William Schallert, Man of Many Talents

As we finish up our “Men of August” series, I think I’ve saved the best for last. Today we look at the career of a man who had more than 400 acting credits during six decades: William Schallert.

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Photo: comforttvblogspot.com

Schallert was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Edwin, was a drama critic for the Los Angeles Times and his mother, Elza, was a magazine writer and radio host. She interviewed some of the most famous people in the entertainment industry. Being in LA, he went to high school with Alan Hale Jr., Nanette Fabray, and Micky Rooney.

Schallert was also a composer, pianist, and singer. His first love had been music, and he studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg. Unfortunately, he realized that some of the other students were more adept at hearing the music in their heads than he could and that would inhibit his making a living from composing.

William decided to be an actor and registered at the University of Southern California. He left school temporarily to join the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot during WWII. Following the war, he returned to school, graduating in 1946. That same year he was one of the cofounders of the Circle Theater. Sydney Chaplin was one of his friends at the theater, and in 1948, his brother Charlie directed Schallert in a production of W. Somerset’s Maugham’s “Rain.”

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From 1947-1951, William appeared in 14 big-screen films, including Mighty Joe Young in 1949. He would go on to accept roles in seventy more films during this career, but for this blog, I’m going to concentrate on his television career, or we could be writing and reading for days.

Schallert married Leah Waggner in 1949. They were together for their entire lives, dying a year apart from each other. Waggner was also an actress and appeared with him in several episodes including The Patty Duke Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

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With wife Leah Waggner on The Dick Van Dyke Show–Photo: facebook.com

During his career, he appeared in a lot of crime shows and westerns, but he could also do comedy as seen by his appearances on Burns and Allen, Father Knows Best, The Jack Benny Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, That Girl, The Partridge Family, and Love American Style. Some of these were his favorite appearances.

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On the Partridge Family, he was able to use some of his music skills as Red Woodloe, a folk singer. The episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, “A Word a Day,” got a huge laugh for Schallert. It was similar to the episode when Rob is convinced that he and Laura got the wrong baby and Ritchie belongs to another family who he invites over and opens the door only to find Greg Morris, an African American. In this one, Ritchie begins using profanity and they assume it’s one of his new friends and invite the parents over to see what type of uncouth people they are and Rob opens the door to find William Schallert, a reverend.

The admiral he played on Get Smart was one of his favorite all-time characters. William said, “The admiral was a charming character.”

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Photo: greensburgdailynews.com

From 1979-1981, Schallert was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and was active in SAG issues and committees afterward.

During his six decades of acting, Schallert had recurring roles on eleven different series. The first was The Adventures of Jim Bowie in 1957. This show was set in the Louisiana Territory in 1830 and featured the people that Jim Bowie met there.

In 1958, William became part of the cast of Hey, Jeannie about Jeannie MacLennan, a Scottish woman, who has immigrated to New York and her adjustment to city life.

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1959 found him on Phillip Marlowe as Lt Manny Harris. The same year he also began portraying Leander Pomfrit, a teacher on The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis. That role lasted three years.

It was in 1963 that he received the role that made him a household name. As Martin Lane, Patty’s father and Kathy’s uncle, on The Patty Duke Show. The show was on the air for three seasons, producing 104 episodes. Martin was the patient, wise father who knew when to give advice and when to step back and watch a small failure for a learning experience.

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He and Patty became very close in real life. In an interview with the Closer Weekly, Schallert discussed their relationship. “When I think of her, she’s family as far as I’m concerned. We had a very close relationship. Whenever I saw her it was always like greeting one of my kids. She just had a wonderful quality and I got to know her over the years and she was admirable in a lot of ways. She really did her best to raise her own kids and she certainly had very little help in her own life to do that, but she was very mature and she did a lot of growing up very fast. People take that kind of thing for granted far too easily, and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for that.”

When the Patty Duke Show ended, Schallert began doing voiceover work in commercials and with his warm and friendly manner, it was a lucrative career for him for two decades, including the voice of Milton the Toaster for Pop Tart commercials. He said it was wonderful, “All you had to do was go in there and do it, you didn’t’ have to put makeup on, you didn’t have to learn anything. I also had a knack for timing.”

