The Jimmy Stewart Show: Past Its Prime Before It Started

For this blog series, “It’s My Show,” we are looking at stars who had shows named for them.  This blog takes a look at The Jimmy Stewart Show which aired in 1971.

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At the beginning of the golden age of television, several stars decided to plunge into the small screen, but most stars kept their distance, not trusting that television would ever go anywhere. Stars like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Lucille Ball created successful shows that continued for years. Once Hollywood realized that television was here to stay, they were okay with their stars dipping their feet into the series life.

In the 1970s another round of stars decided to try their luck at their own show. Jimmy Stewart was one of those screen stars, and he had a huge fan base. Viewers were greatly anticipating watching his show.

The Jimmy Stewart Show - Complete - 1971 - 7 DVDS – TV Museum DVDs
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Hal Kanter was the creator, writer, and sometimes director for the series which showed viewers the frequently chaotic home and work life of Professor Jim Howard. Kantor developed the show Julia and would later create Chico and the Man. Howard teaches anthropology at the Josiah Kessel College in Easy Valley, California which happened to be founded by his grandfather. Also living in the house are his wife Martha (Julie Adams), his son Peter (Jonathan Daly), daughter-in-law Wendy (Ellen Geer, daughter of Will Geer) and grandson Jake (Kirby Furlong). Martha and Jim also have a younger son, Teddy (Dennis Larson) who is almost the same age as Jim’s grandson. Peter’s family is living there temporarily after their house burns down. In a twist I didn’t see coming, Jim was babysitting and fell asleep with a cigar which is what caused both the house to burn down and his son to be unhappy with him for the first few episodes.

Howard’s best friend, Luther Quince (John McGiver), a local bachelor and professor, often stops by for meals and to discuss life with Jim.

When Jimmy Stewart Had His Own Sitcom – (Travalanche)
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Rounding out the cast were a few recurring characters including Jo Bullard (Mary Wickes), president of the Women’s Action Group; Agatha Dwiggins (Jeff Donnell), a scatterbrained busybody, Dimitri Karpopolis (Richard Annis), college football hero; local businessman Fred Shimmel (Rickie Layne), chatty milkman Woodrow Yamada (Jack Soo), and students Janice Morton (Kate Jackson), Norman Lansworth (Lou Manor) and Ida Levin (Melissa Newman).

I read that except for Stewart, the casting for the family seemed to be off and never engendered any warmth for viewers. Jimmy wanted his real wife Gloria to play Martha, but after she was tested, the network said they wanted someone more experienced. More than fifty women were considered for the role, and twenty of them were brought in to read with Stewart.

However, John McGiver received a lot of praise for his character. Luther and Jim were quite different. Jim rode his bike to school while Luther drove a Rolls Royce.

The show really didn’t speak to viewers, and ratings, which weren’t great, got worse. The series was cancelled after 24 episodes. Stewart was not sad about the cancellation. Apparently, he was given the option to do the same type of work schedule Fred MacMurray had arranged for My Three Sons where he only filmed a small part of the year and everyone else filmed around him, but he declined. However, Stewart said he later regretted not trying that because he didn’t enjoy the long hours filming this show.

THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW Guest Star KATE JACKSON 1971 VERY RARE - YouTube
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The show debuted in the fall of 1971 on Sunday nights. It was sandwiched between The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza, both big hits.

Like George Burns, James Stewart talked directly to the television audience during the opening and closing when he says “And, as always, my family and I wish you peace and love—and laughter.” During some episodes he makes an aside to the camera, and the rest of the cast thinks he’s just mumbling to himself.

This was one of the few shows during this time period that didn’t use a laugh track. Maybe that’s for the best because it doesn’t sound like there was much to laugh about in this show. It definitely shows its age today with Stewart making remarks about student protests, women’s lib, and industrial development. It obviously pandered to an older, conservative audience.

The show was filmed on a few sets and backlots. The building used for the university was known as “Hank’s School” because it first was used on a show from the sixties called Hank. It was also Boatwright University on The Waltons.

The Jimmy Stewart Show (TV Series 1971–1972) - IMDb
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Sometimes there is a downside to blog writing about the past and our favorite stars. Jimmy Stewart has always been someone I admired and respected. A couple of his movies like The Philadelphia Story and Harvey are some of my of all-time favorites. When doing research, sometimes you learn things you wish you didn’t know.

Apparently, Stewart had gotten a reputation during the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence as a racist, but no one ever talked about it, and there didn’t seem to be any other controversy in his films.  However, during the production of this show, he had actor Hal Williams fired. I read several accounts that all supported that view that Stewart told Kanter that he didn’t think it would be appropriate for a black person to be ordering him around on television. His words, often quoted were, “Blacks are bossing white people all over the country, and now we’re going to have the same damn thing on prime-time television? A black is going to be lecturing me with millions of people watching? No way. I get casting approval and Williams is out.” I never read how Kantor reacted or how it affected their relationship; however, after casting Diahann Carroll as the first black actor to star in a series, it must have been disheartening to hear this from Stewart.

I understand those were different times and many people were raised as racists. We could debate the causes of people being prejudiced for hours.  However, this makes me very sad and I can’t look at Jimmy Stewart the way I did before. It doesn’t help to realize that there are still somehow a lot of Jimmy Stewarts out there sixty years later.

Comfort TV: Peace, Love, and Laughter: The Jimmy Stewart Show
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As far as his show goes, I think it was just not where fans were at in that time period. Some of the other series on at the time included The Partridge Family, The Doris Day Show, Love American Style, Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and All in the Family. By comparison, Jimmy’s show seems out of touch and old fashioned. Its competition was the F.B.I and Sunday Night at the Movies, both shows that started during The Wonderful World of Disney. If a show didn’t succeed following Disney and leading into Bonanza, it must have greatly disillusioned viewers. Jimmy was not alone as a star who couldn’t make the successful leap to television. Other stars who bombed with their shows include Jack Lemmon, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, and Henry Fonda.

Although this show is available on DVD, my suggestion is to bypass it and read a good book instead.

Jerry Van Dyke: Actor and Brother

This month we are looking at some of our favorite sitcom stars. With roles in more than eight popular sitcoms, Jerry Van Dyke has to be in the mix.

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Jerry was born in Danville, Illinois in 1931. Van Dyke started his comedy stand-up career in high school performing for local nightclubs. In 1954 he joined the US Air Force Tops in Blue, performing at military bases around the world. During this time, he also played the banjo in his shows. After his military time was up, he married Carol Jean Johnson; they would divorce in 1974.

