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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.

Photo: youtube.com

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.

photo: imdb.com
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.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
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).

Photo: pinterest.com
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.

Photo: jacksonupperco.com
That Girl

Her greatest success was in 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.”

Photo: cscottrollins.blogspot.com
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.

Photo: findagrave.com
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.

Photo: pinterest.com
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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.”

The Comforts of Home: Our Favorite Set Designs

In our quest to go behind the scenes during this month of blog posts, today we learn a bit about set decoration. There are several job positions available on the set of a television show. The set decorator is responsible for buying or renting the set items, the storage of items, placement and monitoring the budgets. The assistant set decorator reports to the set decorator. They often do research before planning for the various sets. The set buyer also reports to the set decorator. They take care of purchasing or renting the individual items needed for the set. Buyers create relationships with stores and antique vendors. The lead dresser carries out tasks assigned by the set decorator. The onset dresser takes care of props, cleans items, places items in relationship to the camera lens.

Beth Kushnick, the set decorator for The Good Wife shares some advice for set design: do your research, create a decorating workbook, choose an item that sets the tone of the room, carry a tape measure with you at all times, try out different furniture placement, and consider using unusual paint colors.

Maggie Masetti wrote an article in 2012 about chatting with Ann Shea, set decorator for The Big Bang Theory. Ann says “she is the set decorator, and so usually once I get the plans and the walls are built is when I start my work of providing the furniture and the plants and the artwork and all the cool objects, the floor coverings and the practical lights.” She has a variety of sources she uses to shop including prop houses, online shops, and retail stores. She said once the sets are developed, she continues to be busy. Sets are put up and taken down over and over and they have to be just right.  Also, if a show is on for an extended time period, subtle changes are necessary just like our homes.

“The Monster Isolation” — After a terrible date, Koothrappali vows to never leave his apartment. Meanwhile, Penny actually impresses Sheldon with her acting skills, on THE BIG BANG THEORY, Thursday, Feb. 21 (8:00-8:31 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg and Johnny Galecki Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ann said once she determined the set for the comic book store, she was happy, but then a producer said that it had to change every episode like a real store with inventory in and out—as viewers we don’t think about all the work that goes into sometimes more minor settings. I’m thinking about how much a set designer would have to learn to create an astrophysicist’s office/lab. A couple of her favorite items that show up on the show include the DNA sculpture, the WMAP beach ball, and the periodic table shower curtain.

Photo: spotern.com

One of the things I hadn’t considered was that designers have to fill closets and drawers in the main sets, so everything is realistic.

I thought it would be fun to consider some of the sets from shows that are a bit more unique and then look at shows that had to be more realistic. Let’s take a look at a few shows that had unusual sets: The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, and Green Acres. Then we’ll compare some apartments of some of our favorite television characters including Mary Richards, Bob and Emily Hartley, and Frasier Crane.

Photo: gilliganfandom.com
The girls’ hut which you can tell by the flower box in the window.
Photo: gilliganfandom.com
The Howells’ hut with its orange door

Gilligan’s Island sounds like an easy set to create.  Just throw a few huts up on amid trees and jungle greenery, right? However, you have to personalize each hut with basic items to give each one its own personality. There is also that fine line that is often crossed on the show about how much stuff the castaways actually have with them. I am not surprised they had an accident and were wrecked; I don’t think the storm had anything to do with it, I think it was the thousands of pounds of luggage they apparently took on board.

Photo: gilligan’sisland.org

First, we have the Howell’s hut. Flowered red curtains frame the window. There are a number of knick-knacks setting about including Mr. Howell’s polo stick. There are twin beds with elaborate headboards, several wicker chairs, a writing desk, several tables, and a bamboo hutch. Of course, Mr. Howell installed a hidden safe for his valuables and money. A second room was built to store their luggage and clothing.

Photo: youtube.com

Gilligan and the Skipper share a hut with hammocks. There is a window for each of them at the front entrance. A bamboo telescope resides under one of the windows. Decorations are minimal but include a photo of the Skipper, several shells, a couple of candles, a small table and chair and a crate for Gilligan’s personal items. Gilligan and the Skipper don’t appear to have any other clothes than their uniforms.

Photo: youtube.com

Mary Ann and Ginger also share a hut. A heavy wooden door and one window face the front. A flower box hangs on that. Flowery curtains make it look more “girly.” Each girl has her own cot and here are two tables, one for writing and one for make-up.

I’m assuming the Professor stays in the supply hut. This hut stores supplies, food, water, items salvaged from the SS Minnow and the Professor’s crudely designed laboratory. Like the girls’ hut, it has a heavy door and window out front and includes a smaller window as well. Boxes and crates are placed here and there as is the Professor’s equipment.

Photo: mentalfloss.com

The huts help define the characters who live there. In addition, we learn a lot about them by their clothing with the Howells appearing in designer clothing, Ginger in gowns, Mary Ann in informal rural outfits, the Professor in plain shirts and slacks, and Gilligan and the Skipper in their nautical attire.

Photo: pinterest.com

From the airy, tropical setting, let’s flip to the dark and dingy interior of The Munsters. The Munsters are said to live in an average neighborhood, but their home is anything but average. Located in Universal City, the house was rumored to cost a million dollars to outfit in 1963.

Although Herman works at the local undertakers and Eddie goes to school with the other kids, when friends come over, it is definitely not one of the cookie cutter homes in the neighborhood. There are cobwebs all over the house, and the windows are covered in curtains that let very little light in.

Photo: pinterest.com

Lily’s bedroom looks more like a setting for a horror movie than a family sitcom, but she and Herman are quite comfortable in their master bedroom.

