to work the sponsor’s business into the script. Despite the change in casting, the show was cancelled after ten months.

Golden Age of Radio: Program #123 | WMKY
Photo: wmky.com

The Aldrich Family. This well-known family made the leap from radio to television in 1949. The show centered around the Aldrich son Henry and his family who lived on Elm Street in Centerville.  Imdb.com lists 18 episodes but five seasons so it was on sporadically apparently like The Jack Benny Show when it began on the small screen. I’m not sure how this show survived five seasons. While Jameson House played Sam Aldrich, during the 18 episodes, there were three different women playing his wife Mary and five different actors who showed up as his son Henry.

The Life of Riley. This show also began life as a radio show. There were two versions of the show and the second version was the better known one.  In this earlier version from 1949, Riley is played by Jackie Gleason and his wife Peg is Rosemary DeCamp. Their son Riley Jr. was played by Lanny Rees and Gloria Winters took on the role of their daughter Bab. The other cast member was Jim Gillis, Riley’s friend, played by Sid Tomack. The show primarily focuses on Riley’s home life though we hear about life at the aircraft plant he works in as a riveter. His catchphrase was “What a revoltin’ development this is.”

The Life of Riley: A matter of perspective | CharlesPaolino's Blog
Photo: charlespaolino.com

The show only lasted for 26 episodes; at that time, a full season was 39. Their sponsor was Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and part way through the year the company decided it would rather put more money into the Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts, a boxing show.

This show also made history. It was the first sitcom to win an Emmy, beating out The Silver Theater and The Lone Ranger.

William Bendix could not accept this role because, oddly enough, he was filming a movie, The Life of Riley. He would perfect the role in the second television version which debuted in 1953.

Amazon.com: I Remember Mama TV Show (aka.- Mama Television Series ) : Peggy  Wood, Dick Van Patten, Judson Laire, Rosemary Rice, Robin Morgan, Don  Richardson: Movies & TV
Photo: amazon.com

Mama. This show ran from 1949-1957, producing 178 episodes. Peggy Wood starred as Mama Hansen and Judson Laire played her husband Papa Hansen. A young Dick Van Patten appeared as their son Nels, Rosemary Rice was daughter Katrin, and Robin Morgan was daughter Dagmar.

The show chronicled the lives of a family who recently immigrated to San Francisco shortly after 1910. The movie starring Irene Dunne was also very popular. Many viewers fondly recalled the series as a heart-warming and tender show. Like, most of these early shows, it was shot live so there are no reruns available for this much-loved show.

It, too, made history, being the first show listed as a comedy drama which was not the new thing that we thought it was in the 1970s.

Beginning in 1950, the sitcom genre would become the king of the television schedule. That was the year one of my all-time favorite shows, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show aired and the two popular, but disgraceful shows, Beulah and Amos ‘n Andy hit the air.

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show | TIME
George Burns and Gracie Allen Photo: timemagazine.com

It was interesting to go back to learn about the first sitcoms which are not well-known or available for viewing. It’s television history we don’t want to lose. These were the pioneers of classic television, and it’s amazing how each series made history of its own that often would not be repeated for several decades.

Mary Jane Croft: What a Character!

In October we are having fun with the “What a Character” series. Although this actress spent less than two decades on television, she had a memorable career. Today let’s learn more about Mary Jane Croft.

Mary Jane Croft - Rotten Tomatoes
Photo: rottentomatoes.com

Mary Jane Croft was born in 1916 in Muncie, Indiana. She described herself as a “stage-struck 17-year-old just out of high school,” when she began working at the Muncie Civic Theatre. Moving on to the Guild Theatre Company in Cincinnati led her to radio station work at WLW.

In the thirties, she received a lot of experience and she described her work there: “from 1935-1939, I played parts with every kind of voice and accent: children, babies, old women, society belles, main street floozies—everything.” She appeared in Life with Luigi, Blondie, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Mel Blanc Show, and Our Miss Brooks, among other shows. She was a frequent guest star on My Favorite Husband, Lucille Ball’s radio show which would become very important to her television career.

Croft had married Jack Zoller, another actor earlier in her life. The marriage did not last long but produced a son, Eric. After her divorce, she moved to Hollywood in 1939.