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Dick Van Dyke was his brother, and Jerry’s first television appearance was on his brother’s show where he fittingly played Rob Petrie’s brother Stacey.

In 1963 he made his movie debut with two movies: The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and Palm Springs Weekend. He was also made a member of The Judy Garland Show which was cancelled after its first season.  I’m not sure if there were behind-the-scenes issues with this show or not, but it seems like it would have been more successful at that time. What I was able to read was that it went through a lot of personnel changes; had to compete with Bonanza; and that while viewers loved Judy, they did not love the format or Van Dyke.

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McClintock–Photo: tidefans.com

Jerry made a few more television appearances in the early sixties on Perry Mason, The Cara Williams Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and McClintock.

In 1965, Jerry was offered the role of Dave Crabtree on My Mother the Car. The premise of the show is that Dave buys an antique car only to realize his dead mother talks to him through the radio, and no one else knows it’s happening. This show is often cited as the worst sitcom of all times, but it certainly has some strong competition. Somehow viewers suffered through 30 episodes before the show was put out of its misery. I’m not sure if it was a blessing or a curse, but Jerry turned down the role of Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island for this show. Luckily, this show didn’t seem to have too much negativity on his career, while Bob Denver was typecast to the point that he never really had much of a career once the show ended.

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When the show ended, Jerry made appearances on That Girl and Vacation Playhouse before being offered another leading role. He was cast as Jerry Webster in Accidental Family. He aptly plays a nightclub comedian who was a widower with a small son Sandy. After buying a farm to raise Sandy, he hires Sue Kramer (Lois Nettleton) as governess and, of course, there is some romantic tension. This show only lasted for sixteen episodes before ending.

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After showing up on Good Morning World and Gomer Pyle, USMC, Jerry was offered another lead role as Jerry Brownell, a physical education teacher, on Headmaster. This was an Andy Griffith vehicle where Andy played the principal at an elite California private school. After fourteen episodes, Jerry was back to guest appearances which he made on Love American Style, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In 1977 he married again, this time to Shirley Ann Jones, and they were together until his death.

1979 brought him another regular role on 13 Queens Boulevard. The show was set in a New York apartment complex and explores the relationships of the residents. It just never clicked with fans and was given the boot after 9 shows.

Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke's Younger Brother, Dead at 86 | PEOPLE.com
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A decade later Jerry took on the role that he is best known for: Luther Van Dam on Coach. For eight years he was the assistant coach to Craig T. Nelson’s Hayden Fox–first as college coach and then for a time in the pros. Luther was the well-meaning but bumbling friend who often made life interesting for Hayden.  However, he was a great coach. Van Dyke would receive four Emmy nominations for his character on the show from 1990-1993. His losses were to Alex Rocco on The Famous Teddy Z, Jonathan Winters on Davis Rules, Michael Jeter on Evening Shade, and Michael Richards on Seinfeld.

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In the late nineties he had recurring roles on two shows that I do not remember anything about: Teen Angel and You Wish. Teen Angel was a weird concept where Marty DePolo eats a six-month old hamburger, dies, and then becomes his best friend’s guardian angel. Van Dyke played Grandpa Jerry. He played another grandpa on You Wish, which had an equally weird concept. Its premise is that a single mother finds a genie who was imprisoned in a magic carpet for 2000 years. Not surprisingly, they each had fewer than ten episodes before being canned.

Jerry Van Dyke was an avid poker player and fan, and from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, he hosted tournaments for ESPN. During that time, he also accepted guest roles on several television series and a few movies. However, his career was not over.

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He received two more recurring roles on popular sitcoms in the 2000s. From 2001-2005, he was Big Jimmy Hughes on Yes Dear and from 2010-2015, he was Tag Spence on The Middle.

He and his wife lived on a ranch in Hot Spring County in Arkansas where he seemed to be very happy. He passed away there from heart failure in 2018.

Most actors would have been very proud of a career mirroring Jerry Van Dyke’s, and I’m sure he was, but it would have been hard to be in your successful brother’s shadow so much of the time. Dick Van Dyke was five years older than Jerry and, with the success of The Dick Van Dyke Show, he had a career that was truly impressive. However, considering how few comedians make it in the business, Jerry had a stand-up career, a movie career, and a television career. His role of Luther Van Dam was a gem and gives us an example of what his career could have been if the luck of the dice had given him better roles.

Celebrating National Oregon Day with David Ogden Stiers

We are celebrating National State days this month.  This week we are celebrating Oregon. I’m sure a lot of stars grew up in Oregon, but my choice is David Ogden Stiers. Although Stiers was born in Illinois on Halloween in 1942, his family moved to Eugene, Oregon when he was in high school.  Based on his life, I think Oregon has the better claim to him. After graduation, Stiers enrolled in the University of Oregon.

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Early in his career, Stiers moved to San Francisco, performing with the California Shakespeare Theater, the San Francisco Actors Workshop, and the improv group, The Committee. I would like to learn more about The Committee whose members included Rob Reiner, Howard Hesseman, and Peter Bonerz.

In the 1960s, Stiers moved to New York to study at Juilliard for a couple of years and was able to appear in numerous Broadway productions. At Juilliard, Stiers was mentored by John Houseman.

Stiers was a prolific actor, appearing in 38 big screen movies, 39 made-for-tv movies, and more than 90 different television series.

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Stiers with Mary Tyler Moore–Photo: amazon.com

In the 1970s, he showed up on Kojak, Charlie’s Angels, Phyllis, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Tony Randall Show, and Paper Chase.

Most of us got to know him as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H. He became part of the cast in 1977 and continued with the show until it ended in 1983. As Winchester, Stiers would receive two Emmy nominations in 1981 and 1982. Both years he got beat by a Taxi alumni, Danny DeVito in 81 and Christopher Lloyd in 82.

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Stiers with Harry Morgan and William Christopher–Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

Winchester replaced Frank Burns whom Hawkeye and Hunnicutt made fun of for his inept medical skills. Charles was a brilliant surgeon but was an aristocrat from Boston and never let anyone forget it. However, as with all M*A*S*H characters, Winchester continues to evolve, and we learn more about his past and how that affected his personality.

