Valerie Harper: You Will Be Missed

This month, my blog’s theme is “Valerie.” I apologize ahead of time to any of you who have the lyrics of the Amy Winehouse song running through your head all month. It’s a great song, but every January blog I wrote kept the song in my brain for a few days.

I decided to begin the series, and the new year, looking at the career of Valerie Harper who passed away in 2019.

Valerie Harper lived to be 80, despite being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013.

Harper recalled attending an ice-skating show as a child and deciding she wanted to be involved in show business of some type. She loved the lighting, the audience, and the entire theatrical experience. She began her career as a dancer. Joining the Radio City Hall dancers, she transitioned into acting.

She eventually made her way to the Second City troupe in Chicago. After perfecting her comedy skills, she was on to Broadway, appearing in Dear Liar, Story Theatre, Something Different, and Metamorphosis.

Valerie appeared in a few movies and television series during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

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Richard Schaal and Valerie Harper

From 1964-1978, she was married to Richard Schaal. The couple wrote a script for Love American Style in 1969 called “Love and the Visitor.” Harper also acted in the segment “Love and the Housekeeper” in 1971.

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Her big break came when she was offered the role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Ethel Winant spotted her in a play and asked her to audition for the role. For four years, she played Mary’s best friend who lives upstairs. Rhoda was a window decorator for a large department store. The characters of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern were total opposites, but they had a tremendous chemistry and became best friends.

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Although Mary was the nicest person on the show, we all wanted Rhoda to be our best friend. Her humor and attitude toward life made the world a more fun place to be.

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In 1974, Valerie was rewarded with her own show, Rhoda. She marries and returns to New York. Harper won four Emmys during her time as Rhoda between the two shows. After capturing Rhoda’s Jewish persona so accurately, many people were surprised to learn she was not Jewish and grew up Catholic.

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Some of the funniest moments on either of the sitcoms was Rhoda’s relationship with her mother Ida, played by Nancy Walker. Rhoda loved her mother, but was driven absolutely crazy by her.

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When Rhoda was abruptly cancelled, Harper made a cluster of made-for-tv movies.

In 1986, Harper was cast as the lead in the show Valerie’s Family. After being abruptly fired from the show in 1987, she was replaced with Sandy Duncan as the children’s aunt. The plot line was that Valerie died in a car accident and Sandy comes to help out. The show changed its name to The Hogan Family and continued until 1991. Harper sued Lorimar Productions for breach of contract and was awarded $1.4 million plus part of the show’s profits.

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In 1990, City debuted starring Harper. The show only lasted one season. I have never seen this show, but most of the reviews I read were by people who loved it. One write-up on imdb.com concluded “This was the funniest sitcom Valerie Harper has done (except of course for the Mary Tyler Moore Show). The city manager’s office that provided the setting is the perfect locale for the parade of crazies that give comedic impetus to this type of show, The funniest was James Lorinz as the security guard (in one episode, he was convinced that white-out was being stolen to aid illegal immigration; to prove his point, he painted his entire body with it). One of the Mysteries of the Universe is why this failed while “The Hogan Family,” a profoundly mediocre show, lasted several years.”

From that point on, Harper did not star in any other television series, but she did show up in a variety of series and made-for-tv movies, including a recurring role on The Office in 1995.

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Valerie contributed to many causes during her career. She was a big advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She co-founded L.I.F.E. with Dennis Weaver, a nonprofit that gave food to the hungry in Los Angeles.

Valerie re-married in 1987, wedding Tony Cacciotti whom she remained with until her death.

Harper continued in stage work throughout her career. From 2005-2006, she portrayed Golda Meir, touring throughout the US.

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She accepted the role of Claire Bremmer on Desperate Housewives in 2011. In 2013, she returned to her dancing roots, appearing on Dancing with the Stars, partnered with Tristan MacManus.

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In 2009, Valerie was diagnosed with lung cancer. She fought the illness, but in March of 2013, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, given only months to live. Those couple of months turned into six years. Harper discussed her disease in 2015: “I talk to the cells all the time. I say, ‘What the hell are you doing? Not only are you destructive, coming in and ruining all my plans, but you are dumb! You are killing the host. If you take a low profile, I can live with you, here on the edge of the sword. You can fall one way or the other.’ Right now, things are working fantastically. Tomorrow, I don’t know.” Her philosophy was “We’re all terminal; none of us are getting out of this alive.”

Harper was fondly remembered by her co-stars when she passed away. Mary Tyler Moore who died before Harper, said she was devastated the day Valerie called her to tell her about the cancer. Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Show, remembered his years working with Harper: “A beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend. . . . Her brilliance burst through and shined its light upon all of us. Goodnight beautiful. I’ll see you soon.”

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Alyssa Milano who played her daughter on an episode of Melrose Place, said “Valerie Harper was always the most gracious and kindest actor on the set. She will be missed. Rest in Peace. ”

Valerie Harper had a unique gift of making us laugh, not at her characters, but with her characters. We could all relate to her. She was a role model for how to keep a positive attitude about living with a terminal illness. It’s a rare person who learns to work hard while making it look easy, fight for causes that help others, inspire others to live better while she was dying, and infuse laughter into every aspect of her life. We will truly miss you Valerie Harper, but we will remember you for all the gifts you left behind for us.

Georgia Engel: Reflecting Joy

We continue our series to honor television stars who passed away in 2019 by looking at the career of Georgia Engel.

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Georgia was born in Washington DC in 1948 as Georgia Bright Engel. Although she attended several high schools, she graduated from the Academy of the Washington Ballet. Her father was an admiral, and perhaps her family landed in Hawaii, but she went on to earn a theater degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In 1969, Engel would move to New York City. She was in an off-Broadway production, Lend an Ear and as Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly! for a year. When she was appearing in The House of Blue Leaves, Mary Tyler Moore and her husband Grant Tinker saw her performance one night.