I Love Lucy' Star Mary Jane Croft: Lucille Ball's Frequent TV Sidekick
On the radio Photo: closerweekly.com

While Croft appeared in three big-screen films, most of her professional career was spent on television. Her first role was in Eve Arden’s show, Our Miss Brooks from 1953-1955 once it moved from radio to television. She portrayed Daisy Enright whom she had also voiced on the radio show. Daisy and Connie Brooks competed for the head English teacher position and for the attention of Mr. Boynton. During that time, she also was cast in The Lineup, The Life of Riley, I Married Joan, and Dragnet.

From 1954-1957, she was on I Love Lucy seven times. She and Lucy continued both their professional and personal relationships. In the final season of Lucy’s show, she played Betty Ramsey, a neighbor of the Ricardos and Mertzs when they moved to Connecticut.

In the mid-fifties, she showed up on A Date with Angels, The Eve Arden Show, and The Court of Last Resort.

In 1959, she married Elliott Lewis and they were married until he died in 1990. She met Lewis while appearing on Lucy’s show; he was the producer. Sadly, her son Eric was killed in action in Vietnam.

1956 TV ARTICLE~CLEO WANDA BASSET HOUND PEOPLES CHOICE MARY JANE CROFT  HOUND DOG | eBay
Photo: ebay.com

From 1955-1958 she was the voice of Cleo on The People’s Choice for 99 episodes. This is another one of those quirky shows from the fifties. The premise is that Socrates Miller, known as “Sock,” joins the city council and clashes with the mayor, John Peoples. Sock then dates and marries John’s daughter Mandy. Sock has a basset hound named Cleo, and Cleo shares her thoughts with the audience about what is going on.

Pin on Classic TV
Croft with Lyle Talbot and the Randolphs on Ozzie and Harriet–Photo: pinterest.com

From 1955-1966 she appeared as Clara Randolph on the Ozzie and Harriet Show for a total of 75 episodes. Joe and Clara Randolph were the Nelsons’ neighbors and good friends.

Although Croft did accept roles on Vacation Playhouse in 1966 and The Mothers-in-Law (another Arden show) in 1969, her career from 1962-1974 was with Lucille Ball. She was on The Lucy Show from 1962-1968 as Mary Jane Lewis when Lucy’s original sidekick Vivian Vance left the show. She continued that same role into Here’s Lucy from 1969-1974 for an additional 34 episodes.

Her last acting credit was a TV Movie with Lucille Ball titled Lucy Calls the President.

I Love Lucy' Star Mary Jane Croft: Lucille Ball's Frequent TV Sidekick
Croft with Lucille Ball–Photo: closerweekly.com

Croft died of natural causes in 1999.

I Love Lucy' Star Mary Jane Croft: Lucille Ball's Frequent TV Sidekick
Ball and Croft–Photo: closerweekly.com

Geoffrey Mark who wrote The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television, got to spend time with Croft. He said she was “nothing like the characters she played,” in an exclusive interview with Closer Weekly. “She was intelligent, thoughtful in her speech and prettier than you would think. I found her to be very honest in that there was no nonsense about what she said. If she said it, she meant it. She was aware that she had become this icon mostly because of her association with Lucille Ball, but also because of other things that she did.”

When he asked her how she was able to assume so many character voices, she said that she thought about what the backstory of the character might be and invented a voice that would serve that character. It was something she learned when she worked in radio.

Papermoon Loves Lucy — MARY JANE CROFT
Photo: tumblr.com

Although Croft only appeared on 26 different shows, she had a busy and lucrative career. She is remembered for three major roles: Daisy Enright on Our Miss Brooks, Clara Randolph on Ozzie and Harriet, and Mary Jane Lewis on The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. And even if her television career was not long, she was in the entertainment business for her entire life after graduation. She created many memorable radio voices as well. With her numerous roles, she truly was quite a character.

The Lone Ranger Rides Again . . . And Again . . . And Again

Like most of the westerns we are studying this month, The Lone Ranger first aired as a radio series. In 1933, the masked hero and his best friend Tonto, traveled throughout the Old West, capturing outlaws and putting them behind bars.