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Stiers with Morgan and Loretta Swit–Photo: enews.com

Stiers always described Harry Morgan as his acting mentor, but he loved the entire cast. Although Stiers could come off a bit like Winchester at first meeting, once he got to know you, his castmates said “the walls came down and you saw a sweet, tender man.” Kellye Nakahara (Nurse Kellye) shared that she used to jump into Stier’s arms every morning so he could twirl her around like a princess at a ball.” Loretta Swit said “he was very much his own person, but he loved and adored us as we did him.” Executive producer Burt Metcalfe reported that “I have always felt that one of the reasons for the show’s success was that the audience sensed that the characters loved another and they loved the characters. And that love goes down to the actors.” All his coworkers described Stiers as a prankster on the set.

His life after M*A*S*H included roles on a variety of shows, including Alf, Wings, Star Trek, Murder She Wrote, Dr. Quinn, Ally McBeal, The Outer Limits, Touched by An Angel, and Frasier.

He would also receive recurring roles in four additional series during his career. In Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place, he played Mr. Bauer.

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Stiers with Swoosie Kurtz, Paget Brewster, and Brian Van Holt Photo: pinterest.com

I never watched Love & Money, but Stiers played the wealthy Nicholas Conklin; the show is described as “The penthouse-residing Conklin family of scholars and the basement-dwelling McBride family of maintenance men find themselves unhappily linked when the heiress daughter and blue-collar son fall in love.”  

I also never watched the Dead Zone, but Stiers played Reverend Purdy in the show where “Johnny had the perfect life until he was in a coma for six years When he awoke, he found his fiancé married to another man, his son doesn’t know him, and everything had changed including Johnny because he can now ‘see’ things.”

Rizzoli & Isles 6x09 - Love Taps - Recap - Pop City Life
Stiers with Sasha Alexander–Photo: popcitylife.com

He also played Arthur Isles in Rizzoli & Isles, one of my favorite shows from the past few years.

You could also hear Stiers in a number of animation films including Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and the Lilo and Stitch movies. He narrated many audiobooks as well.

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One of the reasons Oregon can lay claim to Stiers is because he continued to live in Newport and spent his later years as a conductor for the Newport Symphony Orchestra. As a fan of classical music, Stiers was able to be a guest conductor in more than 70 orchestras around the world. Newport seems to be a quirky, but fun, place with a population of only about 10,000. It is definitely on my list of places to visit.

In 2018, Stiers passed away from bladder cancer. He generously bequeathed funding for a variety of cultural groups including the Newport Symphony, the Newport Public Library, and the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts.

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I appreciate that Stiers loved and celebrated the arts. One of his thoughts about experiencing culture was: “The thing I love about the arts—music, theater, museums, galleries—is that everybody wins. You are touched and hopefully moved, and it is unique to each person. Even though you may have listened to the same performance, what you heard could be vastly different from what anyone else heard.” I’m happy that he was able to spend the last years of his life doing something he enjoyed so much after a life of giving to others through his acting performances—something we can all aspire to.

This Show was Too Close for Comfort

When I looked up the definition for “too close for comfort” it said “close enough to make a person feel nervous, worried or upset.” That is exactly how this show made me feel.

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I realize that I was hard to please in the 1980s. Coming out of the 1970s with M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show, I did not enjoy All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Alice, Maude, or Diff’rent Strokes. I did watch Cheers, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, and Moonlighting during that decade. Too Close for Comfort, along with Three’s Company, just didn’t strike me as funny.

When you invest in a show, you feel like these characters are part of your life. Ted Knight’s role of Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a flawed human being for sure, but I felt like we had spent a lot of time together, and I was able to see beyond the brash, obnoxious exterior to the vulnerable and kind being inside. It was if we had spent lots of hours over the kitchen table having coffee. Characters like Baxter teach us about the world and about ourselves. Ted Knight as Henry Rush was more like the neighbor whom I caught glimpses of out the kitchen window but there was no way to learn more about the character other than the surface appearances. The show was based more on plots than characters.

Too Close for Comfort was based on the British sitcom Keep It in the Family. It debuted in 1980. Henry Rush is a cartoonist who writes about the Cosmic Cow (a space crime fighter) and lives in San Francisco with his wife Muriel, a photographer (Nancy Dussault) and his two adult daughters Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who works at a bank and Sara (Lydia Cornell) who is a college student.

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The house was a two-family residence and the girls decide to rent from their parents. Henry is not sure it’s a good idea, but it’s the only apartment they can afford because he charges $300 rent for the bottom of the Victorian house. Monroe (Jim Bullock) is a friend of Sara’s who was cast only in one episode but ended up joining not only the cast but living with Henry and Muriel.

The show was on Tuesday nights. The show followed Three’s Company and its main competition was BJ and the Bear.

In season two, Muriel becomes pregnant and Henry’s niece April also comes to live with the Rushes.

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One of the signatures of Henry Rush was the variety of college sweatshirts he wore. Fans from around the country would send them to the network hoping to see them on the series. The first sweatshirt to make an appearance was the University of Michigan.

The third season found the show on Thursday nights and ratings declined significantly. The show was up against Cheers on NBC and Simon and Simon on CBS. April moves out and Muriel’s mother Iris (Audrey Meadows) moves in to help with the baby. The show was cancelled by the network. The fourth season went into syndication with new episodes.

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A fifth season began, but the show changed so much it really was a new series. The title was changed to The Ted Knight Show, the family now lived in Marin County where Henry bought a newspaper, a new theme song was created, a new opening was shot, and both daughters left the show. However, Monroe moved with Henry and Muriel. The new episodes began airing in April of 1986; 22 episodes were taped and after the first 12 aired, Knight passed away from colon cancer. The final ten episodes were run, and then the series ended.

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During the various seasons, the girls changed careers a lot. Jackie moved from the bank to a department store to a fashion designer. Sara held a bunch of part-time jobs while she was in college. She then became a bank teller, a weather woman at the local station KTSF, and an entrepreneur who sells Cosmic Cow Cookies.

In a Fox News interview, Cornell discusses how she received the role of Sara. She said she had to take a bus for the audition and showed up an hour late after being in the rain. The secretary told her auditions had closed but Arne Sultan said to let her audition as long as she came in. They gave her a script to read and a line said “She gives her dad a raspberry.” Sara picks up an imaginary raspberry and hands it to her dad. Sultan asked her what she was doing, and then explained a raspberry was a Bronx cheer. She felt very stupid and they were all laughing. The casting director and executives decided at that time she was perfect for the part and asked her to report to work the next day.

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I know that there have been far worse shows than Too Close for Comfort, but I’m not content having the bar set there because there have also been far better shows. Rather than my usual recommendation of buying the DVDs for a weekend of binge watching, I’m going to tell you to buy a good book instead.