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She was cast in The Mary Tyler Moore Show soon after, appearing in 57 episodes as Georgette Baxter, Ted’s girlfriend, and later, wife. Mary described the character as a cross between Stan Laurel and Marilyn Monroe. Georgette was devoted to Ted. She received two Emmy nominations for her role on the classic show.

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Betty White played Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and when White received a show of her own, The Betty White Show, in 1977, she brought Engel in as part of the new series as Mitzi Maloney. The plot featured White as a middle-aged actress who gets the starring role in a police series, Undercover Woman. Unfortunately, she soon learns her ex-spouse, whom she calls “old pickle puss” is the director. Mitzi is her naïve girlfriend and roommate.

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In 1980 she joined the cast of Goodtime Girls as Loretta Smoot. Set in 1942, the show was about a group of women who shared a small apartment in the Coolidge Boarding House. Loretta was described as a middle-aged war bride waiting for her husband to come back home from the war.

Like so many well-known television stars, Engel did her duty, appearing on The Love Boat (4 episodes) and Fantasy Island (5 episodes).

In 1983 she took on the role of Susan Elliott on Jennifer Slept Here. Ann Jillian starred in this show as Jennifer Farrell. Farrell, a popular movie actress who was run over by an ice cream truck in 1963, had lived in the house. Twenty years later, the Elliott family moves in. Jennifer haunts the place but can only be seen by the Susan’s teenage son.

Between 1991 and 1997 she made 20 appearances on Coach as Shirley Burleigh. Shirley’s husband is the athletic director who clashes with Coach Hayden Fox.

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From 2003-2005 she was cast as Amy’s mother, Pat MacDougall, on Everybody Loves Raymond. This role would reward her with three Emmy nominations. It’s hard to picture a better couple of wacky parents than Engel and Fred Willard!

The soap opera Passions beckoned her in 2007 where she made several portrayals of Esmeralda.

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On The Office

In 2012 she joined the cast of The Office as Irene, an older woman being aided by Erin.  

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The years 2012-2015 found her working with Betty White once again as Mamie, Elka’s (White) best friend in Hot in Cleveland. In the fourth season, the two friends run an illegal pharmacy.

Although Georgia was busy with television, she also found time to get back on the stage. In 2001, she toured with Barbara Eden in the female version of The Odd Couple. She appeared on Broadway in The Drowsy Chaperone with Sutton Foster and Edward Hibbert. She appeared in various productions at The Muny Theater in St. Louis between 2004-2010. 2005 found her playing Agnes Gooch in Mame; 2007 was Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!; 2009 was Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man.

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The Drowsy Chaperone

In 2015 she was cast in an off-Broadway play, John. Engel won a 2016 Obie for Distinguished Performance by an Actress for her role. Following that play, Engel starred in Gotta Dance, a musical playing in Chicago.

Georgia passed away in Princeton, New Jersey in April of this year. We don’t know what her cause of death was. She was a member of the Christian Scientists. A friend of hers, Joe Quilty, told the New York Times that because of her religious beliefs, she did not contact any doctors.

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Following Engel’s death, Betty White said she was “one of a kind and the absolute best.” During a 2012 TV Land interview, White commented on her relationship with Georgia: “You don’t get a chance very often in your life to meet a friend like Georgia, let alone an actress that you’re working with, and to suddenly find pure gold.  That’s a privilege.”

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Perhaps it’s best to end with Georgia Engel’s view of her career. Despite her being typecast as a bit of a ditzy blonde, she said, “Although I play silly parts, in order for others to share in the laughter, I think it’s important to have a heart that’s full of joy and gratitude. Joy is a very holy thing and we can never own it. We can only reflect it.”

Her lengthy and varied television career definitely reflected that joy.

Sherwood Schwartz: A Brand New Look

Sherwood Schwartz was born in November of 1916 in New Passic, New Jersey. The Pawnshop starring Charlie Chaplin was showing in theaters. These silent films would lead to radio and television developments that would change the course of Schwartz’s life.

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After getting his undergrad degree in New York, Sherwood moved to California to attend school and get his Masters in Biology. His goal was to have a career in endocrinology doing research. Unfortunately, he was put on a waiting list because the medical schools he applied to had a quota for the number of Jewish students they would accept. It was suggested that he change his name and religion. He refused and never did get into medical school.

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While waiting, he submitted jokes to Bob Hope for his radio show. He picked Hope’s show specifically because his brother Al worked for the show. (Al wanted to be a comedy writer, but his parents made him get a degree first. After passing the bar, he informed them he was off to California.) Bob Hope asked Sherwood to join his brother on staff and he accepted. He honed his comedy skills writing for four years with Bob Hope.

In 1941 he married Mildred Seidman and they had a family of four children. Sherwood also wrote for the Alan Young Show on radio.

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During World War II, he wrote for the Armed Forces Radio and when the war was over, he joined the staff of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie Nelson has a reputation for being a perfectionist. When Schwartz was asked about this, he gave the following example: “Oh absolutely. Absolutely true. That is the only man I know who, after his show was in reruns would take the reruns and re-edit them because he wasn’t happy with something. When it was too late to do anything with them, he still did it.”

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In the 1950s, Schwartz made the move to television. He took a position with the writers on I Married Joan starring Joan Davis and Jim Backus. He described the difficulty in writing for her show. “She refused to do the show unless a writer was on the set. She wanted to be able to say I need a better line and have that provided to her right then and there. Since there were only three writers for the show, one had to be on the set while the other two continued working on upcoming scripts.” As he put it, “The stage would be quiet for a moment, 75 production people were scattered around the stage and you had to get a better line or a better blackout. That’s enormous pressure for a writer. It was a rough week (when it was his turn to be on set).”

He became the head writer on The Red Skelton Show where he also worked with his brother. He did not enjoy working with Skelton. Skelton had a reputation for treating writers badly. Schwartz received an Emmy for his work on the show. The final straw was when Sherwood was listening to an interview with Skelton. He was asked why his show was so successful, and he replied, “Every week, when I get those lousy scripts from the writers I yawn. And the voice of God tells me how to fix things.” Sherwood decided the pay was not worth the grief of working for Skelton, so he left the series.

