This week we are winding up our series of favorite female actors with Charlotte Rae. If you remember last week we learned about June Lockhart. Charlotte was born a year after June and died a year before her, and their careers were very similar. Both were actresses for more than six decades, appeared in Broadway, movies, and television.
Rae was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1926. Her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. Her mother Esther had been friends with Golda Meir since childhood. For her first ten years, the family lived above her father’s tire business. In 1936 they moved to a home in Shorewood. At age 16, she became an apprentice with the Port Players, a professional theater company that came to Milwaukee for the summer. After graduation, Charlotte did some radio work and did some performing with the Wauwatosa Children’s Theatre.
Although she never completed her degree, Rae attended Northwestern University. She and Cloris Leachman became friends there. She also met Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, and Claude Akins. In later years she would always recommend wanna-be actors get a degree first.
In 1948, she moved to New York City where she performed in theater and nightclubs. She worked at a variety of clubs including the Village Vanguard and the Blue Angel. During her early days, a radio star told her that her last name of “Lubotsky” would not work well, and she replaced it with her middle name of Rae.
In 1951 she received her first television job on Once Upon a Tune. She would appear on ten other drama theater shows during the fifties. In an interview with Milwaukee Talks in 2016 she said, “When I started out, I wanted to be a serious actor, I never thought I’d get into comedy.”
The same year, Rae married composer John Strauss. They had two sons, but in the mid seventies he came out as a bisexual. Rae was not interested in an open marriage, so the couple decided to divorce in 1976.
Charlotte also loved singing, and she released an album in 1955, Songs I Taught My Mother. Rae also loved being on the stage. In the seventies, Vanguard Records went out of business, and Rae was able to buy back the album for $5000.
She would have stage roles in “Three Wishes for Jamie” in 1952, “The Threepenny Opera” in 1954, “Li’l Abner” in 1956, and “Pickwick” in 1965 among others. Later in her career she would also appear in several off-Broadway shows.
In 1958, she got a break with a guest spot on The Phil Silvers Show which led to her getting the part of Sylvia Schnauzer, the wife of Leo Schnauzer (Al Lewis) on Car 54 Where Are You when it debuted in 1961. Her husband John did the music for the show. Apart from that role, most of the other television work she did in the sixties was in drama series.
Rae also appeared in 14 big-screen movies. Can I take a shameless plug and say that one of my favorite Charlotte Rae roles is in Hello Down There? This movie from 1969 screams IT’S THE SIXTIES from the moment it starts until it ends, but it’s a great sit-back-and-just watch movie. If nothing else, it has an amazing cast including Tony Randall, Janet Leigh, Ken Berry, Jim Backus, Merv Griffin, and Richard Dreyfuss among others.
The seventies were her busiest decade of work. She started with a recurring role on Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady. During the early seventies you could see her on The Partridge Family, McMillan and Wife, Love American Style, and The Paul Lynde Show. I always appreciated her character on The Partridge Family. When Danny is thinking about quitting school to get on with life, she plays his very smart and creative guidance counselor.
In 1974 Rae moved to Los Angeles. She did guest spots on All in the Family and Good Times, both Norman Lear shows. In 1975, she became a regular on Lear’s show, Hot l Baltimore. She played Mrs. Bellotti, whose son lived at the hotel. The show was a bit controversial and was cancelled after the first season.
During the remainder of the seventies, Rae kept busy working for a variety of genres. You could have seen her on The Flying Nun, Barney Miller, The Rich Little Show, All’s Fair, CPO Sharkey, Family, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, and on her friend Cloris Leachman’s show Phyllis.
In 1978 Norman Lear was working on Diff’rent Strokes about a single father who adopts two brothers whom he raises along with his daughter with help from his housekeeper. Lear signed Rae on as the housekeeper. Charlotte wanted to do the series, but as she related in a Television Academy interview, she was under contract at CBS when NBC made the offer. She had a few weeks left on her CBS option. The network offered her the role of a lady sheriff on a new western but it didn’t ring true to her, and she didn’t want to do it. While she was filming an Eddie Capra Mystery episode, she drove over to explain her predicament to Lear. He said that Bud Grant owed him a favor and he did indeed get her out of the contract.