Doris Roberts: One of Our Favorite Mothers

To begin the new year, we are looking at some of my favorite female television stars. We begin the series with Doris Roberts, everybody’s favorite mother.

Doris Roberts (1925-2016) - Find A Grave Memorial
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Doris was born in 1925 in St. Louis. When her parents split up, she went to the Bronx with her mother, and they lived with her grandparents. Her parents ran the Z.L. Rosenfield Agency which provided stenographic services to playwrights and actors. After studying journalism at New York University, she decided to try her hand acting, taking classes at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and working with Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio. In the fifties, she could be seen in a variety of Broadway shows including The Desk Set, The Last of the Red-Hot Lovers, and Bad Habits. She worked with Shirley Booth on The Desk Set and credited Booth with being her acting mentor.

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In 1951 she accepted her first role in television, appearing on the show Starlight Theatre. She accepted roles on several 1950s drama shows. In 1956, Doris married Michael Cannata. They divorced in 1962, and a year later she married William Goven, a playwright. They would stay together until his death in 1986.

Doris was offered her first film role in Something Wild in 1961. She would go on to appear in more than 30 movies.

Her television career also began to expand in the sixties when she appeared in about nine drama series. However, it was the seventies when she hit her stride. During that decade, she would make appearances in Mary Hartman, All in the Family, Family, Rhoda, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in addition to several others.

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Helping Phyllis find a job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
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On All in the Family, Doris played a bar patron who befriends Edith. Originally, Roberts was offered the role of Vivian on Norman Lear’s show, Maude but at the last minute, Lear asked Rue McClanahan to take the role over. Later Norman stated that he thought Roberts’ character was too similar to Bea Arthur’s Maude. On Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, she played a faith healer Dorelda Doremus.

Doris Roberts: Her Most Memorable TV Roles
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Doris mentioned that Lily Tomlin encouraged her to move to Los Angeles in 1973. After her relocation, Roberts received her first recurring character roles. She would appear in Soap as Flo Flotsky on four episodes, five episodes of Barney Miller, and she had a regular spot as the star’s mother on Angie which ran from 1979-1980.

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Her career continued to flourish throughout the eighties. She had recurring roles on as a gabby hairdresser on Maggie and on Alice as Lavin’s mother, and she was a regular on Remington Steele where Roberts played a former IRS agent who becomes the receptionist for the agency. In addition, she could be seen on Fantasy Island, St. Elsewhere, The Love Boat, Mr. Belvedere, and Cagney and Lacey, along with a variety of other shows.

Her appearance on St. Elsewhere gave her an Emmy win for a guest appearance, playing a homeless woman.

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Roberts on St. Elsewhere
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In the decade of the nineties, we saw her on Empty Nest, Murder She Wrote, and The King of Queens, among others. However, it was in 1996 when she was offered the role that would change her life. From 1996-2005 she came into our living rooms every week as Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.

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More than 100 actresses were considered for the role. She was nominated for seven Emmys, winning four of them (2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005). Amazingly, Ray Romano as Ray Barone, Peter Boyle as his dad Frank, Patricia Heaton as his wife Debra, Brad Garrett as his brother Robert and Doris Roberts appeared in all 210 episodes of the series.

Everybody Loves Raymond cast - Where are they now? | Gallery |  Wonderwall.com
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Ray Romano discussed the appeal Roberts had for viewers: “Here’s how good she was: She played the most intrusive, overbearing, nosy woman—always starting fights and whatnot and meddling in our business—and yet, when I asked the fans who their favorite character was, all the time it was her. She was so good at portraying the love that was underneath.” In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Doris described the character of Marie Barone: “Nine glorious years; everything good comes to an end. She doesn’t give in, she doesn’t give up and she never takes no for an answer.”

Doris remained friends with the cast, especially her on-screen husband Frank played by Peter Boyle. After his death, Roberts remembered him: “Peter was so different from the characters he played. He was brilliant, well read, sensitive, a gentleman.” Roberts was able to visit him at home and in the hospital and to be with the family after his passing.

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From 2006-2014, her work continued. In addition to a recurring role on The Middle, she appeared on Law and Order, Grey’s Anatomy, Hot in Cleveland, and Desperate Housewives, along with six other less-known shows. Her role on The Middle gave her a chance to work with her Everybody Loves Raymond costar, Patricia Heaton again.

In addition to her acting career, Roberts was a dedicated activist. She testified before Congress about age discrimination in Hollywood, worked with a variety of animal rights groups, and was chairwoman for the Children with AIDS Foundation. She also had a variety of hobbies including traveling, philanthropy, collecting wine, dancing, singing, and cooking. She claimed her favorite movie was Gone with the Wind.

In 2003, Roberts published her memoir cowritten with Danelle Morton, titled, Are You Hungry Dear? Life, Laughs, and Lasagna. She included many of her favorite recipes in the biography.

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In 2016, Roberts died following a stroke. Romano said “Doris Roberts had an energy and a spirit that amazed me. She never stopped. Whether working professionally or with her many charities, or just nurturing and mentoring a green young comic trying to make it as an actor, she did everything with such a grand love for life and people, and I will miss her dearly.”

Patricia Heaton said Doris’s television husband Peter Boyle was sick so the cast was able to prepare themselves for his death, but Doris died quickly. Heaton said “Roberts was funny and tough and loved life, living it to the fullest.”

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One of my favorite quotes by Doris Roberts is that “everybody is a teacher if you listen.” Thanks for teaching and entertaining us for more than six decades.

Bert Convy: A Multi-Talented Star

I’m calling this series “The Men of November.”  We are taking a look at five actors who contributed to television during the classic decades of the 1940s-1980s. I’ve decided to take them in alphabetical order so we are starting with Bert Convy.

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Born in St. Louis in 1933, Convy’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was seven.  His focus was athletics, not acting, in school. When he was 17, the Philadelphia Phillies gave him a contract to play in their minor league system which he did from 1951-1952. In 1951 he played for the Klamath Falls Gems (Oregon), and in 1952 he split his time with the Salina Blue Jays (Kansas) and the Miami Eagles (Oklahoma).

Once he realized baseball was not going to be his career, he joined The Cheers, who released a top ten hit called “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” in 1955. Convy opted to enroll at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, earning a BA.

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Like Ken Berry, he was a performer in the Billy Barnes Revues which was popular in the fifties and sixties. In 1956, he was an usher on Art Linkletter’s popular show House Party. He appeared in several early television series throughout the late fifties, including Those Whiting Girls.

In 1959 he married Anne Anderson. They had three children and were divorced in 1991.