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He was then hired to retool My Favorite Martian in 1963 co-starring Bill Bixby and Ray Walston. CBS asked him to do some “reconstruction” work for the series, and he worked on seven episodes. He said the pilot was a great blueprint, but the writers were not following it as well as they should have. They were concentrating on Tim and his problems when the show needed to feature the challenges the Martian was having adapting to life on earth.

During this time, he was thinking about his own series. When he and his brother worked in the radio industry, they came up with an idea for a show called Help, about seven servants who work for a rich family. He now began to take that idea and expand it. What if he took seven people from all different walks of life–but how to get them in one place was the stumbling block.

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It began to come together when he placed them on a deserted island. Later that year the pilot was shot with a movie star, a professor, a millionaire and his wife, a farm girl, a skipper, and his first mate inhabiting an island while waiting to be rescued. It was not an elite or snobby show to be sure. FCC chairman Newton Minnow is the person who called television a “vast wasteland,” and in his honor, the Skipper’s boat was christened The SS Minnow.

Viewers always loved the show, but critics not so much. Schwartz said the critics never understood “the big picture” of what the characters represented. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Terrence O’Flaherty wrote that “It is difficult for me to believe that Gilligan’s Island was written, directed and filmed by adults.” UPI’s Rick DuBrow wrote “It is impossible that a more inept, moronic or humorless show has ever appeared on the home tube.” Ouch!

Schwartz said he was not “disheartened by the reviews . . . only a bit angry with the lack of understanding of what was being attempted.” As he continued, “these are the same men who are forever saying ‘For heaven’s sake, won’t somebody give us something other than the wife and the husband and the two children?’”

He once admitted “I honestly think I could sit down and write a show tonight that the critics would love, and I know it would be canceled within four weeks. I know what the critics love. We write and produce for people, not for critics.”

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The show also gave him a new skill as a lyric writer. Along with George Wyle, he wrote the theme song for Gilligan’s Island.

Although the show was popular with viewers, executive William Paley never liked it. The show was being moved around the schedule, and in order to move Bonanza to a different time spot, he cancelled Gilligan’s Island. Gilligan’s Island was on the air for three years, but it established Schwartz’s reputation as a producer and writer.

Apparently, many people felt the show was realistic. A coast guard colonel called Sherwood and later showed him letters from people who were concerned about the castaways being stranded on the island and asking the coast guard to rescue them.

Although the show was cancelled, it never really went away. Two animated series and three TV movies would spin off the show. It has also been on air in reruns since 1967. In 1988, Sherwood wrote a book, Inside Gilligan’s Island.

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With the cancellation of Gilligan’s Island, Sherwood began work on another new show. He had read an article that reported nearly one-third of American households included at least one child from a previous marriage. He decided to feature this sociological change and wrote a script about a woman with three daughters who marries a man with three sons. The networks all liked the idea but were asking for some major changes which he refused to make.

In 1968 the movie, Yours, Mine and Ours came out about a blended family and the networks now wanted the show. The series, starring Robert Reed and Florence Henderson as Mike and Carol Brady, aired on ABC from 1969 to 1974. The Brady kids were played by Maureen McCormick, Barry Williams, Eve Plumb, Susan Olsen, Christopher Knight, and Mike Lookinland. Ann B. Davis played Alice, the housekeeper.

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Again, the critics dismissed the show. What surprised me was that The Brady Bunch never did as well as Gilligan’s Island in the ratings. When it debuted, I was eight, and we all looked forward to Friday night when we would plant ourselves to watch The Brady Bunch and beginning in 1970, The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style.

While the critics wrote the show off as unrealistic, many of the scripts were taken from the Schwartz family’s life. His daughter said she was not thrilled to watch the show and see a story about her life as part of the plot.

Similarly to Gilligan, once again, Schwartz wrote The Brady Bunch theme song, this time with Frank DeVol.

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There are a lot of rumors that Robert Reed and Sherwood did not get along. After a lot of research, I’ve determined that Reed was never happy about what he saw as an inferior role. I think he wanted to do Shakespeare-quality shows in a time when there was not a need for that type of show. He seemed to nitpick the scripts too much and was too literal. Although I’ve read some memos where I totally agree with his interpretation, you can only spend so much time dissecting everything. On one show, he walks into the kitchen where the women are cooking strawberries and his line is, “This smells like strawberry heaven.” He wasted time writing a memo about the fact that he researched what strawberries smell like cooking and determined that they had no smell. He needed to learn to pick his battles, I guess.

In another similarity to Gilligan’s Island, not only did The Brady Bunch never leave the air after it was cancelled, but it too resulted in many other versions. An animated series, The Brady Kids, appeared on Saturday morning. Several TV movies, including The Brady Girls Get Married and A Very Brady Christmas were produced in the 1980s. That movie spawned a reboot of the original tv series which didn’t last long on the air. Finally, Sherwood also produced a movie for Paramount, A Very Brady Sequel, a satire of the original television show, in 1994.

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Sherwood’s son Lloyd helped produce and write the tv movies and the Paramount film. In addition, they wrote a book together, Brady, Brady, Brady: The Complete Story of The Brady Bunch as Told by the Father/Son Team Who Really Knew. The reviews of Sherwood’s book about Gilligan’s Island are mostly positive. This book had very mixed reviews. Most fans seemed to enjoy the first part of the book told by Sherwood, but the majority of readers dismissed the second part, primarily written by Lloyd, as insensitive and egotistical. Few people had any positive comments about Lloyd’s involvement.

Although Schwartz would never repeat the success he had with The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island, he did create several other series.

IT'S ABOUT TIME, Joe E. Ross, Imogene Coca, Mary Grace,  Jack Mullaney, Frank Aletter, 1966-67

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In 1966 after Gilligan ended, he produced It’s About Time where two astronauts end up in a prehistoric era and must learn to live with the natives. This show lasted one year, and 26 episodes were written.