One episode on the first season was “The Girls’ School” when Edna Garrett is asked to help out at Kim’s private school called East Lake. She does but at the end of the episode decides she’d rather be working in the Drummond home.
In an interview with the Television Academy, Rae said she thought she was going to be fired from Diff’rent Strokes. She noticed her lines getting fewer and fewer and when she was called into talk with the producer, she thought that was it. However, they proposed a spinoff show for her based on “The Girls’ School” episode called The Facts of Life. They wanted Edna to become housemother for the boarding students at the school. It was a prestigious private school now called Eastland. The writers were focusing on issues affecting high school age girls including weight gain, dieting, depression, drug and alcohol use, dating, mental illness, and other subjects that kids that age deal with. Rae said the show was about growing up, family, love, and working out problems. “I had a lot of input with issues like suicide, divorce, death. I’m really very proud.”
Charlotte was a single mother and afraid to lose her Diff’rent Strokes income on a possibility that might not pan out. The producers wrote into her contract that if the show was cancelled, she could return to Diff’rent Strokes, so she agreed.
The first season gained some fans, but ratings were so-so. For the second season, some cast changes were made and the show was moved from Fridays to Wednesdays. The show finished in the top thirty that year, and Rae became a household name. In 1982, Rae received an Emmy nomination. (She lost to Carol Kane from Taxi.) During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Rae asked to be used less. She felt that the girls were older and would rely more on each other than a housemother for discussions about life issues.
When discussing the character of Edna, Rae explained “I want to bring in as much humanity as possible, as well as humor. I’ve tried to make her a human being with dimensions. The way they write her now is with a great deal of sensitivity and understanding. But I don’t want her to be Polly Perfect, because she must have human failings and make mistakes. She’s also a surrogate mother to the girls. I told them I wanted to be firm with the girls because I know it’s important. Parents must lay down ground rules for their children to help them grow up and to learn responsibility for their actions. They must learn to stand on their own two feet.”
Rae wanted to do more theater and she wanted to travel. When she decided to leave the series, Cloris Leachman replaced her in the role. The two-part finale of the eighth season had Edna Garrett marrying and moving to Africa with her husband to work for the Peace Corps. Her sister Beverly (Rae’s real sister’s name) comes for the wedding and then decides to stay with the girls at school. Cloris Leachman was signed on for two seasons. At the end of her time, she was willing to continue for another season, but cast members Nancy McKeon and Mindy Cohn were ready to end the show and take on new projects. It was not the end of the show, however. In 2001 a television reunion movie aired with much of the original cast. In 2007 the entire cast was invited to the TV Land Awards where they sang their old theme song.
Charlotte took on several other roles after leaving the show. During the eighties and nineties, she appeared on The Love Boat, St. Elsewhere, Murder She Wrote, Sisters, and Alex Mack among others.
She was busy until she passed away, and continued to act throughout the 2000s, including an appearance on King of Queens, and a recurring role on ER. Her last acting credit on television was in 2014’s Girl Meets World.
In 2015, Rae wrote her memoirs with her son Larry. At many of her book signings, adults came to purchase the book and told her over and over that they had been latch-key kids and saw Edna as a second mother to them. A description from Amazon sums up the book: “Charlotte Rae’s career spans more than seventy years, from the golden age of television to Shakespeare in the Park, the New York Cabaret scene of the late 1940s and 50s to her hit series, The Facts of Life and well beyond. Off stage and screen, Charlotte’s life has been one of joy and challenge, raising an autistic son, coming to terms with alcoholism, the heartache of a broken marriage, the revelation of a gay husband and the sudden challenge of facing middle-age with financial and emotional uncertainties–a crisis she ultimately turned into the determination that brought her stardom. The Facts of My Life is the first opportunity for Charlotte’s fans to explore the fascinating story of her extraordinary life: poignant and hilarious, a story of courage and triumph, one that speaks for a generation of women breaking barriers, taking on challenges, overcoming personal tragedy, and paving the way for others.”