Photo: pinterest.com

Although it appears to have been abandoned for quite some time, this is where the family gathers nightly. The furniture is heavy, dark and very Victorian. There is little in the way of knick-knacks.

Photo: pinterest.com

After open and sunny and then closed and dreary, let’s combine the two and look at the Douglas home on Green Acres. In New York City, Lisa and Oliver were wealthy and lived in a penthouse apartment with expensive furnishings. Their house in Hooterville is anything but exclusive.

Photo: hobbydo.com

The walls are falling down, the wallpaper is peeling off the walls, and one of their bedroom walls is open to the outside elements which makes it easy for them to climb the telephone pole when they need to make a phone call.

Photo: pinterest.com

Although they are in a rural setting, Lisa continues to wear her designer gowns and negligees and brought all her expensive items from her apartment.

Lisa and Oliver brought all their expensive artwork and furniture with them from their New York penthouse. Somehow it does not seem out of place for the Douglases. Lisa even uses her fine china and crystal daily.

While it’s fun to see some unique designs that set the stage for some of our favorite characters, now we switch gears to analyze three apartments that had more realistic designs. Often, we watch sitcoms and somehow in the middle of a city like New York, someone has a large apartment that we all realize they could not afford. In order to be more believable, set designers must rely on what a character could afford for their home and interior items on their salary.

Let’s take a look at three apartments and see how they change as we increase the salaries the characters have. The one thing all three have in common is a great terrace with a view.

Photo: chicagotribune.com

Mary Richards’ apartment on The Mary Tyler Moore Show is an iconic one. Growing up, most girls dream of having an apartment just like this one. Located in a classic Victorian home in Minneapolis, her home was affordable but cute and practical.

Photo: pinterest.com

Mary paid $130 a month for her home. Mary often complains about having enough but not any extra money, so she needs to be a bit frugal with her funds. This is a studio apartment so her living room and bedroom share the same space. Usually this is not an issue, but it’s tough to have company stay with her. One night after Mary has settled down for the night, Rhoda and her date stop by and we see Mary quickly trying to fold her bed back into the couch, so they don’t have to sit on her bed and realize they woke her up.

Her rooms are outfitted with great storage options. In her sunken living room, there are shelves running around part of the room where she stores books and knick-knacks. A cozy little area with a chair and table is in front of her terrace window—a fun space where she can read or have coffee with a great view.

Photo: pinterest.com

A little wood-burning fireplace sets off the kitchen, making the room cozy.

She has a functional but little kitchen. A decorative shade allows Mary to open up the area between the kitchen and living room or close it off if she doesn’t want people to see a mess in the sink.

Photo: imdb.com

To the left of the living room is a door. When it’s open, we see Mary’s closet and we know that if you keep going, you’ll find her bathroom. I don’t recall ever seeing the bathroom during the series, however.

Photo: hookedonhouses.com

While the furniture is nice, it probably is not new, and Mary may have picked the items up at used furniture stores or antique shops. Her larger pieces include her sofa bed, a wicker coffee table, an armoire, and a table and chairs. Her personal items strewn around the apartment tell us a bit about Mary. Most people remember the large “M” that hangs on her wall. She has a Ben Shahn poster on her wall in the first season and a Toulouse-Lautrec poster, Jane Avril, in other years. A Laurel lamp is near the reading chair, a pop of sixties modernism that Mary might have had in school in her room. We see her Samsonite luggage that is good quality and probably was a present from her parents. The pumpkin cookie jar adds a bit of color to the kitchen. These items tell us Mary was sentimental, educated about art but could not afford the real thing, and was an individual, learning her style now that she was living alone for the first time.

From Minneapolis, we travel down the interstate to Chicago where we find Bob and Emily Hartley’s apartment on The Bob Newhart Show. Bob and Emily are doing well, but we learn from their furnishings that they don’t care about things much. Bob is a psychologist but seems content to keep a small practice. Emily is a teacher and she and Bob debate about whether she should work or if she should work, so her salary is not necessary to their lifestyle.

Photo: xiguamovies.cf

They have a beautiful apartment with a terrace and a view of Lake Michigan. It’s close to the Thorndale station.

Like Mary, they have a sunken living room with the kitchen located off of it. The kitchen is bigger than Mary’s but still small. Much of the time they eat out or have something easy. Neither Bob nor Emily are gourmet cooks, but Bob grills on the terrace often.

Photo: dailymotion.com

A table between the two rooms is where they take their meals unless they are eating in front of the television. The television is on wheels and Bob can move it back and forth between the living room and the bedroom.

Photo: Ithinkthereforeireview.com

To the left of the living room is their large bedroom and bathroom. To the right is Bob’s den and another bathroom that does not have a tub or shower.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Like Mary, Bob and Emily enjoy art and have several pieces on their living room walls. They switch out their furniture a lot and we see three different sofas in their home: brown, white and royal blue.

Photo: dailymotion.com

My guess is that they save a lot of their money and what they spend, they spend on travel, books, and eating out.

Heading 32 hours west of Chicago, we arrive in Seattle, the home of Frasier Crane. Frasier is also a psychologist like Bob. He is a well-known doctor and has his own radio show, garnering him more money than Bob.

Frasier lives in Elliott Bay Towers and doesn’t have a view; he has “the” view. The backdrop for the terrace shows the Space Needle which cannot be seen in reality from these apartments. The cost for the backdrop was about $55,000 to construct. It seems very expensive for a prop, but it goes back to making sure everything about the apartment was the best Frasier could obtain.