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In 1973, Bob Denver again worked with Leonard in Dusty’s Trail. Seven travelers similar to the castaways get separated from their wagon team heading west and must work together to try to catch up to their group. Sounds rather familiar. Season one ended up with 27 episodes.

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Big John, Little John aired in 1976 and was a situation comedy on Saturday mornings featuring a man who turns into a 12-year-old after drinking from the fountain of youth. Only 13 episodes were produced.

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Finally, in 1981, Schwartz took the song “Harper Valley PTA” and turned it into a series with Barbara Eden and Fanny Flagg. Once again, Sherwood wrote the theme song. The show was on the air for two years and produced 30 episodes.

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In 2008 he was awarded both a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Sherwood died peacefully in his sleep from natural causes. Although he and Reed may not have been close, the rest of his cast seem to have nothing but good things to say about him.

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Florence Henderson quoted, “Sherwood was a wonderful writer and producer, but more importantly he was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and friend. I don’t ever remember him losing his temper. Ultimately, he was a wonderful teacher in life and again, in death, he taught us how to leave with dignity and courage.”

Barry Williams who played Greg, the oldest Brady, said, “As much as Robert Reed was like a dad to me, Sherwood was like a grandpa.”

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Oldest daughter Marcia played by Maureen McCormick, noted that “My mom, father and I would all go to Sherwood for advice because he always had a great answer.”

Tina Louise, Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, said he “brought laughter and comfort to millions of people. Gilligan’s Island was a family, He will be in our hearts forever.”

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Bob Denver who always had wonderful things to say about him, summed up working with him on a radio interview he did with Peter Anthony from Montreal radio station CJAD 800 AM on January 6, 1994. “Sherwood, as a producer, he was one of the best writer producers. It’s amazing. That man was just amazing. We never knew there were any problems when we were shooting. He kept all the network craziness away from us. He was writing scripts literally four months in advance, so that special effects and props always got them in plenty of time . . . you just memorized your words and went down there and had a great time. It wasn’t until afterwards when I left that I realized that not everybody was in the same situation. So, every time I had a chance to work with him, I did.”

Schwartz had two unbelievably successful television series. But more than that, he knew how to use their brand and marketing to keep them going. Here we are 50 years later, and kids today still understand references to both shows. They have both been on the air continuously since they were first cancelled. Generations have watched the shows. The two theme songs, co-written by him, are two of the best-known songs from television history.

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I thought Paul Lieberstein (producer of The Office) summed up Schwartz’s influence best. In an email to Vulture, he wrote, “There was no one who shaped my childhood more. I could easily draw you a map of Gilligan’s Island and a floor plan of the Brady Bunch house—and I’m not even sure if my own childhood home had two stories.” And speaking of that blueprint, in 2019, exactly 50 years since The Brady Bunch debuted, HGTV has bought the house used for exterior shots for The Brady Bunch and will be renovating it. Once again generations will be watching The Brady Bunch cast with HGTV and learning about the show as the brand continues.

Why Pop Culture Makes Me Grateful

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I have been reflecting on what I am thankful for this year.  Of course, I am most thankful for my faith, family, friends, and good health like most people.  But I have been looking deeper, exploring gifts I don’t always appreciate.

Kids today are growing up in a digital society, and social media has always been part of their lives – that will shape them and the way they learn and interact.  When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, our technology was television. I have been thinking about the way that shaped who I am, and I have been meditating on what I have learned from being a pop culture kid.

Here are some of the things I am thankful for that I have learned from sitcoms.

  1. Gracie Allen and Blanche Morton taught me having a best friend you can sit down and talk with over coffee is important. On Burns and Allen, every good or bad thing that occurred in their lives was shared and analyzed over a cup of quality roast coffee. Most of the time, these two women shared laughter, but your closest friends understand when it’s the time for tears as well. Having someone to navigate life with who totally gets you and never judges you (but can pull you back to reality with a loving reprimand when necessary) makes the journey much easier.

 

  1. Ann Marie taught me fashion is fun, and you can develop your own fashion sense. The last seasons of That Girl coincided with my middle grade school years when clothes were beginning to take on new importance. Before that, we basically had Sunday clothes, school clothes, and play clothes and didn’t give much thought to what was in our closet. During these years I was lucky to have a grandmother who bought me beautiful Sunday dresses and a friend who passed her clothes down to me. I remember that one of my Sunday best was a pink and white gingham skirt (with suspenders!) and a matching blazer. It came from Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and made me feel like a model when I wore it.  I didn’t understand the cost of expensive clothing, but I did know that Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Tiffany boxes were very desirable.  Thank you Lisa Spahr.  School clothes were always a dress or skirt with high knee socks until fourth grade.  That was the year that forced us to think more about our daily outfits because, for the first time, we were allowed to wear pants to school.  Not any pants, however; it had to be a pantsuit.  For Christmas that year I received a navy combination with red trim around the collar – a bit of a naval theme. Play clothes also began to change that year because our play changed.  No longer were we only running through the neighborhood; we were going to the movies, the Y, and other places where we might run into certain people – people like boys. My favorite outfit that year was a pair of ecru bell bottoms that had navy and maroon flowers splashed across them, paired with a navy blouse with a very straight collar and three buttons on the cuff.  I was convinced if I ran into Keith Partridge or Bobby Sherman in that outfit, they would notice me for sure. I also remember hot pants coming into fashion, and I had a pair of striped brown, tan, and orange ones that I wore with an orange tank with a zipper.  Be still my heart.  But my most special purchase was a black maxi coat that made me feel just like Ann Marie. Yes, she was a great fashion coach. I still love to watch the show to see what she is wearing.