Although he had a successful voiceover career, his acting career was far from over. He would show up as a regular cast member on five more series before his career ended: The Nancy Walker Show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Hour, The Waltons, The New Gidget Show, and The Torkelsons. I especially loved his casting in Nancy Drew.  When I read those books as a grade-school kid, he was exactly as I pictured Nancy’s dad Carson Drew in my mind.

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Nancy Drew Hour–Photo: williamschallert.com

His last role was on Two Broke Girls in 2014. In that year, he announced he was suffering from peripheral neuropathy and had to wear leg braces some but also had to rely on a wheelchair most of the time. He passed away two years later from an undisclosed condition.

It sounds like Schallert had an amazing life.  Growing up in Los Angeles and learning from his parents about theater and radio must have been a lot of fun.  He said those connections led to a lot of opportunities like going to Shirley Temple’s birthday parties. Then he started a theater at a young age, worked in television from 1951-2014, appeared in more than eighty movies, had a successful voiceover career, raised four great kids and enjoyed a long-lasting marriage. What a legacy to leave behind.

Laughing Every Day with Beverly Archer

As we continue looking at some of our favorite actresses, today we get to spend some time with Beverly Archer. Beverly was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1948 but grew up in California.

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Photo: behindthevoiceactors.com

Beverly knew she wanted to enter the acting profession and studied at both San Francisco State University and UC Santa Barbara where she majored in drama. But once she graduated, she decided acting wasn’t for her. She worked for Wells Fargo for two weeks and then accepted a job with Abbey Rents in Los Angeles where she worked for three years. She says she was lonely and not having fun, so she started taking acting classes again and working with theater groups.

Unlike a lot of actors who have to spend decades before nabbing their first series, the first two television roles Beverly received were regulars. However, Beverly paid her dues working in commercials before appearing on a series. She said they gave her confidence that she could make a living acting, so she was able to quit her job.

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The Nancy Walker Show
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In 1976, she appeared on The Nancy Walker Show. She played Nancy’s daughter,  Lorraine. In a recent interview with Sitcoms Online, Beverly said she ran into a guy she had done some theater with who had become an agent. He signed her and got her the audition for the show. Archer was reading the script with several other actresses but apparently, she was the only one who found the scene very funny. Nancy then read with her and the producers felt they could be family. She says she was in the right place at the right time.

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With Oliver Clark on We’ve Got Each Other
Photo: sitcomsonline.

Unfortunately, the show only lasted one season, but in 1977, Beverly was offered the role on We’ve Got Each Other. The plot for this show was that Stuart Hibbard (Oliver Clark) worked at home, cleaning and cooking while his wife Judy (Archer) worked in LA for photographer Damon Jerome (Tom Poston). Stuart had to deal with domestic situations and his next-door neighbor Ken (Martin Kove) while Judy dealt with work situations and secretary Donna (Renn Woods). Like her first show, this sitcom only lasted one season as sell.

In 1976 she accepted another permanent role as Mrs. Robert Bernard. She met her husband through an acting teacher. He was also an actor, doing a lot of voice-over work.

During the 1980s, she would receive offers to play recurring characters on four shows.

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On Spencer, she played Miss Spier, a divorced friend of Spencer’s mother. Most episodes show Spencer, played by a very young Chad Lowe, humorously dealing with the drama of high school.

In 1985 she was on ten episodes of Washingtoon. This is a little-remembered show that aired on Showtime. The plots centered around a senator who wasn’t too bright and Archer was his secretary on the show.

In 1988, she appeared on ALF as neighbor Mrs. Byrd.

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One of her best-known roles occurred on Mama’s Family. Beverly portrayed Iola Boylen from 1986-1990. In the Sitcoms Online interview, Archer talked about being on Mama’s Family. She explained that the network version was cancelled, and Joe Hamilton decided to recreate it in syndication. At that time, no one really did syndication shows. Archer says he was a pioneer in the field. Betty White and Rue McClanahan moved over to Golden Girls, so there was a gap for a new character and Archer was hired for the syndicated show. She says some of her favorite moments on the show were working with Ken Berry. She described him as the funniest person on the planet.

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Beverly tried her hand at writing and received credits for scripts for Mama’s Family, Working Girl and ALF.

In addition to these regular roles, she guest starred on a variety of shows, including It Takes Two, Family Ties, The Fall Guy, and My Sister Sam.