Rae suffered from several health issues. In the early seventies, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous which was a critical part of the rest of her life. In 1982, she had a pacemaker implanted. It worked well for thirty years, but then stopped, requiring surgery for another smaller device. She also had open heart surgery to replace her mitral valve. Pancreatic cancer ran in her family, so she was screened often and when she was diagnosed with cancer, it was early so she had six months of chemotherapy and was then declared cancer free. In 2017, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. She died at her home in 2018. Todd Bridges from Diff’rent Strokes, tweeted, “You were loved by everyone on our show.”
Charlotte said she never minded fans coming up to her because she realized that in being a television actor you were in people’s homes. “It was an intimate relationship.”
She said she wanted to be remembered as someone who took people out of themselves into a different world and allowed them to laugh or cry, and that would make her happy because we need as many laughs as we can get.
Thank you, Charlotte for making us cry a little and laugh a lot.
We are right in the middle of “The Men of November” series where we learn about some of our favorite actors from the classic age of television. Today we focus on a comedian who is best known for his role of a family band manager—Dave Madden.
Madden was an American born in Ontario, Canada in 1931. He spent his early childhood in Port Huron, Michigan and then was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Terre Haute. His father had died and his mother had a job where she had to travel. When he was 13, he had a very bad bike accident which left him immobilized. He had a head-on collision with a car going about 45 mph. He broke his leg and fractured his skull. They pumped him with penicillin which saved his life. He was in the hospital for about three months because they had to keep breaking his leg. During the months he spent recuperating, he learned about magic from a book his aunt brought him called 101 Tricks You Can Do, and he later developed a comedy act that featured magic.
Appropriately enough, he served as the joke editor for his high school paper, writing his own material. He attended Indiana State Teachers College for a semester and then dropped out to enlist in the Air Force. He was assigned to Special Forces and sent to Libya where he entertained the troops. He even performed a magic show for the King of Libya.
When his time in the Air Force was over, he attended the University of Miami, majoring in communications and graduating in 1959.
Madden took his comedy act on the road. His manager booked him in Palm Springs during the Palm Springs Golf Classic, and the Rat Pack came in one night. After the show, Frank Sinatra went backstage and asked if Madden would be his opening act in Lake Tahoe in July.
He and Sinatra hung out and one night in his bungalow he said Madden should be on The Ed Sullivan Show and picked up the phone and called Ed in New York. That call resulted in Sullivan booking him for three episodes.
His manager had a club in Beverly Hills, The Ye Little Club, and he called Madden who was in town because his regular singer was sick. Madden helped him out, and a Screen Gems writer, Jerry Davis, was in the audience with Nat King Cole’s manager. Nat was Madden’s favorite singer and his manager asked if he would do an eight-week tour with him. Unfortunately, Cole died soon after and Madden never even got to meet him.
Jerry Davis called Madden and asked him if he was interested in filming a pilot which led to an offer for a regular role on Camp Runamuck which debuted in 1965. The show lasted a season with 26 episodes. Madden had never acted before, and he said it was a great experience. The show was primarily about the camp counselors. Madden met Dave Ketchum on the show and they became friends. Later, the role of Reuben Kincaid was narrowed down to Dave Ketchum and Madden.
A year later, Madden was offered a spot on Laugh-In. Rowan and Martin had seen his act in Reno and invited him on the show. Madden said that filming the show was not much fun. He said apart from the opening and closing jokes and cocktail party, most of the segments were individual ones. He described a day where he might go in at 10 am, and there would be 2 cameramen, a director and a light man. He would film a dozen skits which would be shown over the course of the season. None of the rest of the cast would be there. So, it was long and boring work.
After two years with the wacky cast, he accepted the role that would make him a household name. As Reuben Kincaid, he managed the Partridge family on a new series based on the life of The Cowsills. The show aired Friday nights following The Brady Bunch and was on the air from 1970 till 1974.
Some of the scenes I loved the most on the show was when Reuben would lay on the couch to watch tv with the family or hold Shirley’s yarn while she knitted—just everyday family activities. Unfortunately, he and Shirley were not as close as they could have been because Madden and Shirley’s husband Marty Ingels did not hit it off.
Filming The Partridge Family was not always fun either. He said it could be very boring. The cast might have three to four pages of scripts that take place in the dining room. The whole family would sit around the table and they would have to change the lighting every time someone else spoke. He said you could arrive at 7 am and leave at 3 pm and never leave the dining room.