 

  1. The Collins family helped me develop several interests. Dark Shadows came on not long after we arrived home from school, and we never wanted to miss it. As a neighborhood clan, we often played Dark Shadows, and all the girls wanted to be Daphne or Laura. I have not remained an avid Dark Shadows fan, but it did spark two passions for me.  No, not vampires and ghosts but mysteries and Maine. Mysteries were my favorite books to read during grade school and junior high. My first memory of the Bookmobile coming to our school was seeing several Nancy Drew books on the library carts. I checked them out, and I was hooked. I read through many series after that – The Dana Girls, Ginny Gordon, and Donna Parker – and then I moved on to reading adult authors that our local librarian had to approve for me to take out.  I especially loved Phyllis Whitney. I must have loved books more than clothing, because one year I received a pair of jeans for Christmas that I didn’t really like.  I was allowed to take them to Leitzinger’s Department Store myself to exchange them.  Exchange them I did for 8 Trixie Belden books  That was not my mother’s expectation, but I thought it was a much better deal.  Dark Shadows also gave me a fondness for Maine. I’ve only been there once, but I am looking forward to returning to New England next fall. I loved the large, old homes, the rocky beaches, and the quaint little towns. Something about that area spoke to my soul and drew me in.

 

  1. Steve Douglas provided me with sage advice and security. My dad and I had a great relationship when I was very little and later when I was an adult and a parent myself, but those years in between were a bit unpleasant at times, due to some personal demons he was dealing with. My Three Sons began the year before I was born and continued on the air until I was 12. After that, it was on television in reruns for most of my school life. In his sweater and holding a pipe, Steve Douglas became a surrogate father for me. I felt like I was a member of the Douglas family. Steve always had time to listen and had great wisdom.  He also understood kids would be kids and you had to pick your battles. He was kind and gentle. When I was dealing with a difficult issue, I would often consider what advice he might give me. When I was pregnant with our first child, a boy it turns out, I gave Dan a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce it. I think it was fitting that I ended up with three children – all boys.  Spending time with the Douglas family while growing up helped me understand what it was like to raise three boys. This show has always tugged at my heart.  On our first date, the show just happened to be on when we got back to my apartment.  Then we had three boys. Our youngest was named Seth for several reasons, one of them being that Seth Bryant had founded the town of Bryant Park where the Douglas clan lived. Somehow, I think I always knew I would have my own three sons.

 

  1. Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnicutt taught me laughter is an essential part of life. During my formative tween years, especially in dealing with my father, I began to realize that life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I learned that life held some highs and some lows, but most of life is lived on the bridges between the mountains and the valleys.  M*A*S*H taught me the importance of joy and laughter during these times. Humor became an important life skill which helped in making friends and getting through bumpy times.  We moved a lot between 8th and 11th grades – I was basically in five different high schools in three different cities and having a sense of humor helped me develop friends in each new place. My closest friends and my family understand that being able to laugh at ourselves and find humor in the mundane keeps life fun.  Our family conversations often sound like a M*A*S*H script. Life without humor would be very unpleasant.

 

  1. Rob Petrie, Mary Richards, and Michael Scott taught me that work would be much smoother if you accepted everyone and made the best of situations rather than dwelling on the negatives. From Rob Petrie, I learned that developing close relationships at work helped you be more creative and reduced stress. He probably also influenced me to love comedy and writing. Mary Richards taught me that for every Murray Slaughter you bonded with at work, there would be a Ted Baxter you had to put up with, and hopefully you would develop some affection for them by doing so.  Michael Scott taught me that we all have our quirks, and if we accept others, they will usually accept us.  If we wait for the perfect friend or coworker, we will be waiting a long time. The work has to get done, so stay positive. We all have professional gifts and talents, but our people skills are often what make us a success or a failure at our jobs.

 

  1. Shirley Partridge and Bentley Gregg taught me it was okay to love a show simply because you love it, without trying to reason why. There were a lot of shows on when I was growing up that I watched and thought were okay, but they didn’t capture my heart – shows like Gilligan’s Island, Hazel, or The Flying Nun.  There were also shows I thoroughly disliked for whatever reason – shows like All in The Family, Good Times, and The Beverly Hillbillies. However, some shows like The Partridge Family and Bachelor Father drew me in and became life-long love interests.  Okay, it might have something to do with the fact that I was secretly in love with Keith Partridge and Bentley Gregg.  There was just something about the series that would cause me to get up two hours early or stay up three hours later just to watch reruns when I could.  And I learned that was okay.  I don’t have to analyze why they have become important in my life; I just accept that they are.

Many people criticize sitcoms as fluffy and say that they don’t portray the reality of life.  I disagree.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of mediocre and just plain awful shows out there.  There always have been.  But there are those shows that touch our lives in some way.  We learn from them.  We laugh with them.  We develop an appreciation for people that we otherwise would never come to know. So, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned watching sitcoms.  I am also thankful for the passion I developed in sharing these shows with other people. After all, that is what this blog is all about.  And I am thankful to you for reading it and keeping these shows alive for another generation. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

 

Do You Hear What I See?

As viewers transitioned from radio to television, there was a lot of conflict as advertisers volleyed between the two mediums. Many critics predicted an early death for radio which never came about.  Radio found its new niche, relying more on news and music. Now, you can actually watch radio on television shows like Mike & Mike on ESPN.

Television has also featured several shows about radio stations over the years.  Today we tune in to five of those.

Good Morning World (1967)

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David Lewis (Joby Baker) and Larry Clarke (Ronnie Schell) are early morning DJs in LA with the Lewis and Clarke Show. Dave is happily married, while Larry considers himself a ladies’ man. Billy De Wolfe garnered a lot of attention as the best part of the show  portraying station manager Roland Hutton, a stuffy and humorless boss. Rounding out the cast are Dave’s wife Linda played by Julie Parrish and the debut of Goldie Hawn as their next-door-neighbor.

American actors Goldie Hawn (as Sandy Kramer) and Charlie Brill (as Milton Pervis) appear in an episode of the television show 'Good Morning Wold' called 'Knits To You, Sir,' June 20, 1967.

The show was created by an unbelievable group: Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. They all were part of the creative force of the Dick Van Dyke Show.  Persky and Denoff were also the producers for That Girl. They based this show on their work as writers at WNEW-New York in the 1950s.