Photo: thrillist.com

This was a very expensive set to design. According to the book, Frasier: A Cultural History, by siblings Kate and Joseph Darowki, the architecture and set building cost $250,000 and the total overall for the furnishings and other items came in at about a million dollars. A security guard was on site during shooting.

Photo: pinterest.com

According to Thrillist.com, Frasier’s apartment today would cost about three million dollars. We realize pretty quickly that Frasier is all about the good life and the image he wants people to have of him as a successful, wealthy person.

Like the other two apartments, he has a small kitchen, but it is well equipped and stylish. Set designer Roy Christopher outdid himself by capturing Frasier’s personality in his home.

Photo: pinterest.com

There are quite a few bedrooms in the apartment. Frasier has a large one with an expansive master bath, that features a sauna and a whirlpool. His father and Daphne both have their own bedrooms and bathrooms as well.

Frasier’s apartment is ultra-modern and is filled with expensive, high-end furniture and collectibles. His furniture is a replica, although shorter version, of Coco Chanel’s sofa. He has Eames and Wassily chairs and often throws around the designer labels he enjoys. The rooms are filled with decorative architectural details and expensive finishes. Much was made of the artwork scattered around the apartment.

Photo: pinterest.com

The Dale Chihuly glass bowl on a table near the fireplace was made specifically for the show and reproduced for an exhibit. A Mark Rothko painting was in Frasier’s master bath. Some of the other art included a Nick Berman floating ball, a Pastoe curved sideboard, Le Corbusier lamp, a Steinway grand piano, a Rauschenberg painting in the hall, and a variety of Pre-Columbian and African art.

Photo: pinterest.com

While Bob and Emily didn’t care much about their furniture as long as it was comfortable; Frasier cares dearly about every item in his apartment, except for his father’s Barcalounger which is a reminder of the design element he does not want in his apartment. It becomes the centerpiece of the apartment. The prop department did not think it was “hideous” enough when they located it, so they added some dirt smudges and duct tape to it. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition. We understand that despite the expensive items surrounding him, Martin is quite comfortable in Frasier’s house. His easy-going, but gruff, personality is not off-put by the sophisticated design nor is he impressed by the expensive art. During the course of the show, Frasier must learn to be as comfortable in his home as his father is.

It’s been fun to view some of the spaces our television friends inhabited and take a closer look at what helped reflect more about the characters as we take an in-depth analysis of the items they chose to surround themselves with. Take a look around your own space and see what it says about you to others and how it would help define you as a sitcom character.

The Donna Reed Show: It’s All About the Mom

Merry Christmas Eve.  In honor of It’s a Wonderful Life which will be playing quite often today, this week’s blog is about Donna Reed, who played Mary in the Jimmy Stewart holiday favorite.

In 1958, most of the television shows were game shows, variety shows, or westerns. Almost all the sitcoms on the air were based on a star; we had The Danny Thomas Show, The Ann Sothern Show, The Bob Cummings Show, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. It was also the year The Donna Reed Show began. The show would last eight seasons, resulting in 275 episodes.

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Photo: dallas.wikia.com

The series was created by William Roberts. Donna and her husband Tony Owen developed and produced the show, under the name “Todon.” We had shows about single adults in The Bob Cummings Show and The Ann Sothern Show. We had families, including The Danny Thomas Show, Father Knows Best, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Roberts wanted to concentrate on the demanding roles a stay-at-home mom had to juggle. Reed agreed with him. As she noted, “We started breaking rules right and left. We had a female lead, for one thing, a strong, healthy woman. We had a story line told from a woman’s point of view that wasn’t soap opera.”

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Photo: imdb.com

The Donna Reed Show is often evoked by critics who say television scripts are not realistic but center around unreal family expectations, but that is not the goal Reed and her husband had. Donna described the show as “realistic pictures of small-town life—with an often-humorous twist. Our plots revolve around the most important thing in America—a loving family.” The shows featured typical family problems families faced in the late 1950s: having to fire a clumsy housekeeper, quality time with your spouse, dealing with disciplinary issues, or Donna being swamped with requests to volunteer for charity drives or community theater shows. However, there were times the show delved into more controversial issues such as women’s rights or freedom of the press.

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Photo: metv.com

The Stone family includes Donna, Alex, Mary and Jeff. Donna (Donna Reed) is the iconic mother. She grew up on a farm (which Reed did). She became a nurse and occasionally helps Alex (Carl Betz), a pediatrician who has his office at the house. Mary (Shelly Fabares) is in her first year of high school. She studies ballet and plays the piano. During the series, she has several boyfriends. Mary left for college before the show ended, but Fabares made guest appearances. Jeff (Paul Petersen) is in grade school. He loves sports, likes to eat, and often teases his sister. In 1963 when Fabares leaves, Paul Petersen’s real sister, Patty was cast as a runaway orphan taken in by the Stone family. The Stones live in Hilldale, an All-American town.

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Photo: pinterest.com

Several other characters appear often. Dave and Midge Kelsey (Bob Crane and Ann McCrea) are good friends of Donna and Alex’s.  Dave is also a doctor. Another of Alex’s colleagues who is a good friend is Dr. Boland (Jack Kelk), whom the kids call “Uncle Bo.” Smitty Smith (Darryl Richard) is Jeff’s best friend and Scotty (Jimmy Hawkins) is Mary’s boyfriend.