Fran Striker began reworking some old scripts about westerns in 1932. Those stories became The Lone Ranger. George Trendle brought Striker in to work on the radio scripts in 1933 when the show debuted. Striker continued to pen books about the hero with his first being The Lone Ranger in 1936 and his last The Lone Ranger on Red Butte Trail in 1961, 25 in all.

The Lone Ranger Rides by Fran Striker

The television show began in 1949 and ran for eight years. Clayton Moore portrayed the ranger and Jay Silverheels portrayed Tonto. Silverheels was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian from the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada. In season three, Moore was temporarily replaced by John Hart, but he returned for the final two years. The other recurring character we see during the series is the ranger’s nephew Dan Reid played by Chuck Courtney. This was ABC’s first big television hit.

Photo: pinterest.com

The show began and ended the same way. As the show opened, the Lone Ranger’s horse would rear up on his back and the ranger shouted “Hi-Yo Silver.” At the end of the show, someone would as “Who was that masked man?” Another repeated phrase from the series was “Kemo sabe.” Tonto called the Ranger this which translates to “faithful friend.”

The backstory of the ranger is that a patrol of six Texas Rangers was massacred and only the Lone Ranger survived. He now wears a mask to protect his real identity and he and Tonto, who nursed him back to health, travel around bringing justice to the territories. The ranger owns a silver mine which is why he named his horse Silver and why he carries silver bullets.

Photo: pinterest.com

MGM film veteran producer Jack Chertok was brought in to produce the show. He would later produce Ann Sothern’s show Private Secretary and My Favorite Martian.

This show was produced and filmed differently than most shows in the classic age. Seventy-eight episodes were broadcast for consecutive weeks. Then they were all shown for a second time. After 156 weeks, they decided to film another 52 shows but there was a controversy and Moore left the show and was replaced by John Hart. Again the 52 filmed shows were consecutively shown and then rerun. For the next season, the original creator George Trendle sold the rights to Jack Wrather in 1954. Wrather hired Moore again and produced another 52 shows which were shown and then rerun. For the final year, only 39 episodes were produced with Sherman Harris taking over as producer. The final season was the only one shot in color. Because there were only new episodes in five of the eight years, only 221 shows were produced.

At this point, film stars were still avoiding television, seeing it as a temporary competition with films. Therefore, most of the guest stars we see on the show were actors who went on to have successful television careers. Some of those include Michael Ansara, James Arness, Frances Bavier, Hugh Beaumont, Dwayne Hickman, Stacy Keach Jr., Marjorie Lord, Martin Milner, Denver Pyle, and Marion Ross.

The Lone Ranger" Texas Draw (TV Episode 1954) - IMDb
Photo: imdb Marion Ross guest starred

This was one of the first series to be nominated for an Emmy; unfortunately, it lost to the first version of The Life of Riley starring Jackie Gleason. The nomination came in 1950 at the second Emmy ceremony. The early years had very limited categories for awards.

General Mills was the original sponsor for the show. They also sponsored the radio show from 1941-1961.

The Lone Ranger, first created and broadcast in Detroit, turns 86 this week  | Michigan Radio
Photo: michiganradio.com

The theme music was the classical piece, the William Tell overture. Rossini composed the piece in 1829.

Like Adam West and Batman, Clayton Moore really embodied the character of the Lone Ranger. After the show ended, he would make up to 200 appearances a year as the crime fighter. In 1979, Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to the character, sued him, but Moore won a countersuit allowing him to continue appearing as the masked hero.

The Lone Ranger was never permanently retired. Two animated series were released in 1966 and 1980. Also, both Silverheels and Moore starred in two big-screen features: The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958).

In addition, Moore slipped into his costume again for a film in 1958 to promote the Lone Ranger Peace Patrol to convince kids to buy US Savings Bonds. A 2013 movie reboot came out with Armie Hammer in the starring role.

The Lone Ranger has had an iconic place in history for 87 years now. Almost every generation recognizes the hero, and his black mask is at the Smithsonian Museum. It’s pretty incredible for a show that really had five years’ worth of episodes made and has been off the air for 64 of those years. Although this era did not often portray African Americans or Native Americans very well, this show was about friendship, and I read very little about negative portrayals of anyone on the television series. You can easily find the episodes on DVD, Youtube, or a variety of network channels.