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During the decade of the nineties, Beverly was again lucky enough to gain a recurring role on five additional shows: Married . . . with Children, Aahh Real Monsters, Jumanji, The Young and the Restless, and Major Dad. On Married . . . with Children, she was a sexually repressed librarian who falls in love with Bud.

On Major Dad, she played the role of Alva Bricker, gunnery sergeant. During an interview with Jerry Buck in 1992, Archer says she used John Wayne for her role model for Alva because he was the only Marine she could remember. Describing her character on the show, Archer says “She’s the best Marine on the base. I think the driving force behind the characters is that she’s the best. But the personal stuff is fun to play. She has a wild sex life, but the crux is that she’s incredibly efficient as administrative chief of the commanding general’s office.”

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After portraying so many school-marm types of characters, she was happy to have a different sort of character to work with. Beverly says Gunny has a macho-style to her femininity. She treated relationships the way men typically did. She didn’t want to be tied down to one man.

Beverly joined the cast in season two. Once again, she benefitted from the fact that several characters from the first season were let go. The show was produced by Rick Hawkins who also worked with her on Mama’s Family. Archer loved the fact that Gunny was so different from Iola on that show.

She also guest starred on nine shows, including Full House, Love and War, and Grace Under Fire throughout the 1990s.

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In 1995 she was part of the fun, satire, The Brady Bunch Movie, playing a teacher who gets caught stealing.

Beverly accepted that she was typecast in many of her roles. As she described it, “Nobody’s going to let me play a normal human being, certainly not a lead. Certainly not a normal next-door neighbor. I’m there to add a character twist. That’s my living and with this mug, what do you expect?”

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Beverly retired in 2002. Beverly may have retired, but she was not sitting around the house twiddling her thumbs. She opened an antique shop in the Catskills in upper New York which she ran for about eight years, spending half the year in New York and half in California. She finally moved the shop to California to eliminate the bicoastal living.

Photo: Xiem Gallery

She also wanted to do a lot of traveling. Now she is sculpting with clay and getting to travel. She studied her craft in Italy. In 2008, Beverly had an exhibit at the Xiem Gallery in Pasadena, CA, entitled “2008: A Year of the Pig: A Beginner’s Journal.” The exhibit included some of her thoughts on her art:

“There was so much to learn.
Despite the fact that I began with 365 pigs I never thought back then that I would be able to count on two hands the number of pieces I have made that are not critters. I cannot seem to divorce myself from them. Nor do I want to.
Our relationship to other animals is quite a complex one, of course. We tend to imbue them with attributes and feelings we admire. We find our domestic companions delightful, amusing, courageous and intelligent…..all attributes we would like to see in ourselves. We even find the critters we eat to be companionable as well as useful.
Perhaps I will branch out eventually. Perhaps to wild animals. We think them fascinating, noble and mysterious. And yet, we threaten them, hunt them or ignore them and fail them constantly.
One can’t know for certain but I imagine that in years hence I will still be working on the animal form.
There is so just much to learn.”

While I’m sad, her retirement took her out of our living rooms, she seems to have found a wonderful new career. Since writing my blog, and writing in general, has become my almost-retirement career, I understand the passion and satisfaction she is experiencing in her new art life.

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When asked about the type of roles she wanted to play or would like to have if she had not retired, Beverly responded that “I loved doing comedy, and there is no greater gift than coming to work laughing every day.” I hope she is still laughing every day, and I thank her for the many days of laughter she provided for us.

MacMillan and Wife: The Show That Bridged the Generation Gap

Before launching into this week’s topic, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been following and reading my blog. This week begins my fourth year writing this blog. I was worried I would find enough topics to fill the first year but next year is already outlined, so another year of classic television is on the way. It has been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot.

This month we are looking at crime-solving duos.  We start our series learning a bit more about McMillan and Wife. McMillan and Wife began as part of The Sunday NBC Mystery Movie which included Columbo and McCloud. The shows rotated each week, so fewer episodes were produced of each than a typical weekly show.

Photo: memorabletv.com

McMillan and Wife debuted in 1971 and was on the air until 1977, yet only forty episodes were produced. Leonard Stern was the creator, writer, and executive producer of the show; he previously produced Get Smart.