Photos: pinterest.com and metv.com

With Donna’s movie relationships, many guest stars appeared on the show during its run. Baseball players Don Drysdale, Leo Durocher, and Willie Mays played themselves. Musicians Harry James, Tony Martin, and Lesley Gore appeared. Buster Keaton was featured in two different shows. Esther Williams played a fashion designer. Other stars who showed up included Jack Albertson, John Astin, Dabney Coleman, Ellen Corby, Richard Deacon, Jamie Farr, Gale Gordon, Arte Johnson, Ted Knight, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Marion Ross, William Schallert, Hal Smith, Marlo Thomas, and William Windom.

In the opening credits, Reed comes down the stairs and answers the telephone which she gives to Alex. She then hands the kids their lunches and books and sends them off to school. When Alex leaves on a call, she closes the door and smiles. In 1964 when The Munsters debuted, their opening credits were a parody of Donna’s show as Lily performs the same actions.

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Photo: metv.com

The Donna Reed Show faced the Milton Berle show, Texaco Star Theater Wednesday nights and ratings were not great. It was renewed and moved to Thursdays the next year. I was surprised to learn that during the eight years the show was on the air it was only in the top 20 in season six and only in the top 30 in season four.

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Photo: cinemacats.com (Look closely and you’ll notice this was                                                                 the living room for I Dream of Jeannie as well).

Although the show never received very high ratings, Donna Reed was nominated for an Emmy every year from 1959 to 1962. (Jane Wyatt won in 1959 and 1960, Barbara Stanwyck won in 1961, and Shirley Booth won in 1962.) Donna Reed won the Golden Globe in 1963.

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Photo: metv.com

In 1962 Donna felt that the writers had run out of creative ideas and were recycling plots. Both Mary and Jeff were allowed to perform in this season. Fabares debuted a single, “Johnny Angel” in February which went to number one on the charts, selling more than a million copies. In October, Petersen sang “My Dad” which made it to number six. Donna decided that would be the last season, but when ABC made her a very lucrative offer for three more seasons, she and her husband agreed.

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Photo: nytimes.com

When this contract ended in 1966, Donna was ready to retire. Reed was considering a television movie reunion but when Betz passed away in 1978, she decided it was no longer an option.

Campbell Soup was the first sponsor, and later sponsors included Johnson & Johnson and The Singer Company. Whenever a scene takes place in a supermarket, Campbell’s Soup, V-8 Juice, Franco-American Spaghetti and Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder are likely to be in the shot.

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Photo: metv.com

Reruns of the show were seen on Nick at Nite from 1985-1994 and on TV Land from 2002 until 2004. MeTV began airing the show in September of 2011.

The cast was a close-knit one and continued their relationships after the show ended. Paul Petersen credited Donna as being the nurturing adult he needed in his life to get him through the years of being a child star. She helped him understand how the industry worked and helped him during some tough times during his life. Shelly Fabares also said Donna and Carl were amazing. Realizing how tough the industry can be for young kids, they protected Paul and herself and loved them as second parents. Donna never forgot to send Shelly a birthday gift.  In 1986, before she passed away from pancreatic cancer, her final words were to make sure Shelly’s birthday gift was wrapped and delivered.

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Photo: lapostexaminer.com

Despite the bad raps the show often received from the women’s lib organizations, Donna Reed did help advance the way women were perceived in the media. She endowed her character with strong emotions, definite opinions on issues, and independence. In her personal life, Reed expressed her views on the medical industry and the political arenas.

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Photo: geocaching.com

Paul Petersen summed up the value of the show in an interview he did in 2008. In his words, The Donna Reed Show, “depicts a better time and place. It has a sort of level of intelligence and professionalism that is sadly lacking in current entertainment products. The messages it sent out were positive and uplifting. The folks you saw were likable, the family was fun, the situations were familiar to people. It provided 22-and-a-half-minutes of moral instructions and advice on how to deal with the little dilemmas of life. Jeff and Mary and their friends had all the same problems that real kids in high school did. That’s what the show was really about, the importance of family. That’s where life’s lessons are transmitted, generation to generation. There’s a certain way in which these are transmitted, with love and affection.”

I couldn’t say it better.

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.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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 turned down two offers to do a show that he would star in.

 

 

 

 

The Friendship and Careers of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis

Fred Gwynne was born in New York in July of 1926 and died in Maryland in 1993.  Al Lewis was born in New York in April of 1923 and passed away in New York in February of 2006. At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common, but a closer look reveals why they enjoyed a long friendship.

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Fred Gwynne grew up in New York and had a very wealthy and advantaged upbringing.  He was a radioman in the Navy during World War II.  When the war was over, Gwynne entered Harvard, studying drawing and dramatics. He became a member of their Hasty Pudding Club, being involved with many theatrical productions. Gwynne graduated in 1951 and went on to work for a Shakespeare repertory company. He was a talented man with a variety of interests and earned his living from several careers.  He was a copywriter, a musician, a book illustrator, and a commercial artist.

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In 1952, he made his Broadway debut, acting with Helen Hayes in “Mrs. McThing.” The play ran for 320 performances.  In 1953, he performed in his second Broadway play, “The Frogs of Spring” which had a much shorter run.  In 1954, he had a small role in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.

He also began appearing on television in the 1950s, and most of his roles were on dramas such as Kraft Theater or DuPont Show of the Week.

The one exception was The Phil Silvers Show where he appeared in 1955 and 1956. The producer of this show, Nat Hiken, went on to create a similar show called Car 54 Where Are You? about New York policemen.  He cast Gwynne as one of the leads, Francis Muldoon. The show ran for two seasons and when it was cancelled, Gwynne went back to his theatrical dramas.