Photo: amazon.com

When my son who is now 29 was about 9, he was enthralled by westerns and watched The Lone Ranger and Daniel Boone.  Internet and email were newer forms of technology, but he was able to reach out to Fess Parker and Clayton Moore.  Both were very kind.  Moore sent him his autographed book with a written note. He still enjoyed discussing his time as the crime fighter. A classic man from a classic show.

The Secret Word is George Fenneman

I am cheating just a bit with this post. During this Oddly Wonderful series, I think I can push the envelope enough. You Bet Your Life was a very different type of game show. If ever there was a person who personifies oddly wonderful it was Groucho. But I really wanted an excuse to write about George Fenneman.

George Fenneman is best remembered for his role on Groucho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life which began on radio in 1947 and transitioned to television in 1950. The show went off the air in 1961, the year I was born. Obviously, I don’t remember the original show, but I saw it in reruns and always had a crush on George; I think it was his smile that always got me.

Photo: imdb.com

George was born in Beijing (then Peking), China in 1919. His father was in the importing/exporting business. When he was not quite one, his parents moved to San Francisco where he grew up. After high school, he attended San Francisco State College. He graduated in 1942 with a degree in speech and drama. He took a job with a local radio station KGO for a short time. He married his college sweetheart Peggy Clifford in 1943 and they would stay married until George died. The couple had two daughters and a son.

Photo: collectors.com

Poor eyesight and asthma prevented Fenneman from military action in World War II, but he was able to become a broadcast correspondent for the War of Information. In 1946 he was back in California, in the radio industry again. One of the shows he announced for was Gunsmoke. After the episode concluded, he would introduce Matt Dillon (William Conrad) to discuss the sponsor’s products which often was cigarettes such as L&M or Chesterfield.

Some of the other radio shows he announced for included The Orson Welles Show, The Eddie Albert Show, and the Hedda Hopper Show.

Photo: aveleyman.com

He and Peggy were neighbors of Christian Nyby. In 1951, Nyby was hired as director for the film, The Thing from Another World. George joined the cast as in the minor role of Dr. Redding who has an important scene at the end of the film. It took 27 takes for him to get the speech right, and he realized he was better suited for radio. However, he would appear in two additional films, the little-known Mystery Lake in 1953 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1967. While his voice was part of several other films, most notably in the original Ocean’s 11 as the man talking on the phone to Sheriff Wimmer.

Jack Webb had worked on broadcasts with George during the war. He hired Fenneman as announcer for his radio show, Pat Novak, For Hire. When Dragnet aired the same year, Jack took George with him. George, along with Hal Gibney took on the role of narrator for the show. They both continued with the show in 1951 when it moved to television. Dragnet was off the air for a number of years and returned to television in 1967. Fenneman was again hired as narrator with John Stephenson for that version. George was the one who was heard saying, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Stephenson handled the closing narration. Fenneman was also cast as a news reporter in a variety of shows including Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Name of the Game, and on Batman in 1966 in the episode, “The Yegg Foes in Gotham.”

Photo: pinterest.at
On Batman

In addition to appearing on Groucho’s show on television, Fenneman was the host or announcer for several other shows. He emceed two games shows during his time with Groucho: Anybody Can Play in 1958 and Your Surprise Package in 1961. In 1963, He hosted a show on ABC titled Your Funny, Funny Films which was a cousin to the later Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Home Videos.

He was usually an unseen announcer on The Ed Sullivan Show, but in 1964, the night the Beatles were on the show for the second time, he did a spot on the air for Lipton Tea. From 1978-1982 he hosted a show on PBS, Talk About Pictures. In this show, Life magazine photographer Leigh Weiner and George interviewed respected photographers and looked at their best photos.

Photo: pinterest.com
With Leigh Weiner on PBS

He also was the voice for Home Savings & Loan commercials from the late 1960s until his death from emphysema in 1997. He also acted as announcer for shows such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Donny and Marie, The Jim Nabors Show, and The Life of Riley.