Perry Mason
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He showed up on the small screen a lot during the sixties, primarily in detective shows including Perry Mason in 1960. His first feature role was in the big screen drama Susan Slade starring Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens in 1961. He also spent a part of this decade on Broadway in ten different productions.

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The decade of the seventies found him balancing roles in both detective (Mission Impossible, McMillan and Wife, Police Story and Charlie’s Angels among many others) and comedy shows (including Bewitched, Love American Style, and Karen). He appeared on The Partridge Family as a politician who dates Shirley. You get the distinct impression that they ended up together once the kids were out on their own. He also portrayed one of Mary’s boyfriends on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

As Paul Revere on Bewitched
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He received his first recurring role in 1974, playing Lt. Steve Ostrowski on The Snoop Sisters. The show starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as two sisters, one widowed and one never married, who are mystery writers that also get involved in real murders.

Silver Scenes - A Blog for Classic Film Lovers: The Snoop Sisters ...
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Two years later he starred in a short-lived variety show with the convoluted title of The Late Summer Early Fall Bert Convy Show. The title alone probably doubled the advertising budget. When I say short-lived, I mean I could only find one episode of the show which featured Don Knots.

He was offered another permanent role in 1983 on It’s Not Easy. Originally Larry Breeding was given the role and made the pilot, but he passed away after a car accident. This show only lasted for 11 episodes. The plot is that Jack and Sharon have divorced. Sharon has remarried and she and her husband Neal (Convy) have decided to live across the street from Jack so it’s easier for the kids. Jack and Neal do not like each other.

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He appeared in a few series during the eighties including Aloha Paradise, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, Hotel, The Love Boat and The People Next Door.  

Cannonball Run Poster
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While he would make ten big screen and fifteen made-for-television movies, two of them involved his buddy Burt Reynolds. Convy appeared in Semi-Tough in 1977 and Cannonball Run in 1981. The two friends developed a production company, Burt and Bert Productions.

Convy was probably best known for his game show work. He was a panelist during the sixties and seventies on a variety of shows including What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and Password. He hosted Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw. His emceeing of Tattletales resulted in an Emmy for Best Game Show Host in 1977.

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In April of 1990, Convy collapsed and was diagnosed with cancer. The brain tumor was inoperable, forcing his retirement. His last credit was as himself on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1990. He married his second wife Catherine Hills during the winter of 1991, and he passed away in July of 1991.

Sadly, Convy was never offered that perfect role that made him an icon, but he certainly had a full career. He had a lot of talents: acting, singing, and the personality to host game shows. I think it was his smile that always made him a favorite with me.

The Tony Randall Show: It May Have Been Judged Too Quickly

As we wind up our “Don’t Judge Me” blog series, today we’ve been sent to the bench to sit along side Judge Walter Franklin (Tony Randall) on The Tony Randall Show. Judge Franklin is a middle-aged, single-parent, widower living in Philadelphia. His extremely bright kids–teenage daughter Roberta (Devon Scott) and preteen son Oliver (Brad Savage) live with the judge, along with daffy housekeeper Bonnie (Rachel Roberts). At work we get to know his severe secretary “Miss” Janet Reubner (Allyn Ann McLerie), court reporter Jack Terwilliger (Barney Martin), and Mario Lanza (Zane Lasky), no not THAT Mario Lanza, but an overbearing assistant the judge does not care for. Judge Eleanor Cooper (Diana Muldaur) plays his co-worker and “lady friend.”

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In the second season, Penny Peyser took over the role of Roberta, and Hans Conried joined the cast as Walter’s father. A lot of famous guest stars found themselves in front of the judge during the two years it was on the air. A handful of stars who appeared around Judge Franklin included Victor Buono, Beverly Garland, Michael Keaton, Hal Smith, David Ogden Stiers, and Dick Van Patten.

If this sounds a little bit like the concept of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where we see a professional at work and at home, that’s because The Tony Randall Show was produced by MTM Enterprises and created by Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses. This was the duo that produced The Bob Newhart Show a few years earlier.

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The Tony Randall Show debuted on ABC in 1976. When ABC cancelled the show, it was picked up by CBS for a second season. Surprisingly, the show was not cancelled by ABC for low ratings. The show was holding its own going up against Hawaii Five-0 and Best Sellers on Thursday nights. Apparently, Patchett and Tarses did not get along with Tony Randall.  Unfortunately, they did not get along with each other either, and on top of that, they refused to take calls from ABC president Fred Silverman. Tiring of the drama, Silverman ended the show. On CBS, the show moved to Saturday nights and was on at the same time as Operation Petticoat and The Bionic Woman. When CBS cancelled the show, it was done for good.

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Reflecting on the show, Grant Tinker remembered “Tony was born to work in front of a live audience, and the writing was largely first rate. Ultimately, however, three strong egos could not live together. Since Tony was obviously essential, Tom and Jay retreated to their office and oversaw from a distance, giving two of MTM’s younger writers, Hugh Wilson and Gary David Goldberg their first chance to produce.” (Wilson would go on to create WKRP in Cincinnati and Goldberg would create Family Ties and Brooklyn Bridge.)

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At least this turmoil produced some good results. Goldberg said from his time on The Tony Randall Show, he learned you need to hire good people and let them do their job, and that if you have to remind people you are the producer, you’re probably not a very good one.

Ken Levine discussed working with Randall in his blog from June of 2007 (kenlevine.blogspot.com/2007/06/working-with-tony-randall.html). According to Levine, Randall “was the consummate professional. Not only did he know all of his lines, he knew everyone else’s too. . . . I loved working with Tony Randall. Of course, it helped that he thought I was funny and that I didn’t smoke.”

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Everyone seemed to enjoy working with Randall. In a Television Academy interview, Asaad Kelada, one of the directors for the show, described Randall as a “fascinating, erudite, funny man.” He talked about the way he warmed up an audience before the show with his stories. It must have been a fun set sometimes because Kelada said he used to wear a sweater over his shoulders, and it became his trademark. One day he said there was a bit of extra energy on the set, and he suddenly realized absolutely everyone on set from the cameramen to gophers to stars were wearing sweaters, blankets, or towels around their shoulders. The Television Academy also did interviews with Abby Singer, production manager for the show, and Hugh Wilson about his writing and producing. Singer said Randall was “a good guy.” When asked if the rumors that Randall was particular were true, he said “Yes, he was so particular it was unbelievable. You couldn’t even whisper when he was on the set, but he was a sweet guy.” Wilson backed their comments up, saying “It was super to work with Tony Randall. He was a vast library of show business information and very nice.”