While one of the running gags on the show was that Reuben and Danny had a battle of wits ongoing, in their personal lives, Reuben took Bonaduce into his home when his house was not a safe place. He said Danny’s mother was worried about Danny being home on the weekends when his father was home, so she asked Madden if Danny could stay with him at his bachelor pad on weekends. Madden said he didn’t drink and had small groups of people over, so it was not a problem to have Danny staying there.
Madden said that he learned that The Partridge Family was cancelled because someone in his apartment building read it in the newspaper—a crummy way to learn you no longer had a job.
During this time period, Madden was on two episodes of Love American Style which was also part of the Friday night schedule and two episodes of Bewitched. When Madden recalled his time on Bewitched, he said he was with the same secondary actor for both episodes, Herb Ellis. He said that Elizabeth Montgomery was very gracious.
After the end of The Partridge Family, Madden appeared on an episode of Happy Days. In 1976, he would have a part in Eat My Dust!, a movie developed by Ron Howard who played Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. It was one of only two big screen features Madden was in. The other movie Madden had a role in was the family favorite, Charlotte’s Web in 1973. Madden was the voice of the ram.
In the late seventies, Madden could be seen on a variety of shows including Starsky and Hutch, Barney Miller, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island.
In 1975, Madden took a break from his acting schedule to marry Nena Arnold. They had two children and divorced ten years later.
In the late seventies, he would be offered another recurring role. He began eating at Mel’s Diner on Alice from 1978-1985, as Earl Hicks. He was also Alice’s son’s basketball coach. The Hicks character was meant to be a guest shot, but the producers liked his interaction so much that he ended up doing 35 episodes. He really enjoyed working on the show because it was done before a live audience. He said it was like doing a one-act play every week. The cast rehearsed for a few days and then shot the show at one time.
In the late eighties, Madden also joined the cast of Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey. In 1990 he created his own character, curmudgeonly window washer Bernard Walton, which he would voice until 2008.
From 1970 or so on, Madden did a lot of voice-over work. When he had more time for it, it was very profitable. He said he made more money between 1985-1990 doing that then all four television series combined; he was making more than $250,000 a year just in voice work.
He stayed busy throughout the 1990s, showing up on The New Leave it to Beaver, Life with Lucy, Ben Stiller, Married . . . with Children, and Boy Meets World. His last credited role was on Sabrina the Teen-age Witch in 1998, where he appeared with other Laugh-In cast members.
He had another memorable event in 1998 when he married his former college girlfriend Sandy Martin.
If you watched The Partridge Family, you might remember the episode where Danny and Reuben have a bet to see if Danny can lose weight and if Reuben can quit smoking. Madden was a long-time smoker in real life and that episode inspired him to quit, although he had been thinking about quitting for a while.
Madden had always been interested in cameras, buying his first one in the service. He began to experiment with photography on the set of The Partridge Family. He said it was illegal to bring a camera to the set, so he began taking photos of the crew when they were filming away from the regular set. He then made gifts for the crew and then began filming the director. By that time, people were so used to him having a camera around, no one called him out on photographing the cast. He would bring his camera to work with him, taking photos of the cast and crew. It turned into a life-long hobby.
One of the benefits of working in the industry was meeting so many beloved actors like Lucille Ball. On The Partridge Family, Madden enjoyed working with Ray Bolger who played Shirley’s dad and Margaret Hamilton who played Reuben’s mother. He said he would chat with Ray between takes and hear stories from Hamilton about The Wizard of Oz. He said Hamilton was a real pro and they were both very nice people.
During retirement in 2007, he wrote his memoirs, Reuben on Wry: The Memoirs of Dave Madden.
In January of 2014, he passed away in hospice care, suffering from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a disorder that results from poorly formed or dysfunctional blood cells.
For someone who began his first magic performance because of a serious injury and was hired for a sitcom without ever having acted, Dave Madden had a very fun and successful career. I must admit, I have many great memories of him as Reuben Kincaid. He seemed to be a very nice and easy-going individual who worked hard and enjoyed his life. You can’t ask for more than that. Thanks for the memories Dave Madden.