Photo: hollywoodphotographs.com
With Martin and Lewis

In 1993, The Simpsons aired an episode that spoofed Dragnet, and Fenneman can be heard on the show delivering his famous line about names being changed to protect the innocent.

Despite his large cannon of work as an announcer and emcee, Fenneman became a household celebrity when he went to work for Groucho on You Bet Your Life. One day George was standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Robert Dwan, who had hired him at KGO Radio, came up and told him he was holding an audition for a new show for Groucho. Fenneman went up against thirty other announcers and won the job which paid $55 a week. He was hired just to do commercials. At some point, Groucho decided he should also be scorekeeper, as well as his straight man.

Photo: usawoopro.blogspot.com

When discussing Groucho, George said, “I have to say he was unique, and he was fearless. It was a great privilege to work with him for 15 years and to be his friend for 30.” After Fenneman’s death, Peggy did an interview for an article by Lawrence Van Gelder for the NY Times in June of 1997. She said that George was always a fan of Groucho and the Marx Brothers. She remembered them often going to the Golden Gate Theater when they were in college. They went to watch the Marx Brothers rehearse future movie scenes for comic timing. She remembered watching scenes from A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

Groucho, known for his quick wit and acid tongue, found an agreeable and attractive man in Fenneman. When viewers queried George whether the show was scripted or ad-libbed, he always said yes. Actually, it was about 50/50.  Groucho was fed some lines from the interviews with the contestants, but he never met them ahead of time and was given the freedom to interject whatever comments he chose.

Photo: mptvimages.com

George often took the brunt of Groucho’s humor. One time he had to inhale helium, one day he came down from the ceiling when the secret word was said in place of the usual duck, or he would be questioned about something on the show. For example, one evening each of the contestants was a very attractive woman and Groucho made it seem that Fenneman had set that up on purpose. One contestant mistakenly referred to George as Mr. Fidderman, and Groucho called him out to discuss his double life.

Photo: popflock.com

George never knew what Groucho had in store for him. Often Marx would summon George from behind the curtain, and he always looked uncomfortable which was quite genuine. But Groucho had great affection and appreciation for him, calling him the perfect straight man.

At times on the show, George could also be quite funny, but he knew his main role was straight man, and he usually toed that line carefully.

George and Groucho remained friends long after the show was cancelled. They often got together before Groucho’s death in 1977 at age 87. Groucho never lost his sense of humor. At one of their last visits, Groucho was in very frail health. Helping Groucho get across the room, George lifted him out of his wheelchair and carried him. He had his arms around his torso and began to shimmy him across the floor. Groucho’s rasping voice said, “Fenneman, you always were a lousy dancer.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Although the shows have never been released in a chronological DVD collection, they are available. The programs were recorded in full and then edited to the desired length. On MP3 discs, some of the unedited tapes are available which provide a very different perspective than the aired show.

There are a few announcers still well known in the business. I think of Rod Roddy, Johnny Gilbert or Johnny Olson who have game show fame, but it is a career that is being phased out. There is something charming about watching the former announcers for shows promoting products and interacting with the stars. Harry Von Zell from the Gracie Allen and George Burns Show comes to mind or Don Wilson from the Jack Benny Show. Like rotary phones, transistor radios, and Polaroid cameras, they are fondly remembered from a slower and less technological period in history.

With this series being Oddly Wonderful, I am stretching it a bit by focusing on George. In our definition of oddly wonderful, he was definitely the wonderful.

Everyone’s Favorite Mother: Rosemary DeCamp

Rosemary DeCamp played the American mother in a variety of films and television series. I remember her as both Ann Marie and Shirley Partridge’s mother. She was born in November of 1910 in Arizona. Her father was a mining engineer and the family relocated often for his job. Her younger brother was 14 years younger than her, so they were both raised almost like only children.

rose1

Rosemary began her radio career in 1937 playing the role of Judy Price, a nurse to Dr. Christian on the long-running show, Dr. Christian. From 1939-1941, she appeared a syndicated soap opera, The Career of Alice Blair.

rose12

 

1941 was a memorable year for her for several reasons. It was also the year she married John Ashton Shidler, a local judge. The couple were married until his death in 1998, and they raised four daughters.

rose10

 