Despite all the problems on the set, Randall was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role of Judge Franklin. He lost to Henry Winkler for Happy Days.

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I could not find any official DVDs for The Tony Randall Show, but some of the episodes can be found online. It sounds like the show had all the right ingredients but either did not have enough time to find its true voice or appeared a bit too late in the 1970s at a time when things were changing in television programming. Anytime you can watch Tony Randall on the small screen (or the big screen for that matter) is a special opportunity.

Hi Bob! We’re Always Happy to See The Bob Newhart Show

From 1972-1978 we were able to benefit from the sage advice of Dr. Robert Hartley from the comfort of our own living rooms. Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music, and produced by MTM Enterprises, The Bob Newhart Show gifted us with 142 episodes for us treat ourselves to after the show left the air.

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In an online article by Marc Freeman in April of 2018, Dave Davis discussed the evolution of the sitcom. “Lorenzo and I wrote a segment for Bob on Love American Style. Bob wasn’t available. So, we got Sid Caesar. A few years later, we did a script for Bob for the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Again, Bob wasn’t available. After we became story editors on Mary’s show, MTM Enterprises decided to branch out and asked Lorenzo and me to do a pilot. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted a show with Bob.”

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When Bob Newhart was approached about starring in the show, he required two changes from the original concept. First, he wanted his character to be a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist. This seems like a minor request, but he was very wise because he did not want anyone to think the show was making fun of mental illness. He also insisted that his character not have children. The “father doesn’t know best but thinks he does” underlying concept was not one he wanted the show to focus on. Bob was careful when creating the character of Bob Hartley. Newhart once said “the key to building a show around a stand-up is maintaining the integrity of the persona you create.” This was definitely true for the Bob Newhart Show.

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The show has a very simple premise in that we see Bob dealing with the same everyday problems the rest of us did. It was grounded in reality. Bob was the straight man. He was surrounded by all these quirky characters, but they were believable and likeable.

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The show moves back and forth between Bob’s practice and his home; we get to know his co-workers and his friends and family. At work, he shares his floor and receptionist Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) with orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) and urologist Bernie Tupperman (Larry Gelman). Carol and Jerry become two of his best friends. We also get to know some of his regular patients including Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), Emile Peterson (John Fiedler), and Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus).

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Bob is married to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) who is a school teacher. Across the hall is the apartment of their friend and neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily), an airline navigator. Although Bob insisted on no children, in many ways, Howard was Bob and Emily’s child.

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In season four of the show, Howard meets and begins dating Bob’s sister Ellen (Pat Finley) and they eventually marry, making Howard a legal family member.

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Bob and Emily were the only characters to appear in all 142 episodes. Suzanne Pleshette was asked to play Emily after she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson one night. She was seated next to Bob, and the producers thought the two of them had great chemistry. In real life Bob and Suzy, as he called her, were best friends. He spoke at her funeral. When he recalled their time together, he said “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace.

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They worked so well as a couple because Emily is very bright and funny. She and Bob argued because they were both a bit stubborn, but they always found a way to compromise at the end of the day. Bob often shared his wisdom through stories. He would do a bit of a monologue that related to what was happening on the show. It was referred to as the “Emily, sit down” moment.

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The phone is also important on the show. If you are familiar with Newhart’s career, you realize some of the first skits that escalated his stand-up career were phone conversations. On this show, we often hear a one-sided conversation when he chats with friends or patients. One example of this is:

Bob:  “Yes, this is Dr. Hartley. What can I do for you?

Well, Mr. Johnson, smiling and whistling while you work doesn’t seem to be a problem you should – you should see a psychologist about.

You drive a hearse?”

Although all the major characters on the show were like family to the Hartleys, the mailman on the show was truly family. Bill Quinn who played the postman was Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.

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Bonerz who played Jerry became interested in directing. He ended up directing 29 episodes of this show and then went on to a successful career as a director. He directed episodes on a variety of shows including E/R, Alf, Wings, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Home Improvement. His view of the importance of the show was that “the most interesting thing about the show and why its successful is that it brings up things that come up in your life. That’s what art’s supposed to do. That’s what TV should be doing. When it does, people remember it and reflect how much they like it.”

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The show was on Saturday nights. For the first five seasons, it followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show airing at 9:30 EDT and its competition on NBC was Saturday Night at the Movies. For season five, the show was changed to earlier in the evening against Starsky and Hutch on ABC. For its final year, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was off the air and Bob’s show aired at 8 pm Saturday opposite Fish and The Bionic Woman. The sitcom placed in the top 20 for the first three seasons and the top 30 for season four.

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Bob had requested the network move the show to a different night. That didn’t happen, and the television executives wanted Emily to have a baby, even though Bob had specified that not be part of the plot. So, he ended the show after six years. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.”

If you read my blog on Bob Newhart recently, you know how incensed I was that this show never won an Emmy, and was only nominated once, and Newhart never received an Emmy for any of his sitcoms in the seventies and eighties. It would take his recurring role on The Big Bang Theory as Professor Proton for him to win the Emmy.

However, the show was ranked ninth and fiftieth on “TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Times in 1997.”

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In 2004, TV Land picked this show as one of the series it commemorated with a sculpture. A statue of Newhart seated in a chair facing an empty couch is located in the Navy Pier entertainment complex.

I have to admit I was not a big fan of the finale of The Bob Newhart Show. Bob closes his practice in Chicago and accepts a teaching position at a small college in Oregon. I just don’t picture Bob and Emily being happy in a small Oregon town. However, the finale for Bob Newhart’s sitcom, Newhart, more than makes up for this ending.

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Bob Newhart credits his wife Ginnie with coming up with the idea for the finale of Newhart. Newhart is set in Vermont where Bob and his wife Joanna run a historic inn. They have to deal with some wacky locals and their maid and handy man. This show ran eight years. In the finale, Bob wakes up in bed. We hear him restless and wanting to talk about his dream. Suddenly we realize he and Emily Hartley are in bed together. Part of their conversation is:

Emily:  All right, Bob? What is it?

Bob: I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.

Emily: No more Japanese food before you go to bed.

Another great television moment occurred on Murphy Brown in 1994. Bonerz was the director of the sitcom. Of course, we remember how fast Murphy went through secretaries. She found fault with all of them. In this episode, Marcia Wallace appears as Carol Kester. She is Murphy’s 66th secretary. Murphy thinks Carol is a wonderful secretary, and she is finally satisfied. However, Bob Newhart shows up as Bob Hartley, begging Carol to come back to work for him.