In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver, decided on a different concept for a show called The Munsters.  Fred was cast as the lead role.  While this show also ran two years, the part of Herman Munster was much harder to overcome than Francis Muldoon had been.  Gwynne struggled to find new roles, and when he was unsuccessful, he went back to Broadway.  He did make one pilot during these years for a show called Guess What I Did Today, but no network picked it up. His favorite Broadway performance was Big Daddy in 1974 when he starred in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.”

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During the 1980s, his cinema career picked up and he ended up with 15 movies to his credit from 1979-1992. Included in this list are The Cotton Club, The Secret of My Success, Fatal Attraction, Ironweed, Pet Sematary, and My Cousin Vinny.

His book writing and illustrating also continued.  His first book, The Best in Show, was published in 1958.  The King Who Rained came out in 1970, and Simon and Schuster published A Chocolate Moose for Dinner in 1976 and A Little Pigeon Toad in 1988.

Throughout most of his career, Gwynne lived a quiet life far from Hollywood. He was married to his first wife Roxy from 1952-1980 and his second wife from 1981 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1993.

Al Lewis

Al Lewis claimed he was born in 1910 and was a circus performer in the 1920s.  He also said he went to Columbia and graduated with a PhD in child psychology.  After he passed away, his son confirmed that he was born in 1923, and Columbia had no record of him attending school with his given name or his stage name.  His son thought he made himself older to get the role of Grandpa in The Munsters because in real life Yvonne DeCarlo was a year older than he was.

Some of his other jobs included a salesman,  hot dog vendor for the Brooklyn Dodgers, waiter, pool room owner, and store detective.  He was a good basketball player in high school and apparently worked as a basketball scout at some time in his early life. A friend convinced him to join an actor’s workshop in 1949 and that led to a career in vaudeville. In the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a variety of TV shows including US Steel Hour, Route 66, Lost in Space, and Gomer Pyle.  He too was cast in the Phil Silvers Show which later resulted in his role of Patrolman Leo Schnauzer in Car 54 Where Are You?

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In 1964, he too was offered a role in The Munsters. In 1966 when the show went off the air, he continued making television appearances and starred in cinema movies.  During the 1970s and 1980s, he appeared on Night Gallery, Green Acres, Love American Style, Here’s Lucy, Taxi, and Best of the West.  His career featured 22 films including They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Boatniks, Used Cars, Married to the Mob, and a remake of Car 54 Where Are You?

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Like Gwynne, he was married twice:  to Marge from 1956-1977 and to Karen from 1984 until his death from heart complications in 2006. Lewis also published several children’s books during his acting career.

Midway through his career he opened an Italian restaurant, Grandpa’s Bella Gente, which Gwynne designed the logo for. He also got into radio and was featured on Howard Stern’s Show often.

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It is surprising that both of these stars were in two sitcoms which both lasted only two years. Let’s take a look at the shows that made them household names.

Car 54 Where Are You?

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This sitcom, set in the 53rd precinct in Brooklyn was an early Barney Miller. Gwynne played Francis Muldoon.  His partner, Gunther Toody, was his exact opposite.  While Muldoon was a bachelor, an intellectual, calm and quiet, Toody was married, naïve, excitable, and talkative. In one show, when the precinct is debating splitting up the two men, Muldoon says “I guess most of the men are smarter than Gunther and less trouble than Gunther, but  . . . well, I’m so used to Gunther.  When he chatters away, the days just fly by.  I’d just be lost without Gunther.” Gunther concurs, “You mean ride around with someone next to me that’s not Muldoon? Francis is a quiet man. He doesn’t say a word. He just sits there all day thinking. It’s very comforting for a man like me to know there’s someone next to him doing the thinking for both of us.” Of course, they split them up only to partner them up again because no one else could take the silence or constant chatter.

Al Lewis played Officer Leo Schnauzer, appearing in every episode.

Policemen were split on their view of the show.  Some took offense and felt they were portrayed in a negative light, while others enjoyed it and identified with some of the comedic elements. It was filmed in The Bronx at Biograph Studio.  There was a large sign out front identifying it as the 53rd precinct till a woman came in pleading to save her from her abusive husband and the sign was quickly taken down.

Originally titled Snow Whites, the show aired at 8:30 eastern time Sunday nights between The Wide World of Disney and Bonanza.  The only clue I could find for the original name was that the show was sponsored by Proctor and Gamble who made several detergents for clothing. It was filmed in black and white, but the police cars were red and white so they would show up better on black and white film. The show also starred Beatrice Pons, Charlotte Rae, Nipsey Russell, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch.

Perhaps what the show is best remembered for was its catchy theme song.  Anyone who viewed an episode or two can probably remember the fun lyrics:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights.

There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child; Kruschev’s due at Idlewild . . .

Car 54, where are you?

 

The Munsters

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In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver decided to feature another “wholesome” family who just happens to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights. The family consists of Grandpa who is always experimenting in his lab; Herman who is the funeral director at Gateman, Goodbury, and Graves; his wife Lilly, a vampire; their son Eddie who is a werewolf; and their beautiful black-sheep Marilyn.  Marilyn was beautiful but they viewed her as odd looking and she seemed to get a lot of dates but when she brings them home, they never ask her out again. The family also owns two pets – Spot, a prehistoric animal Grandpa rescued and Igor, a bat.  They lived a somewhat normal life but drank bat milk and cooked in a cauldron. On the hour, a cuckoo clock chimed and a raven, voiced by Mel Blanc, appeared and said “Nevermore.”

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All the actors had to endure a two-hour make-up session, but Gwynne had the worst time because he had to wear 40-50 pounds of padding.  One day he lost 10 pounds filming under the lights.  They gave him gallons of lemonade between takes and later rigged a way to blow cool air on him underneath the material.