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Stewart “Mac” McMillan (Rock Hudson) was an attorney and US Navy veteran who apparently had been involved in some CIA activities. He is now Commissioner of Police in San Francisco. He gets involved in high-profile cases. His wife is Sally (Susan St. James), and her father was a detective for the San Francisco Police Department; she learned a lot from him and helps her husband solve crimes. Sargent Charlie Enright (John Schuck) helps Mac with his cases. Sally and Mac have no children (it’s confusing because Sally was pregnant twice on the show, but the children are never mentioned in the show later). Their housekeeper Mildred (Nancy Walker) also lives with the couple. Mildred’s character resembles the role Thelma Ritter played in Pillow Talk, where Hudson starred with Doris Day. She is a sarcastic, hard-drinking woman and is always ready to offer her opinion, but she is devoted to Mac and Sally.

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Once Hudson was cast as Mac, the show got priority in development. Several actresses were considered for the role of Sally, including Diane Keaton and Jill Clayburgh, but Hudson was most comfortable with St. James.

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Hudson was 21 years older than St. James, but their relationship worked. Mac is supposed to be in his 40s and Sally in her 20s (he was 46 at the time and she was 25). Sally is self-confident and is not afraid to speak her mind. However, she is also a wife who loves her husband, and one of the running gags on the show is that Mac had dated a lot of women in his past, and when Mac and Sally are out and about, they typically run into some gorgeous woman who says, “Hi Mac.” Sally usually responds with a jealous comment or a withering look. The difference in their ages actually worked well for demographics. Hudson appealed to older viewers while St. James attracted younger viewers.

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Often the cases Mac solves happen during events the couple attends. One episode featured a burglary at a charity event they were attending; once they found a skeleton in their house after an earthquake. Another show had Mac abducted by mobsters and replaced with a surgically-made twin replacing him.

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An interesting fact is that the interior of their house in the pilot episode was in fact Hudson’s home. In the first regular episode, the MacMillans bought a new house. In the final season, the setting changed to an apartment.

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Sally and Mac led a glamorous life. The scripts were well written, and the dialogue was witty and clever. The couple was often compared to Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man movies. Mac and Sally have a lot of their best conversations after they go to bed at night.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Sally was known for wearing a football jersey for her nightgown. The jersey was an authentic 49ers Jersey, number 18, George Washington, a wide receiver. Washington was a four-time Pro Bowler. He made a guest appearance on the show in season four, “Guilt by Association.”

Considering that there were only forty episodes produced, this show had an incredible number of guest stars. I apologize for the long list, but it’s the only way to capture how impressive it is. The stars included sport celebrities Dick Butkus, Rosie Grier, Alex Karras, and Bobbie Riggs.

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It also featured a Who’s Who of television sitcom royalty: John Astin, Meredith Baxter, Tom Bosley, Michael Constantine, Bert Convy, Wally Cox, Richard Deacon, William Demarest, Donna Douglas, Barbara Feldon, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Larry Hagman, Alan Hale, Shirley Jones, Stacy Keach, Bernie Kopell, Julie Newmar, Charlotte Rae, Charles Nelson Reilly, Dick Sargent, Natalie Schafer, Susan Sullivan, Karen Valentine, and Dick Van Patten.

The show, like McCloud and Columbo, was quite popular with viewers. The ratings were impressive until the sixth season.

Unfortunately, the last season had too many changes to overcome. St. James decided to leave to concentrate on her movie career. Schuck left to star in the sitcom, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Walker left for her own sitcom, The Nancy Walker Show. Sadly, Walker and Schuck would have been better off staying because both their shows lasted only 13 episodes. St. James starred in a couple of movies, but they weren’t anything memorable. She would go on to star in Kate and Allie in 1984.

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On the show, Sally was killed in an airplane crash. Mildred was said to leave to open a diner, so her sister Agatha (Martha Raye) took over her job. Schuck made a few appearances but was said to have been given a promotion to lieutenant which kept him too busy to assist Mac much. The show may have been able to overcome one of these changes but not all of them. Much of the strength of the show was the relationship between Mac and Sally. Walker’s funny bantering and actions provided a comedic relief for the show. When Raye took over, she was just scatterbrained and loud; the appeal of Walker was not part of her character.

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It’s wonderful the show lasted five good seasons, but it might have lasted many more if the original cast had been retained. At the other end of the spectrum, Columbo aired off and on until 2003 and is remembered by more viewers.

DVDs were released for all six seasons between 2005 and 2014. With only forty shows in the series, this would be a fun binge-watching week-end show to tackle.