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This photo made me laugh.  They could actually be stand-ins for Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. It might even be the same kitchen!

Filmed before a live audience at Desilu, the show was created to showcase Schell.  Ronnie had been a private on Gomer Pyle and this was to be his break-out show. Procter and Gamble sponsored the series which aired Tuesday nights. It should have done well during its slot, being up against NYPD and the Tuesday Night at the Movies.

The ratings were not great, and the network debated whether to cancel the show or bring it back for a second season.  The two deciding factors might have been that Baker had a lot of trouble memorizing his lines and Parrish was dealing with some health issues.  The network considered recasting both roles but ended up cancelling the series after 26 episodes.  Surprisingly, it was released on DVD.

Schell went back to Gomer Pyle, USMC where he was promoted to corporal.

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The best episode is “No News Like Nude News.” The stars are invited to a Nude Ranch and go thinking they are on their way to a dude ranch.

 

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978)

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I consider WKRP the second-best radio sitcom. The premise for the show was that a new producer is brought in to help a struggling radio station in Cincinnati.  Changing the format from easy listening to rock brings new life to the station and a lot of chaos to the staff. Hugh Wilson created the format.  He can be seen as a police officer in the episode “Hold Up.”

Along with The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barney Miller, and The Office, this was one of the best ensemble casts in television. The characters included:

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Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) is the producer who has a successful history of turning stations around.

Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) is the station manager whose mother owns the station. The Big Guy’s management style is a big part of why the station is not doing well.  Art is more interested in fishing than radio. Jump was a DJ in Dalton in his former life.

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Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the smart receptionist who is the highest-paid staff member. Anderson refused to be cast as a dumb blonde.  Jennifer has a journalism degree and although she is only receptionist, she has the skills that keep Art Carlson out of the loop and everything running smoothly at the station. She is gorgeous and kind-hearted, but she refuses to type letters or make coffee.

Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is the incompetent news reporter. He always wears bow ties and is best friends with Herb. Richard has a bandage on his head from a real-life injury in the pilot and he made that one of his trademarks.  He often shows up with bandages on various parts of his body and we later learn that he has a large dog.

Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) is a tasteless boor. He is married but is always coming on to Jennifer. Herb’s suits are even louder than he is.  In one episode, Venus says “Somewhere out there there’s a VW with no seats.” One of his suits actually was made from VW covers. Bonner grew up in Arkansas, and Herb always has a Razorback mug on his desk.

Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) originally took care of billing but is also a journalism major and shows she is a more competent on-air reporter than Les. She and Fever date off and on.

Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) is the soulful, smooth-talking DJ.  Although he is on the air at night and Fever has the morning shift, they become best friends. His real name was Gordon Sims and he was a school teacher before his DJ career took off.

Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is the burned-out DJ from LA.  He was fired for saying “booger” on the air at his last job.  He’s an insomniac and addicted to coffee.  His hippie lifestyle and cynicism do not mesh with Herb and Les. Originally Hesseman was asked to read for the part of Les Nessman but would only audition for Fever. David Cassidy turned down the role of Johnny Fever. The character of Fever was based on Atlanta’s Bobby Harper who was on the morning show on WQXL 790 AM.  The creator of the show, Hugh Wilson, had previously worked there.

In many of the scenes there were bulletin boards with bumper stickers plastered all over that had been sent in from radio DJs all over the country. As a tribute to John Lennon, his photo was displayed in the background after his assassination.

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The show was videotaped because rock song rights were cheaper for taped shows than filmed shows. When the show went into syndication, almost all of the music had to be replaced.  When the DVD set was being created, the original music was put back in.  An agreement could not be reached until 2014.

Although it’s hard to believe, in 1980 Hugh Wilson collaborated with Hanna-Barbera to create an animated version of WKRP where all the characters are played by dogs.  The show never actually happened.

WKRP was on Monday nights against Welcome Back Kotter and Little House on the Prairie. After the first season, it was moved repeatedly. The show was cancelled after four seasons. It accumulated ten Emmy nominations including three for outstanding series. The show was much more successful in syndication.

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The show was filmed in Los Angeles, but the opening and closing scenes as well as several episode scenes were filmed at the Enquirer Building in Cincinnati.  That building is currently a Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites at 615 Vine St. near Fountain Square.  The radio station said they were housed in the Osgood R. Flimm Building.

One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song:

“Baby, if you’ve ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me.  I’m living on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati WKRP. Got kind of tired of packin’ and unpackin’, town to town, up and down the dial. Maybe you and me were never meant to be, just maybe think of me once in a while. I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati.”

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In 2015, a non-profit radio station in Raleigh, 101.9 was given the WKRP call letters. An independent television station, channel 25, in Cincinnati also received the WKRP designation in 1990.

The clever writing and memorable characters have gained this sitcom a great reputation in television history.

Hello Larry (1979)

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McLean Stevenson was hoping to be the star of M*A*S*H.  Once he realized Alan Alda was firmly entrenched in that position, he opted out of his contract to star in his own show.

The result was Hello Larry about a man, Larry Alder, who is divorced and moves with his two teenage daughters to Portland to star in a call-in psychiatric radio show. Kim Richards played his daughter Ruthie and Krista Erickson played Diane. Lisa Whelchel auditioned for the role of Ruthie but lost out to Richards and ended up on Facts of Life which she was grateful for.

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The other cast members included Joanna Gleason (Monty Hall’s daughter) as the radio producer, George Memmoli as Earl the engineer, and John Femia as Tommy Roscini. Larry also hung out with a familiar face – -Meadowlark Lemon, former Globetrotter, who owned a Portland sporting goods store.

The show was owned by the same company who created One Day at A Time and this was a mirror image of that show focusing on a single mom with two daughters.

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The ratings were not good. The show was up against Charlie’s Angels and the Wednesday Night Movie. Several months into the season, to bolster ratings, the writers brought in the cast of Diff’rent Strokes which was a popular show that aired right before Hello Larry.  It was scripted that Larry and Phil Drummond had served together in Korea.  It did not help the ratings. The show went through a variety of scheduling changes all with the same result.  An issue that certainly didn’t help the show was the Iranian hostage crisis.  The show was often interrupted with special news breaks.