The entire family could have been played by different actors.  John Carradine was offered the role of Herman. The pilot featured Joan Marshall as the wife and instead of Lilly, her name was Phoebe. Marilyn was played by Beverly Owens for 13 episodes and then Pat Priest took over for the rest of the show’s run. Eddie was first offered to Bill Mumy, Will Robinson from Lost in Space, and Grandpa to Bert Lahr from The Wizard of Oz.

After the show was cancelled, the Munster mobile often traveled to memorabilia shows.  There was also a Dragula built with purple silk upholstery and chrome pipes for the exhaust. Although the show was only on the air for two years, there were a lot of collectibles such as board games, lunch boxes, paper dolls, and coloring books.

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In 2001, the McKee family of Waxahachie, Texas was such a huge fan of the show that the family built their 5000+ square foot house to exactly resemble the Munsters’ home including the crooked weather vane and grand staircase that lifted up to feed Spot.

Both Gwynne and Lewis were born in New York.  They both appeared on the show Brenner early in their careers. Both were tapped from their roles in The Phil Silvers Show to play roles on Car 54 Where Are You? They both went on to star in The Munsters.  Neither of them ever had another series.  They both chose to live on the east coast. They both wrote children’s books.  They were each married twice and married to their second spouse for the rest of their lives. They both had a lot of success in the movies as well as television. They were both men with fascinating careers before they ever entered acting.  I learned a lot about these interesting friends.  Happy Birthday to Fred Gwynne would have been 91.

All Hail to the Grief

Monday is Presidents Day, and as I mention that fact, I can hear the collective groans.  Whether you’re in the Hate Trump or Love Trump camp, you are probably thoroughly sick of politics.  Believe me, I hear you. However, today we are going to look at presidential moments in television. And before you exit out, be assured I am not talking about the Nixon-Kennedy debates.  We’re going to look at my top television episodes that featured a president.

Several series have included presidents with people dressed in costumes at Halloween parties.  George Washington showed up on Growing Pains in 1990 and on the first episode of The Munsters in 1964, while Thomas Jefferson appeared on Mike and Molly in 2011. I mention the roles, but we’re not going to concentrate on them.

Several candidates also made whistle stops campaigning on television.  Thomas Jefferson was on Simon and Simon in 1986 when they were trying to recover a family journal, Teddy Roosevelt was on The Virginian in 1962 fighting with the Rough Riders, and Franklin Roosevelt was a minor character on Wonder Woman in 1975, when she used her super powers to return a wounded WWII pilot to Washington. In 2002, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson all made an appearance on Sabrina the Teenage Witch to convince her aunt not to run for city council. Because these were minor appearances and the shows were not about the presidents, I did not include them in my top five.

Here are my top five television episodes featuring a president as a character.

No. 5 – Bewitched: “George Washington Zapped Here” – 1972. When I saw a Bewitched episode that starred George Washington, I was sure I had my number 1 show for this blog.  Then I watched the show.  I tend to look at Bewitched almost as two different shows.  I love the first five years and include them in some of my all-time favorite tv episodes.  It was one of the best fantasy shows ever created, but by the last season the fantasy had died. The last season, including this episode, is like trying to watch a wrinkled, saggy grandmother trying to pull off wearing a mini skirt and go-go boots.  It’s a bit frustrating, a bit humorous, fairly sad, and extremely uncomfortable. If George Washington had a premonition about appearing in this episode, I’m sure he would have found a way to ban television in the Constitution.

Trying to help Tabitha with her homework, Esmeralda zaps George Washington to the present time. George is played by Will Geer. I feel like this theme of zapping historical figures happened more often than it should have during this show’s run.  Also, Esmeralda is not as likeable a character as Aunt Clara or Uncle Arthur. Of course, Washington wanders off and is arrested for speaking without a permit.  The only thing more painful than watching this show was the realization that it was a two-parter; the second episode has George going before a local judge and finally being exonerated by the truth. Talking about truth reminds me when George said, “I cannot tell a lie”, and I have to admit this episode is dreadful. Apparently, politics was just as painful 45 years ago as it is today.

No. 4 – Dharma and Greg: “Dutch Treat” – 2001. Numbers 3 and 4 are really a toss-up.  Abraham Lincoln stars in both shows, and he appears in dreams in both episodes. This sitcom was on the air from 1997 to 2002 starring Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson as a young couple who eloped on their first date.  She was raised by hippy parents and he comes from a wealthy family. The show earned eight Golden Globe and six Emmy nominations, and Elfman won the Best Actress Golden Globe in 1999. This episode was a bit too formulaic for me, so Drew Carey beat it out for number 3 in my list.

In this show, Dharma and Greg argue about being a role model for their young college friend.  During the argument they both claim to be independent, so they decide to go dutch for a week to find out which one is truly independent. Of course, they end up realizing they are dependent on each other during the experiment.   Peter, Greg’s coworker, has some weird dreams during the show.  At the end of the episode, Peter leaves for lunch with a bunch of Victoria’s Secret models who think he’s hot (he’s not), and Abraham Lincoln arrives at the office for a consultation with Peter. Dharma and Greg inform him Peter is out and invite him to lunch with them.  He takes off his hat to reveal it is full of waffles. At this point, Dharma informs Greg that they are now in Peter’s dream and the show ends. Abe is played by Ryan Stiles and, by chance, our no. 3 show features Stiles as a cast member.