I’m calling this series “The Men of November.” We are taking a look at five actors who contributed to television during the classic decades of the 1940s-1980s. I’ve decided to take them in alphabetical order so we are starting with Bert Convy.
Born in St. Louis in 1933, Convy’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was seven. His focus was athletics, not acting, in school. When he was 17, the Philadelphia Phillies gave him a contract to play in their minor league system which he did from 1951-1952. In 1951 he played for the Klamath Falls Gems (Oregon), and in 1952 he split his time with the Salina Blue Jays (Kansas) and the Miami Eagles (Oklahoma).
Once he realized baseball was not going to be his career, he joined The Cheers, who released a top ten hit called “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” in 1955. Convy opted to enroll at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, earning a BA.
Like Ken Berry, he was a performer in the Billy Barnes Revues which was popular in the fifties and sixties. In 1956, he was an usher on Art Linkletter’s popular show House Party. He appeared in several early television series throughout the late fifties, including Those Whiting Girls.
In 1959 he married Anne Anderson. They had three children and were divorced in 1991.
He showed up on the small screen a lot during the sixties, primarily in detective shows including Perry Mason in 1960. His first feature role was in the big screen drama Susan Slade starring Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens in 1961. He also spent a part of this decade on Broadway in ten different productions.
The decade of the seventies found him balancing roles in both detective (Mission Impossible, McMillan and Wife, Police Story and Charlie’s Angels among many others) and comedy shows (including Bewitched, Love American Style, and Karen). He appeared on The Partridge Family as a politician who dates Shirley. You get the distinct impression that they ended up together once the kids were out on their own. He also portrayed one of Mary’s boyfriends on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
He received his first recurring role in 1974, playing Lt. Steve Ostrowski on The Snoop Sisters. The show starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as two sisters, one widowed and one never married, who are mystery writers that also get involved in real murders.
Two years later he starred in a short-lived variety show with the convoluted title of The Late Summer Early Fall Bert Convy Show. The title alone probably doubled the advertising budget. When I say short-lived, I mean I could only find one episode of the show which featured Don Knots.
He was offered another permanent role in 1983 on It’s Not Easy. Originally Larry Breeding was given the role and made the pilot, but he passed away after a car accident. This show only lasted for 11 episodes. The plot is that Jack and Sharon have divorced. Sharon has remarried and she and her husband Neal (Convy) have decided to live across the street from Jack so it’s easier for the kids. Jack and Neal do not like each other.
He appeared in a few series during the eighties including Aloha Paradise, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, Hotel, The Love Boat and The People Next Door.
While he would make ten big screen and fifteen made-for-television movies, two of them involved his buddy Burt Reynolds. Convy appeared in Semi-Tough in 1977 and Cannonball Run in 1981. The two friends developed a production company, Burt and Bert Productions.
Convy was probably best known for his game show work. He was a panelist during the sixties and seventies on a variety of shows including What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and Password. He hosted Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw. His emceeing of Tattletales resulted in an Emmy for Best Game Show Host in 1977.
In April of 1990, Convy collapsed and was diagnosed with cancer. The brain tumor was inoperable, forcing his retirement. His last credit was as himself on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1990. He married his second wife Catherine Hills during the winter of 1991, and he passed away in July of 1991.
Sadly, Convy was never offered that perfect role that made him an icon, but he certainly had a full career. He had a lot of talents: acting, singing, and the personality to host game shows. I think it was his smile that always made him a favorite with me.
The life of a writer is not always an easy one. I want you to know that in order to serve my readers, I took on this challenge with no complaining. Yes, I was willing to sit down and watch 25 hours plus of Partridge Family episodes to come up with my favorite 50.
If you were a kid in the early 70s, you understand how just hearing the theme song transports you right back to that era watching the show with friends on Friday nights.
If you grew up in another era, you are rolling your eyes right now, but I know that you have your own happy place where you go when watching those nostalgic shows that were such a vital part of who we all become.
This month marks 50 years since The Partridge Family debuted. To celebrate, I have listed my top 50 in order. I’d love to hear your favorite episode. Better yet, get the DVDs if you don’t already have them and watch them in this order to see how my ranking matches yours.