After 38 episodes, the show died a quiet death.  A TV Guide poll in 2002 listed Hello Larry as the 12th worse show of all time.  It was probably best remembered as the show that continually got made fun of by Johnny Carson for being so bad.

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It’s hard to believe an actor would leave one of the most creative and popular shows of all time to move to one of the worst shows of all time.

Frasier (1993)

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I think that Fraisier was the best radio show on television.  Frasier was on the air 12 years resulting in 263 episodes. The show averaged only 24 episodes a year. The hundredth episode was entirely filmed on the streets of Seattle. Leaving the cast of Cheers, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) moves back to Seattle to host a show as a radio psychiatrist.

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After an injury, his father, a former policeman, moves in with Frasier. Fraiser provides advice on the airwaves while struggling in his personal relationships, especially with his cranky father and his pretentious brother. The producers did not want the show to resemble WKRP too much, so they came up with the concept of having Frasier live with his father, so family relationships became important.

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John Mahoney plays Martin Crane, a grumpy, uncultured man who cannot understand his sons. Although Martin did not care about high-brow topics, John Mahoney taught Pierce a lot about wine and opera during the Frasier years.

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David Hyde Pierce was Frasier’s brother Niles.  The role of Niles was written just for Pierce.  The brothers were extremely competitive, although they could count on each other when it mattered. Frasier went to Harvard and Oxford while Niles went to Yale and Cambridge. Their mom was a scientist and the boys were named after lab rats she worked with. Both brothers had expensive tastes, intellectual interests, and high opinions of themselves. Niles was married to Maris, but we never see her. In later seasons, after getting a divorce, Niles marries Daphne. The brothers often meet at Café Nervosa.

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On an episode of Cheers, Frasier explained that his father had died in an accident and he had no siblings.  When Sam (Ten Danson) comes to visit on Frasier, the error is explained by having Frasier tell Sam that he made the story up because he was mad at his family. All but two characters from Cheers starred on Frasier.  Coach had passed away and  Kirstie Alley (Rebecca) was a scientologist who did not accept psychology.

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Jane Leeves plays Daphne Moon, who was hired to be Martin’s therapist and caretaker.

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Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle) is Frasier’s radio producer and becomes one of his best friends. The role of Roz had been narrowed down to Gilpin or Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow was funnier but lacked the forcefulness she needed in the workplace, so Gilpin got the job.

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Another important character was Martin’s dog Eddie.  John Mahoney said Eddie got more fan mail than anyone else on the show. To get Eddie to lick Mahoney’s face, liver pate was placed strategically on his face.

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Bebe Neuwirth was offered a regular role on the show as Frasier’s ex-wife, but she wanted to return to Broadway, so she guest-starred from time to time. She appeared in 12 shows.

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Frasier’s apartment was almost another character on the show.  He lived in an ultra-modern apartment. A Dale Chihuly sculpture is seen near the fireplace. Above the fireplace is another artwork by Laddie John Dill, an LA sculptor.  A Coco Chanel sofa was recovered at a cost of $15,000 to add realism. In contrast, Martin brings his old, tattered recliner which clashes with the rest of the apartment – a symbol of the way he and Frasier clash. On the first episode, a deliveryman played by Cleto Augusto brings the chair in. On the final episode, the same actor came and took the chair away.  Martin explains to Frasier that he spent many important life moments in the chair such as watching the moon landing and specific sports events.  When he came home from work, he often fell asleep in the chair, and his wife would kiss him and send him to bed.  Frasier’s mother had passed away a few years earlier. Frasier finally understands the significance of the chair. On the last episode, Martin is marrying again, and he moves out. Wendie Malick plays his second wife.

Guest stars played callers on the radio show.  Often, they phoned in their lines. Callers included David Duchovny, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Linda Hamilton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, Chris Reeve, and Estelle Parsons.

Grammer made life a bit anxious for his guest stars. He used an acting method called requisite disrespect where he did not rehearse and learned his lines right before each scene.

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The theme song was “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs” by Darryl Phinnessee and Bruce Miller. Miller wanted Mel Torme to sing the theme for the show, but the producers wanted Kelsey Grammer who ended up recording it.

Critics had great respect for the show. The series holds the record for most sitcom Emmys – 37.  It had the record for most Emmys of any genre till Game of Thrones won its 38th recently. The five best episodes include “The Ski Lodge,” “The Doctor is Out,” “Wheels of Fortune,” and “Ham Radio.”

Grammer and James Arness are currently tied for the character who was on television the longest – 20 years.  Arness played Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years while Grammer played Frasier on Cheers and Frasier for a total of 20 years. The Simpsons have actually passed both of them if animated characters count.

Not only was Fraiser a great radio sitcom, but it is one of the best sitcoms on my top 15 list.

News Radio (1995)

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News Radio explores the office politics and interpersonal relationships among the staff of WNYX, New York’s #2 news radio station.

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Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) is the boss who tries his best to manage a quirky staff. He was raised in Wisconsin and some of his interests include tap dancing, a cappella singing, knife-throwing, and ventriloquism. He is polite and always in control.  He talks to his mother frequently and keeps a photo of her on his desk. He loves coffee and classic sitcoms, especially Mr. Ed and Green Acres.

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Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) is an egotistical co-anchor. He is arrogant and insubordinate.  There are many gaps in his knowledge, but he does show flashes of concern for others. Near the end of the show’s run, Hartman was killed; tragitically, Hartman was shot by his wife.

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Catherine Duke (Khandi Alexander) is the other co-anchor. She and McNeal previously had an affair and they are rivals. In the fourth season, she takes a job in London.

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Jimmy James (Stephen Root) is an eccentric owner. He is a billionaire and feels the need to micromanage the station. He is always searching for a wife and loves to air his rivalries with other entrepreneurs such as Ted Turner and Bill Gates. In the finale, he buys a radio station and newspaper in New Hampshire and takes most of the staff with him.