No. 3 – The Drew Carey Show: “Drew’s in a Coma” – 2001. From 1995-2004, Drew portrays the average guy. He works at a department store and has a group of friends he hangs out with, primarily at the Warsaw Tavern.  Ryan Stiles is one of these friends, who played Abe Lincoln in the Dharma and Greg episode. He also appeared on Drew’s improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?.

In this episode, Drew is in an auto accident and goes into a coma.  His friends and family try to bring him out of it, but he is enjoying his unconscious dreams.  We see him in an apartment with a bunch of sexy women. Mimi is his sister-in-law who wears flamboyant make-up.  They have a love/hate relationship, but in his dreams, she is very conservative looking and tells him she is his slave, being very respectful.  He has a pizza tree, a beer fountain, and a door that opens to the greatest moments in sports featuring himself.  After several attempts to bring him out of the coma, his family gets ready to pull the plug to see if it shocks his body into waking up.  When they unplug the respirator, Drew is in the middle of a Trivial Pursuit game with William Shakespeare and Abe Lincoln.  (Abe is played by Charles Brame, and he also was Abe Lincoln on the Growing Pains episode mentioned in the second paragraph of the blog.)  Abe is excelling at all the history questions, until Drew reads him a shocking question.  The card asks “Who shot Abraham Lincoln?” The shock Abe feels equals the one Drew feels when he is unplugged and it forces him to realize he has to choose between going on to heaven or back to his life on earth. In the words of his fellow gamer, he had to decide “to be or not to be” and he chooses to return to earth for a while.

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No. 2 – Spin City: “A Tree Falls in Manhattan” – 2001. Spin City is about a group of city hall employees who work to help the mayor.  Mike, played by Michael J. Fox, is great at his job but he is leaving to get married and travel around the world.  The staff covers up for the mayor who is not very competent, but they struggle with their personal lives.  I did not watch Spin City a lot when it was on the air from 1996 to 2002. This was a funny episode, so it came in at number 2, even though Washington is only an on-air character for a minute or two.

Trying to impress his new girlfriend so they can watch the sun rise over the East River, the mayor orders a tree outside the mansion to be cut down, not realizing that it was a tree planted by George Washington and is protected. Charlie tells a girl he picks up that night about the tree story, not knowing she was the campaign manager for the opposition.  She tells her boss, and they go on the air to make an announcement.  When Charlie sees her, he realizes what has happened. Four George Washingtons appear in this episode played by David Hayman, Jack Wright, Gelbert Coloma, and Anthony Provenzano Jr. They are part of the Revolutionary War Society picketing city hall. After all this mayhem, Mike realizes he needs to be back in city hall and returns to his job. He arranges for the mayor to go on television saying “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down George Washington’s tree, but I used the wood to build a shelter for the homeless.”  At this time, Fox was dealing with Parkinson’s Disease and announced he would be leaving at the end of this season.  When he did eventually leave the show, the explanation was that he accepted a job as an environmental lobbyist who moved to Washington, DC.  He met a senator there named Alex P. Keaton, the name of Fox’s character on Family Ties.

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No. 1 – My Friend Flicka: ”Rough and Ready” – 1956. I had heard of the book and movie My Friend Flicka, but I did not know that it was ever a television show. It was only on the air one year, and only 39 episodes were made, airing between February 1956- February 1957. It was a mid-season replacement for The Adventures of Champion, a show starring Gene Autry.  Unfortunately, neither show could compete with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin which was on another channel during this time slot. The show was later aired Monday nights on the Disney Channel in the mid-1980s. Ken McLaughlin, played by Johnny Washbrook, is devoted to his horse Flicka.  He and his parents live at the Goose Bar Ranch in Coulee Springs. After this show was cancelled, Washbrook appeared on several shows, including three different characters on My Three Sons, but then went into the banking profession and moved to Martha’s Vineyard.

This episode was a delightful and charming show featuring Theodore Roosevelt played by Frank Albertson. Young Ken McLaughlin decides to write a letter to the president because there is too much overgrazing going on due to the government failing to put restrictions on the lands. A couple of weeks later, the newspaper has an article about Vice President Roosevelt coming to Coulee Springs for a vacation.  In the meantime, several families are forced to put their ranches up for sale and move because there is no place for their cattle to graze.  Ken meets a man fishing and shows him lures he makes himself.  The man is quite impressed, and they make plans to meet again in the morning to fish.  The next day, Ken explains what is happening with the land, saying he wrote the president but never heard back, and then tells the man that his family had now put their ranch up for sale also.  The man tells Ken to have his father come to town, and he will arrange for him to talk to the vice president.  He also has Ken take his picture with a large fish they caught.  When he and his father go to town for the meeting, he realizes that the man he has been fishing with is Vice President Theodore Roosevelt who takes care of the situation, putting regulations in place.  A few weeks later, Ken gets a letter.  Theodore Roosevelt is now President Roosevelt and he wanted to make sure Ken did get a letter back from the President. He also included the photo that Ken took of him and the fish. Albertson did a bully good job playing Teddy.

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Hopefully watching some of these episodes will convince you that it is possible to have a Happy Presidents Day.  Watching the influence these men still have in our modern-day history reminds us that our Constitution and government were created and modified by great men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, creating  a strong foundation that is hard to destroy. All you have to do to enjoy politics today is to choose one of these five episodes to watch. And wearing red, white, and blue while you do so wouldn’t hurt.