You might want to grab a can of Tab, put on a smiley face t-shirt, and bell bottoms while you watch. Happy Viewing!
Danny has a new girlfriend at school. Renee is Jewish, so Danny pretends to be Jewish. When her father wants to call on the family and then invites them to perform, Danny tries to keep his secret from his family.
Shirley is surprised to learn that an old boyfriend is in town to make a speech. It turns out he is now a navy Captain and Keith and Danny are suspicious of his motives for their mother. They overhear him talking about his new boat and old one and assume he is discussing women and Shirley is the old one he can’t wait to get rid of. Danny, Keith, Shirley and Chuck end up at Muldoon’s Point.
To raise money and create publicity, Reuben hosts a contest where the winner can spend a week with the Partridges at their home. The winner? Mrs Doris Nugast, a middle-aged woman. Doris brings a new dimension to the family. She doesn’t want to leave because she thinks the family needs her. She and Keith also end up at Muldoon’s Point.
Shirley’s mother (Amanda) and father (Walter) argue over Amanda wanting a job outside the house. She leaves home and goes to Shirley’s house. Amanda gets a job with a service company, and Shirley hires a maid. Guess who is the maid? Her job and her husband’s attitude about it turns the family into the men against the women. One of the best parts of the show is when Ricky sings a song about grandmothers.
Greg, a former childhood friend of Laurie’s, returns to town and reconnects. Turns out he is now a minister. They go out together and have a great time catching up on their lives. Laurie starts to fall for him and Shirley is worried. After assuming they have eloped, Laurie tells her mom they are not seeing each other as much till she is done with school, but the episode leads us to believe Laurie and Greg might end up together permanently when she graduates.
Keith’s newest girlfriend is a cellist in the school band. Rachel thinks Keith is wasting his talent on rock and roll songs, and convinces him to write a piece of classical music. One of the funniest things is when a bust of Beethoven appears on Keith’s piano. There are a lot of great one-liners in this episode: Reuben mentions that Beethoven is rubbing off Keith because apparently he’s deaf, not better; Danny being a genius, is asked to disappear like Howard Hughes; Danny tells Reuben he doesn’t want to get in a battle of wits with an unarmed man; and he also describes Keith’s tux looking like a nervous penguin. Rachel finally accepts their music makes people happy.
Danny has a promotional plan to show the Partridges conserves energy. The newspaper does an article to show their energy saving ways. It creates a buzz in town. But Danny’s mistake in reading the meter shows the Partridges use more electricity than ever. They spend an entire day without electricity by stealing hair dryers, turning off toothbrushes, etc. They listen to the victrola, make a fire, roast marshmallows and just hang out together. When all is said and done, they are okay, but Reuben ends up on the billboard for being an energy hog. We see the basement for the first time in this episode.
Laurie’s friend Frankie tries out for the school basketball team but is rejected because she is a girl. Laurie runs for homecoming queen so she can speak her mind on discrimination. Keith enters a friend into the competition. He is first runner up and Laurie wins. She makes a speech about disliking gender discrimination before giving up her crown, the school board agrees to look into a girl on the basketball team, and Jerry has to follow through with being homecoming queen upon Laurie’s resignation.
It’s a battle of the sexes as Shirley and Laurie prove to their male chauvinist counterparts to be better able to handle the wilderness. While Laurie and Shirley are perfectly able to take care of themselves, the guys realize they have no blankets, no food, or other camping necessities. They steal some beans from the girls but Reuben realizes his can opener is back in the car. When they get back to the house, Shirley makes them supper – a large pan of baked beans.
Laurie excitedly tells her mother she has been selected to be a peer teacher at school. She is assigned seventh grade English, which just happens to be Danny’s classroom. Things do not go well for either of them. When Danny “borrows” a Hemingway story and Laurie gives him a D, he proves to his mom she is unfair. Shirley goes to school and has Danny’s teacher show Laurie her videotape of her with the class early. Laurie is humiliated. She apologizes to Danny.
It’s role reversal time in the Partridge household as Keith takes home economics and Laurie takes auto shop. Keith’s struggles with cooking make him the target of barbs from the school bully, and things really heat up when Laurie gives the tough a Judo flip. Keith is then challenged to a fight, and must face up to the bully even if it means getting his face turned to hamburger.