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Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney) is an ambitious producer who is Nelson’s on-and-off-again girlfriend. She’s an overachiever who can do complex math problems and has a detailed life plan. In season five, she marries Jimmy’s archenemy Johnny Johnson (Patrick Warburton).

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Matthew Brock (Andy Dick) is a hapless reporter who is clumsy and always tripping or falling down. He idolizes McNeal.  He has a dental degree, loves sci fi, and has a crush on Lisa.

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Joe Garrelli (Joe Rogan) is a handyman and electrician.  He is infatuated with Catherine and believes conspiracy theories, especially about extraterrestrials. Ray Romano was originally hired for this job, but his verbal comedy did not mesh well with the rest of the cast.

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Beth (Vicki Lewis) is the quirky secretary.  She typically wears inappropriate clothing, chews gum all the time, and likes to complain about her low salary. She was named Beth based on the Kiss song.

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Max Lewis (Jon Lovitz) was McNeal’s replacement after Hartman’s death. He was inept, eccentric, insecure, unprofessional and a former colleague of Bill’s.

The show was on the brink of cancellation every season. It never placed higher than 26th and changed time slots 11 times. It was briefly cancelled in 1998, but the network reversed its decision and ordered 22 more episodes and then it was cancelled for good.

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The show was fast paced and witty.  Sarcasm ruled the dialogue. Physical humor and sight gags also had a place in the humor. The show differed from the casts in The Office or the Mary Tyler Moore Show because they were a dysfunctional family without the affection and empathy of those characters. The cast was banned from SAG awards for bad behavior at the first ceremony.

Shows featuring radio stations seem to be hit or miss.  Good Morning World and Hello Larry did not do well.  I think everyone can agree on WKRP in Cincinnati and Fraiser are well-written shows.  News Radio seems to fall somewhere in the middle.  Some people seem to love it while others thought it missed the mark.  I think the show is well written, but the characters are not endearing.  They don’t grow or change for the better.  We can grow to love a Herb Tarlek and a Ted Baxter, but there is nothing redeeming about the crew here.  I guess I would tune out.  There are too many good shows out there to watch a “maybe, maybe not” show.

Decorate With Style

With the Christmas shopping season fully in swing, I thought it would be fun to look at ways to decorate with movie and television collectibles. If you are looking for a unique gift for someone on your list or trying to come up with ideas to share with others, think about personalizing home décor with items that showcase pop culture favorites.

Whether you want to sprinkle a few items in around your house or devote an entire room to a theme, there are a lot of fun ideas to display your passions.

If you are shopping for children, think about purchasing a movie poster from the first movie they ever went to.  Our oldest son’s first movie at 3 was supposed to be an animated Christmas feature, but they had a problem with the film and showed Home Alone instead.  I thought he would be bored (or scared), but he loved it, and we commemorated that memory with a framed movie poster for his room. Maybe your child is older but has a movie she watches over and over.

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Our middle son collected old board games.  We still have a lot of those and play them a lot. You can find games about shows from the 1950s up through the present. Here are just a few of the ones I’ve seen out there:  The Lone Ranger, Happy Days, McHales’s Navy, The Partridge Family, The Patty Duke Show, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Honeymooners, The Office, and hundreds more.

If you have an avid sports fan to buy for, think about decorating with movies and tv shows about sports. How about the lobby cards for Remember the Titans, a basketball signed by Gene Hackman from Hoosiers, or a Happy Gilmore script signed by the entire cast.

Decorating with western items can also be a fun theme. Consider redoing your guest room with a western flare.  What would you put in it?  How about Clint Eastwood’s hat from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  I’ve seen a Roy Rogers bedspread, a John Wayne figurine, a Lone Ranger poster for the wall, and on the night stand place a couple of Bonanza tin cups for morning coffee and a CD player with a collection of Old West radio episodes.

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Maybe you have a family member who loves Christmas.  You can find a variety of Christmas photos from classic television shows.  Or buy a small fake Christmas tree and decorate it with Hallmark ornaments from pop culture.

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Perhaps you have someone who loves fashion.  There are a variety of items you can search for in that category. Many movies had photos taken when they tested their costumes. You can also find clothing, accessories, and jewelry worn on television shows or movies to wear or frame. I have a thirtysomething jacket that was made for the crew and cast and it’s a fun item to hang on the wall.

Someone who likes old advertising can use a variety of collectibles scattered throughout the house.  You can find stars promoting everything from cold cream to coffee.  We have an ad of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in our laundry room for a Hot Point washing machine.

Do you have a doll collector on your list ?  There are hundreds of dolls out there from television series. I’ve seen I Love Lucy, George Burns, Maxwell Smart from Get Smart, That Girl, and Laverne and Shirley. In movie collectibles, you can find Gone with the Wind dolls, Wizard of Oz figures, and even Rock Hudson and Doris Day from Pillow Talk.

Coffee bars are becoming common in new homes.  If you have someone who loves entertaining that way, you’re in luck.  You can find coffee mugs, serving bowls, and tea sets to display.

Last, but not least, if you know someone who has one show they are drawn to use that as your theme.   The iconic show is The Andy Griffith Show.  You can find blankets, villages, cups, signs, clocks, and even canned food and muffin packages. However, any show whether it be The Donna Reed Show from the 1950s or Last Man Standing currently on television will have a lot of items to choose from. If you are looking for single show themes, consider advertising items–My Three Sons had a wood block invitation made for the press; props –a typewriter used on Will and Grace; tv guides; music boxes; paper dolls and coloring books; lunch boxes; or even light switch plates.

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, make your own.  For example, you could enlarge the sheet music from the theme song and frame it. Or make a shadow box with a few treasured items. You can even make pillows or magnets.

With a little imagination, you can come up with that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  The bonus?  You get to stay cozy and warm inside when the winds are blowing and the snow is falling and watch your favorite shows while you shop for everyone on your gift list.