When that soap ended, she accepted her first film role in Cheers for Miss Bishop. She worked for a variety of studios. Many of her pictures were made by Warner Brothers. In 1942 she played the mother of George Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. In 1943, she took the role of Ronald Reagan’s mother in This is the Army. In the early 1950s, she portrayed Doris Day’s mother in On Moonlight Bay and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

 

In July of 1946, she and her husband had a close call. They were in their Beverly Hills home when an aircraft crashed into the house next door. The wing cut into their roof and landed in their bedroom. The plane just happened to be an experimental one piloted by Howard Hughes. Hughes was rescued by a bystander before the plane exploded. He was very lucky, receiving only a few broken bones and cuts and abrasions. He paid for the repairs for all the homes involved, and luckily, no one else was hurt.

rose13

 

She appeared in 38 films during her career, including The Life of Riley with William Bendix as her spouse. In 1949, she again played Peg Riley, this time in a television show with Jackie Gleason. Her husband worked in an aircraft plant and they had two children. Of course, Riley was a bit of a bumbling father and husband, but she loved him and put up with his ineptness. His catchphrase was “What a revoltin’ development this is.”

rose5

 

She continued with her film work, mixed in with a few television show roles until 1955 when she played widow Margaret MacDonald on Love That Bob/The Bob Cummings Show. Her brother Bob was a photographer and play boy and she lived with him, raising her son Chuck and trying to get her brother to settle down.

rose3

 

After her role as mother Peg in the 1940s and Margaret in the 1950s, from 1966-1970, she had a recurring role on That Girl as Ann Marie’s mother Helen. She was the voice of reason when her husband got upset about something, typically having to do with Ann’s boyfriend Donald or her living alone in New York.

rose6

 

Coincidentally, in 1968 she also played the role of Helen on Petticoat Junction. She was not Helen Marie though, she was Kate’s sister who came to help take care of the girls when Bea Benardaret who played Kate was ill in real life.

rose9

 

It was also in the 1960s that she was the spokesperson for 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry detergent.

rose2

 

She continued accepting roles on a variety of television shows from crime dramas to westerns to Love American Style. Continuing her mother-a-decade role, in the 1970s, she showed up as Shirley Partridge’s mother on The Partridge Family. Again, she had to deal with a husband who usually needed some mediation with the family.

decamppartridge

DeCamp continued to take on miscellaneous television roles. In 1989, she filmed an episode of Murder She Wrote. After the taping, she suffered a stroke, and decided to retire from acting.

In 2000, she published her memoir, Tigers in My Lap. The following year she died after contracting pneumonia at the age of 90. I could not find any information about any of her hobbies or interests, but she was an active Democrat all her life.

decamp book

 

She will always be remembered as a caring mother. The Institute of Family Relations granted her its “Mother of Distinction Award,” because they felt she did “more to glorify American motherhood through her film portrayals than any other woman.”

rose11

 

The Amazing, But Much Too Short, Career of Richard Deacon

Richard Deacon, 1960s

Richard Deacon was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1921, but most of his adolescence was spent in Binghamton, New York. When he was only 11, he contracted polio. He took up dancing to build up his leg muscles.

Deacon’s first career choice was to become a doctor.  He was working as an orderly at the Binghamton Hospital when World War II began. He tried to join the Navy; they suggested he try the Army.  He did and joined the medical corps.

After the war, he studied medicine at Ithaca College but soon switched to acting. He studied drama for a couple of years and was the actor in residence at Bennington College.  After spending some time in New York, he headed to California to look for work.  After paying his dues as a bartender, he finally got a break and was offered a role in a film, Invaders From Mars.

When he first began his career, Helen Hayes advised him to become a character actor as opposed to a leading man.  It was great advice, and he was one of the most beloved and prolific actors during the golden age of television. During his career, he appeared in 66 movies on the big screen, guest starred on 92 different television shows, and starred in six series.

In the 1950s, he appeared in 48 television shows including Burns and Allen, The Life of Riley, Bachelor Father, and the Gale Storm Show.  He had regular roles in two sitcoms.