Stillman Kelly asks his old buddy Reuben to manage his daughter Dora, who is an aspiring singer. Unfortunately, when she auditions in front of Reuben and the Partridges, her vocal abilities leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, Keith, who has fallen for her, is so taken with her beauty that he doesn’t even notice. However, when he hears a tape of her singing, he soon snaps to his senses and now must try to summon the courage to tell Dora how untalented she is without hurting her feelings. Reuben has to come up with a plan to keep her from feeling embarrassed on stage.
The Partridges attend a lecture given by a mystery writer. The Partridges & author get into a discussion as to whether his stories are realistic. He makes them an offer–they can hide, and he will find them all within 24 hours. They think they win, and he gives them $25,000 for their favorite charity and then they realize he had won and just didn’t tell them.
Keith and Laurie are inspired about a local politician. Shirley goes out with him to discuss political views and they form a close bond. Keith works for his campaign to keep an eye on him. He eventually realizes why he was inspired in the first place and tries hard to get him elected whether he and Shirley get together or not. Richard played by Bert Convy becomes Shirley’s serious boyfriend for a while.
Keith decides he has to be a better role model to his younger brothers and sisters, but it seems like everything backfires. The kids decide to play a joke on him and when he overhears them laughing at him, his feelings are hurt and they have to convince him they truly are sorry.
Danny seems to be getting into a lot of trouble at school, and now decides to drop out. Shirley and his teacher discuss how to prevent this. They decide to let him think he has dropped out, and find out what the real world is like. Eventually, he realizes he can’t get into the type or work he wants to do without an education.
Reuben manages a new twin singing act, but the boys have a crush on Laurie. They won’t perform until she decides which one of them she wants to go out with. She doesn’t want to hurt their feelings but she knows they are too young for her.
Danny goes to see a movie but sneaks in without paying. He is caught, and Shirley imposes a punishment on the whole family by having everyone be totally honest for 24-hours. After holding everyone to telling the truth, Danny lies to Laurie. The boy she really wanted to go out with breaks their date because he got a better offer. Danny, not wanting to hurt her, says the guy broke his ankle. He then realizes why some white lies are necessary.
Lester is a new transfer to San Pueblo High, and he already is beginning to develop a reputation as quite the ladies’ man. However, Keith panics when he hears that Laurie has accepted a date with the Lothario. After Danny plants the seed in his head that he might try something with Laurie, Keith goes after them with Danny in tow to make sure his sister’s reputation remains intact, even though he promised Shirley he would butt out. Unfortunately, Keith’s efforts meet with disastrous results as he winds up humiliating his sister. Now he must find a way to make it up to her and he gets Lester to agree to go out with her again. This time Lester is all over her and she has to walk home.
Reuben has a burglar alarm installed in the Partridge home for their security. They keep setting off the alarm accidentally so much that everyone starts to ignore it. When a real burglar breaks in played by Arte Johnson, no one realizes it is a real break in. They begin to bond with him when they realize he was a convict who was used as a hostage by some other prisoners to escape. They convince him to turn himself in and it turns out, the prison employees already knew he didn’t leave by choice after seeing camera footage.
The Partridges start looking at new homes, but first have to sell their current home. Shirley keeps making it difficult for prospective buyers to buy the house so they take it off the market. Just when the kids realize she doesn’t want to leave either, Reuben accidentally signs a contract to sell.
Danny is tired of being a young child. He wants to make his own decisions. His efforts to show he is mature only annoys his family when he calls their accountant to review the books, quits school, calls the girls in Keith’s “black book,” and then wants to double date with Keith. When he does, he realizes he is not ready to be a young adult. Charlotte Rae has a great appearance as the guidance counselor working with Shirley to get Danny back in school.
Shirley has a first date with a pediatrician. At dinner, he orders the food so Shirley does not eat fat, cholesterol, salt, or other negative food items. She tries to discourage him from another date, but he is persistent. After a few dates, she realizes he is a good person but there is no magic. After the papers link their names, his mother comes to visit and he decides to ask Shirley to marry him, but he can’t go through with it because he likes being a bachelor and Shirley is relieved that she doesn’t have to tell him no.