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One of the iconic lines from the show was “Hi Bob.” Howard Borden said it 118 times, Jerry said it 43, Carol came in at 36, and Emily at 17. Even minor characters would utter the line from time to time, and Bob said it once himself. College students turned this into a drinking game watching the reruns, taking a shot whenever the line occurred.

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The best evidence that this was one of the best sitcoms ever produced is that people still love it today, more than four decades after it went off the air. The comedy is timeless. Let’s give Bob Newhart the final word about what the show meant to him. As he reflected the show’s legacy, he said, “I’m very proud of the show, the cast and the writing. Look at how long it’s lasted and how long people have enjoyed it. I run into people more and more who come up to me and say, ‘We used to sit as a family and watch your show.’ They look upon it as a wonderful time in their life. It’s very real to them and an important part of their life. It’s nice to be remembered that you made people laugh.”

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Bob Newhart: Laughing Through Life

This month I wanted to honor one of our most beloved television comedians: Bob Newhart. Next week we’ll spend some time learning more about The Bob Newhart Show.

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Newhart was born George Robert Newhart in 1929 in Oak Park, IL. He grew up in a typical midwestern family where his father was part owner of a plumbing and heating supply company, and his mom was a housewife. As a young boy, he always wanted to be called Bob. He had a Catholic education and went on to Loyola University of Chicago in 1947. Graduating in 1952 with a business degree, he was soon drafted into the US Army in the Korean war where he stayed until 1954. He considered getting a law degree and went back to Loyola. He decided not to pursue that; some sources site that he was asked to behave unethically during an internship which led him down a different career path.

He worked as an accountant and as an unemployment office clerk. In 1958 he was hired as a copywriter for Fred Niles who was a television producer in Chicago. It was while working here that Newhart and a colleague began entertaining each other by making telephone calls about absurd scenarios. They sent these to radio stations as audition tapes. A radio station disc jockey Dan Sorkin introduced Newhart to a Warner Brothers Records executive who signed him in 1959 based on those recordings. Bob then began creating stand-up routines which he performed at nightclubs.

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He released an album in 1960 which changed his life. Titled, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedy album made number one on the Billboard charts, and he won a Grammy for best new artist. A follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back was released soon thereafter. He would continue releasing comedy albums in 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1973.

During a 2005 interview for American Masters on public television, Bob stated that his favorite routine was Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue which was on his first album. A promoter for Abraham Lincoln has to deal with his reluctance to boost his image. A tv director named Bill Daily suggested the routine to him. Daily would be known later as Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show (as well as Roger Healey on I Dream of Jeannie).

The success of that first album led to a variety show titled The Bob Newhart Show. It only lasted a year, but it did receive both an Emmy nomination and a Peabody award. Apparently, he didn’t enjoy his time during the show so much. Halfway through the season he wanted to quit, but his agent explained that being under contract meant that was not possible. At a later date, he referred to his first show, saying “It won an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a pink slip from NBC. All in the same year.”

He began making the rounds on television shows, appearing on The Dean Martin Show 24 times and The Ed Sullivan Show 8 times. He guest hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 87 times. When discussing his appearances on Johnny’s show, he stated “I remember once when I emceed The Tonight Show in New York, I arrived with my manager’s son. After a while, they asked, ‘When are the rest of your people coming?’ I had to say, ‘This is it.’”

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In 1962 Newhart accepted his first movie role, Hell is for Heroes, starring Steve McQueen. He would continue to do movie roles throughout his career including the Christmas classic Elf, but the small screen would make him famous.

In 1963 Buddy Hackett introduced Bob to Virginia Quinn, whose father was character actor Bill Quinn. They wed in January of 1963 and 57 years later are still happily married.

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For the next decade, he continued to accept movie and television roles. In 1972, television history was made when The Bob Newhart Show debuted. Until 1978, Newhart played Bob Hartley, psychologist, and we got to know his unusual patients, quirky co-workers, and eccentric friends, including neighbor Howard Borden. Bob chose a psychologist based partly on his old telephone routines. As he said, “Much of my humor comes out of reaction to what other people are saying. A psychologist is a man who listens, who is sympathetic.”

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In 1982, Bob gave television another go for another eight years. Simply titled Newhart, the show featured Bob as Dick Loudon, an innkeeper and author from Vermont. He still had quirky co-workers and eccentric friends.

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On cue a decade later in 1992, Bob showed up in a new show even more simply titled, Bob as Bob McKay a comic book writer and artist who had retired long ago and was trying to get back into the workplace. Unfortunately, after 33 episodes the show was canceled due to low ratings.

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In 1997, Newhart starred in his last sitcom, George and Leo. As George Stoody, a bookstore owner, Newhart offers a temporary home to a full-time magician and part-time criminal who recently robbed a Mafia-owned casino. The series failed to catch on with viewers, and it was canceled after a season as well.

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Though he never took on another sitcom, Newhart has made appearances with recurring characters in several shows. In 2003, he showed up on ER as Ben Hollander. In 2005, he was Morty on Desperate Housewives. As Judson, he guest starred on The Librarians.

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Perhaps, younger audiences know him best as Arthur Jeffries or Professor Proton on The Big Bang Theory. He had been Sheldon’s boyhood hero who played the professor on television. Sheldon idolized the professor while the professor tolerated Sheldon.

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It’s hard to believe with all of his years being a successful television comedian, but Newhart won his first Emmy in 2013 for his role of Professor Proton. I can’t argue with the nominees for most of the 1970s during the airing of The Bob Newhart Show–names like Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Alan Alda, and Hal Linden. Even with my bias of Norman Lear shows, I get nominating Carroll O’Connor every single one of those years. I understand the tough competition. What I don’t understand is the fact that he was never nominated during that eight-year period. When Jack Albertson wins, and Bob Newhart is not even nominated that is wrong. During the Newhart years, he was at least nominated three times. But I don’t understand it when John Ritter wins for Three’s Company or Richard Mulligan for Soap and no nomination for Bob Newhart. What especially appalls me is the fact that The Bob Newhart Show was only nominated one year; I can accept the fact that it got beat out by The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I cannot accept is that during this same time, Three’s Company, Mork and Mindy, and Welcome Back Kotter received nominations, and The Bob Newhart Show did not. Anyway, this blog is not about the television academy and its procedures, so let’s move on.