The Charles Farrell Show debuted in 1956. Farrell played himself as the manager of the Palm Springs Racquet Club, a resort he actually owned and operated. It was a summer replacement for I Love Lucy and only lasted 12 episodes. Richard played Sherman Hall.

deacon8

In 1957, he got another chance at being a regular in a sitcom, Date with the Angels starring Betty White. Deacon played Roger Finley.  This show lasted one year.

Richard continued his productive acting career, appearing in 43 shows in the 1960s.  He could be seen in a wide range of shows including Bonanza, The Rifleman, My Three Sons, Make Room for Daddy, Perry Mason, The Donna Reed Show, The Twilight Zone, Mr. Ed, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, The Munsters, and The Addams Family. He was also appearing in a number of films during this decade. He appeared in four sitcoms on a regular basis during the ’60s.

Leave It to Beaver aired from 1957-1963. Deacon played Fred Rutherford, father of Clarence, or Lumpy, Rutherford, Wally’s friend. During the 6 seasons it was on the air, Fred was in 63 episodes.

Part way through the series, he was offered another regular role, that of Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  From 1961-1966, he brightened the screen in 82 shows, putting up with his brother-in-law’s bullying and Buddy Sorrel’s belittling. Deacon had high praise for everyone connected with The Dick Van Dyke Show.

One day Morey Amsterdam was goofing around with Richard and said he didn’t think his hair had fallen out, he thought it had imploded and fallen into his brain, clouding his thinking.  Carl Reiner came running on the set and said to add that dialogue to the show.  From then on, there was an insult fest between Buddy Sorrell and Mel Cooley. When the writers were trying to come up with a comeback from Mel to Buddy, Reiner asked Deacon how he would respond to someone who continued to torment him.  Deacon replied, “Yeecchh!” and his trademark phrase was invented.

deacon9

Bud Molin, Dick Van Dyke Show film editor described Deacon as “the funniest human being on the face of the earth.” Carl Reiner said it was a joy to have him around and everyone on the show loved him.

Deacon, Leonard, Reiner, Paris

The Dick Van Dyke Show was one of the best shows ever written. It won the Outstanding Comedy Emmy in 1963, 1964, and 1966. After the cast of the Dick Van Dyke Show decided to end the show on its own terms, leaving the air with its quality reputation intact, Deacon was offered another sixties role.

Phyllis Diller had a fantastic cast on her show, The Pruitts of South Hampton, or The Phyllis Diller Show as it became known in syndication. This was about a formerly wealthy family who found out they owed $10,000,000 in back taxes.  They try to appear that they still have their wealth, while living in very reduced circumstances.  The cast included Louis Nye, John Astin, Reginald Gardiner, Paul Lynde, Gypsy Rose Lee, Billy De Wolfe, John McGiver, and Marty Ingels in addition to Diller and Deacon.  I don’t know how this show did not succeed, but it was taken off the air after only one year. Diller and Deacon continued to work together both on an episode of Love, American Style and in the production of Hello Dolly in the 1969-1970 season.

deacon14

Once the Diller show was canceled, Deacon was offered a role on The Mothers-In-Law starring Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden. Deacon took over the role of Roger Buell mid-way through the series. The concept was two families who didn’t necessarily get along were neighbors whose children  married so they had to find ways to get along and keep the peace.

deacon4

After the show was cancelled, he continued to stay busy with his acting career.  He also appeared in 17 episodes of Match Game and several Family Feud episodes.

deacon7

Deacon was a life-long bachelor.  He was a closeted gay man who had to keep his sexual orientation secret to keep his options open to work for companies like Disney. He was also a gourmet chef.  In the 1980s, he hosted a Canadian cooking show about microwave cooking, writing a book that sold almost two million copies. He spent a lot of his spare time working with SYNANON, an agency that helped teenage drug addicts.

On the night of August 8, 1984, he was suffered a heart attack in his Beverly Hills home. He was rushed to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where he died later that night. He was 63 years old.

deacon15 - Copy

Everything I read about Richard Deacon painted him as a gracious, friendly, very funny man who was caring and kind.  He had an amazing career, with 180 acting credits within a 30-year period.  The legacy he left was a rich and full acting life. Pretty good for a guy who chose to be a character actor and was humble enough to turn down two offers to star in his own show.