 

I’ll Take Paul Lynde for the Win

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Today we are talking about the career of Paul Lynde.  Paul Lynde was an icon when I was growing up; he was probably best known at that time as the center Hollywood Square, the voice of Templeton the Rat in Charlotte’s Web, and Uncle Arthur on Bewitched.  His life encompasses both a unique and successful career as a comedian loved by many fans and the all-too-common saga of a star’s life ruined by drugs and alcohol. Many of the things you read about Paul Lynde concerning his behavior and cruel things he said to others are disheartening to a fan, but I learned that the characters I loved growing up (and continue to as an adult) are the characters, not the actors and actresses behind them.  With a few exceptions such as Fred MacMurray, Jimmy Stewart, or Cary Grant, most stars don’t live up to our illusions of them. Although truth be told, if someone studied our entire lives and wrote about them, there are probably parts of them we would not want the world to learn about either. I wanted to talk about Paul Lynde’s career, because although he was extremely well known during my youth, most young adults today probably have no idea who he is.

Paul was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, one of six children.  His father was a local police officer and for a time, the family lived above the jail when his father was the sheriff of the jail.  Like many youngsters growing up in the 20s and 30s, he became interested in acting when he went to the movies  with his mother. The first movie he remembered was Ben Hur.  That interest propelled him to Northwestern University where he studied drama.  After school, he relocated to New York City where he worked as a stand-up comedian and then received a part in a Broadway show, “New Faces of 1952.” Alice Ghostley, who would be featured on Bewitched was also in the show. In 1963 he recorded a comedy album. From then on he was a popular guest, television star, and movie celebrity. His unique delivery of his sarcastic one-liners made him a popular entertainer.  There is not a lot of difference between the role of Uncle Arthur and his humor and delivery on Hollywood Squares.

He starred in several television series including Stanley with Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett where he played a hotel owner in 1956-57 and The Pruitts of Southhampton with Phyllis Diller in 1967. From 1965-71, he was on Bewitched where he played Harold Harold a driving instructor the first season and then became a regular in the role of Uncle Arthur, Endora’s brother.  Surprisingly, the character of Arthur only appeared in ten episodes of the series. After Bewitched, he starred in The Paul Lynde Show where he played an attorney with two daughters and a liberal-minded son-in-law. Stiller and Meara were also on the show which was done to satisfy his contract with ABC in place of the ninth season of Bewitched. The show was up against The Carol Burnett Show and Adam-12 so it was cancelled, but he was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe award. His last starring role in television was in New Temperatures Rising where he played a penny-pinching doctor running a hospital owned by his mother.

Paul appeared on Hollywood Squares for 15 years (801 episodes).  In addition to that game show, he accumulated 80 credits playing himself on a variety of shows including Donny and Marie, Password, The 10,000 Dollar Pyramid, Dean Martin Roasts, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and on several Paul Lynde Comedy Hour specials.

He appeared on a variety of television shows – 33 in all.  In addition to those he starred in, he was also in The Phil Silvers Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Jack Benny Show, The Munsters, Gidget, F-Troop, That Girl, I Dream of Jeannie, The Mothers-in-Law, The Flying Nun, and three episodes of Love American Style.  Had he lived a few years longer, I’m sure we would have seen him cruising the ocean on The Love Boat.

In addition to his television work, he also appeared in 18 movies between 1956 and 1975. He and Dick Van Dyke were the only Broadway performers from Bye Bye Birdie to be cast in the movie version.  He was also in Beach Blanket Bingo, and two of my favorites, Send Me No Flowers and The Glass Bottom Boat, both Doris Day movies.

Although he was gay, he did not discuss his sexual orientation, and the media respectfully did not report on it either.  In 1965, his partner and companion Bing Davidson died. They had been out drinking and Bing thought it would be funny to pretend to dangle from a hotel balcony but fell to his death.  Whether this exacerbated his alcohol and drug problems isn’t known, but Lynde’s health suffered from his addictions and he was arrested for public intoxication frequently. In 1980 he went through a successful rehabilitation, becoming sober and drug free.  Unfortunately, the damage that was done to his body was extensive, and he died from a heart attack in January of 1982 at age 55.

Some other interesting facts are that he was friends with Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband William Asher, he purchased Errol Flynn’s Hollywood Mansion, he was a dog lover, and he was one person who was able to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show while singing a song from Bye Bye Birdie about being on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was also a chef and considered opening a restaurant. To see some of his recipes, visit www.paullynde.info.

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To truly appreciate Lynde’s comedic personality, here are a few lines from Bewitched and Hollywood Squares.

To Endora, his sister, on  Bewitched:  “Endora when I think of you as a blood relation, I long for a transfusion.”

On Bewitched, telling a story, “Then I spent the summer hunting lions with the British expedition. One morning I shot a lion in my pajamas. Now, what he was doing in my pajamas, I’ll never know.”

Answers on Hollywood Squares:

Peter Marshall: According to Ann Landers, what are two things you should never do in bed?

Paul Lynde: Point and laugh.

 

Peter Marshall: According to the IRS, out of every 10 Americans audited, how many end up paying more taxes?

Paul Lynde: 11.

 

Before a cow will give you any milk, she has to have something very important. What?

Paul Lynde: An engagement ring

 

Peter Marshall: Fred Astaire says, his mother has been trying to get him to do this since he was 35. But he hasn’t done it and says he won’t do it until he’s ready. Do what?

Paul Lynde: Move out of the house!

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Perhaps the award that best sums up Lynde’s career was bestowed upon him in 1976 when he received the Entertainer of the Year Emmy for the funniest man of the year. If you don’t know much about Paul Lynde, check out some of the youtube videos from Hollywood Squares or watch a few of his episodes from Bewitched. Although not as well known today, his influence on present-day performers is wide spread and his career deserves to be remembered and celebrated.