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Even though he was never awarded with an Emmy for his time as Bob Hartley, TV Land placed a life-sized statue of Newhart in front of Navy Pier, complete with an empty couch. He was best friends with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the show, and spoke at her funeral. He remembered their time together, “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace who played his receptionist Carol on the show.

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While Bob has appeared as different characters throughout his career, he has also remained the same character. With his deadpan delivery and slight stammer, he perfected the straight-man role, surrounding himself with wacky castmates. He has often cited George Gobel and Bob and Ray as influences in his comedy career. When discussing his career choice, he explained “I like the humor to come out of character. When you’re going for a joke, you’re stuck out there if it doesn’t work. There’s nowhere to go. You’ve done the drum role and the cymbal clash and you’re out on the end of the plank.”

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In 2006, he released a book I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. It’s a memoir with some of his classic comedy routines. Actor David Hyde Pierce reported that “the only difference between Bob Newhart on stage and Bob Newhart offstage is that there is no stage.”

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I am so appreciative of those stars who agree to entertain us for our entire life, such as Betty White, Carol Burnett, and Bob Newhart. They are classic comedians who can make us laugh no matter what. Bob’s view on comedy was that “laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” What an amazing career and what an amazing man. With all its negatives and sometimes destructive tendencies, television can be a harmful place, but a comedian like Bob Newhart demonstrates what a positive and uplifting experience television can be when done right. Thanks for doing it right for sixty years.

Mabel Albertson: What a Character!

As we wind up our What a Character series, it seemed fitting to end with Mabel Albertson, perhaps the most recognizable of our character actors. She is often remembered for playing the mother of well-known characters. Mabel was born in Massachusetts in 1901. Her mother, who was a stock actress, helped support the family by working in a shoe factory. Mabel’s brother Jack would also become a famous actor.

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Mabel knew she wanted to get involved in the entertainment business at a young age. When she was 13, she played the piano for $5 a performance. She graduated from the New England School of Speech and Expression.

Albertson began working in stock, vaudeville, and night clubs and appeared with Jimmy Durante. Eventually she moved to California where she became involved with the Pasadena Playhouse where Charles Lane got his start.

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Mabel married Austin Ripley, and they had a son in 1926, but their marriage soon dissolved. Mabel decided to pursue a career in film. Although she would have credits for 27 movies during her career, her film career was not what she hoped for. So, she switched gears and tried out radio. During the 1930s, she co-starred with Phil Baker on The Armour Hour and from 1936-37, she was in Dress Rehearsal with Pinky Lee. She also did some writing for the show.

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All The Fine Young Cannibals

In 1937 Mabel married writer Ken Englund who adopted her son George. He began writing for Paramount Pictures and later would be hired by RKO, Columbia Studios, 20th Century Fox, and The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

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Burns and Allen

Although her husband’s career was made on the big screen, her career really took off when television made its appearance. Her first role on the small screen was on the Chevron Theater in 1952. During the 1950s, she appeared in 21 different shows. Although many of her roles were on the playhouse and theater shows, she also showed up on Burns and Allen, Topper, December Bride, Bachelor Father, Jack Benny, and Have Gun Will Travel. In 1955, she was offered a role in Those Whiting Girls. She played the girls’ mother. The show was on the air until 1957.

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Those Whiting Girls

Mabel became the “face” of television sitcom mothers. She played Phyllis Stephens, Darrin’s mother on Bewitched and often said “Frank, take me home, I’m getting a sick headache.” Her husband wrote several Bewitched episodes (season 1, episodes 25 and 30).

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Bewitched

She played Mabel, Paul Lynde’s mother-in-law on The Paul Lynde Show; she was the mother of Marilyn’s boyfriend on The Munsters, as well as Alice’s mother on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Fans of That Girl will remember her as Don Hollister’s mother, and she was seen on The Andy Griffith Show as Howard Sprague’s mother. Her last mother role was on the New Dick Van Dyke Show as his mom.

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That Girl

Her most successful years were the 1960s when she appeared in 39 television shows, including Perry Mason; Ben Casey; My Three Sons; Hazel; Ozzie and Harriet; The Wild, Wild West; Daniel Boone; Gomer Pyle USMC; Love American Style; and Gunsmoke. A review for her performance on Gunsmoke is posted by jlthornb5110 on imdb.

The review states that her role of Kate Heller is one “of the standout episodes of the series with Miss Mabel Albertson giving what is nothing less than the performance of a lifetime. Beautifully written by Kate Hite, this is a powerful presentation and one in which Albertson truly shines. The climax is absolutely soul shattering and among the most dramatically emotional ever filmed for television. Miss Albertson plays it with a sensitivity and an incredible insight you will never forget. The character of Kate Heller is heartbreaking but quietly strong, a survivor of the psychological brutality of loneliness in the old west and the violence that was part of existence. Mabel Albertson gives the character everything she has within her, brings her to life, and makes her one of the most unforgettable personalities to ever appear on Gunsmoke or any other television series in history.”

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The Tom Ewell Show

She was offered a role as a permanent cast member in The Tom Ewell Show in 1960. The premise of the show is that real estate agent Tom Potter played by Ewell must learn to live in a household of females including his wife, his three girls and his mother-in-law Irene played by Albertson. Even their dog, Mitzi, was a girl. Although Mabel’s brother Jack would be best remembered for his role on Chico and the Man, he appeared on this series with his sister in 1960. The series aired 32 episodes before it was canceled.

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Jack Albertson

I’m not sure where she found time for Broadway during this decade, but she was in The Egg in 1962 and Xmas in Las Vegas in 1965.

While her career began to slow down in the seventies, she was still quite busy, appearing in The Doris Day Show, Ironside, Marcus Welby, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among others. She appeared in an episode of Arnie with her brother in 1970. She also worked with her daughter-in-law, Cloris Leachman, in the movie Pete and Tillie in 1974.

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Frank, I feel a headache coming on

Her family continued to attract talented actors. Her granddaughter-in-law was actress Sharon Stone.

In 1975, Mabel was forced to retire. Her memory was beginning to fail, and she was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She passed away from the illness in 1982.

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Like Milton Frome, I was both sad and disappointed to learn how little information there was about Mabel Albertson. I thought I would learn more about her working relationships considering she had a fifty-year career and played iconic mother roles on so many well-loved shows.

As we wrap of this edition of What a Character! series, my hope is that you recognize and acknowledge these actors when you see them when tuning in to your favorite classic shows and remember how much they contributed to our television history. Personally, to keep Mabel’s memory alive, I think any time we are having a family situation, I will turn to my husband and whisper, “Frank, take me home, I’m getting a sick headache.”