Danny receives a letter from the Draft Board that he’s been drafted into the United States Army. Shirley contacts he Draft Board and tries to convince them that Danny is 12, but they won’t believe her; On top of that, they say the Draft Board doesn’t make mistakes and he is to report. Now the family has to try once again to convince the Army that Danny is too young to serve and he reports as ordered. Danny gets half way through his induction before they realize he truly is 12.
Keith does not have a date for a party after the most popular girl, Joanna Houser (Cheryl Ladd), declines his date request, citing another date, so Laurie sets him up with one of her friends. The next day when the popular girl’s plans fall through, she belatedly accepts the date with Keith. Now he has two dates for the same party. Keith pretends to be sick to get out of the date with Laurie’s friend and talks his friend into taking her out. She realizes what is going on and brings him soup and then Laurie tells him she knew and was happier dating Keith’s friend. Right before he leaves, Joanna calls to cancel her date with him because her original date had plans change.
Classmate Cindy gives Laurie an envelope to give to a teacher. When Laurie does, the teacher says it is the stolen exam answers for math and blames Laurie for taking them. Laurie hopes that Cindy will confess it was her that took them; however, Cindy’s father is the principal and the added pressure is why she cheated in the first place. Laurie is put on trial with her class and finally when it is obvious she won’t reveal the actual culprit, Cindy speaks up.
While parking their bus, Shirley bumps into a car. There is no damage, but when the driver finds they are famous, he fakes an injury for the insurance. Shirley and the family try to prove he is not injured by staying with him 24 hours. Harry Morgan gives a great performance as a crochety man out to get whatever he can from the insurance company. Farrah Fawcett has a guest appearance in this episode. He gets close to the family, especially the kids and when Tracy starts to fall, he jumps up to grab her, giving away the fact that he is not injured.
A talent agent sees Keith and offers him a screen test for a Hollywood movie. He practices his scene and drives to the studio with the whole family. Keith is offered the part. The whole town is excited and is giving him a surprise party but an hour before, he learns that he lost the part. This is an interesting episode because you see a lot of background characters in this one that you have seen before and you understand Keith’s heartbreak that he had his big break and just like that through no fault of his own, it’s over.
Shirley tells the children they have to start being nice to Reuben. She says they have gotten into a habit of insulting him and when his date has to cancel their plans, that insulting was hurtful. However, Reuben didn’t mind. But since he is not used to this new attitude, he thinks it is because they heard he is dying. The nicer they are, the more he thinks he is dying especially when his mother who is quite cheap flies out to see him. His mother is played by the great Margaret Hamilton. In this episode, we realize Reuben and Bonnie Kleinschmidt are quite serious and Mrs. Kincaid is assuming they will get married, and they agree with her.
Reuben sets up an aggressive summer tour schedule. Shirley does not want to go on tour as it is tiring to drive all day and sing all night, so they hire a bus driver. But Danny is suspicious when they find out that he’s an ex-con. Danny spies on him and then when a robbery is committed nearby, calls Reuben who comes to figure out if their driver did it. When Reuben goes to the police station to see if they caught the guy, they realize it might be him and puts him in jail. Eventually Tracy remembers he called from jail and they go retrieve him when Danny and Reuben blame their driver. The robber is arrested but the driver quits until the kids convince him they really want him to stay and since he got a second chance, he gives them one also.
At college, Keith enrolls in a sociology course. He is partnered with an older woman to work on a paper. He finds himself attracted to her despite the fact that she is older. He thinks she has feelings for him and then realizes she is married. When Shirley realizes what is happening, the woman decides to invite Keith to dinner so he can see how much in love she is with her husband, although Keith thinks she is going to spill the beans to her husband about her love for Keith.
Shirley is awarded Mother of the Year by a magazine. The family travel by bus to Sacramento to accept the award. Taking the back road leads them to wrong turns, lost wallet, traffic tickets, a bus breakdown, and other annoyances. All of the setbacks made them late and they show up filthy, just adding to the bad impression she made throughout the day. However, Keith gives a loving speech about his mom and she gets a standing ovation. When they get back home the next day, Reuben shows up unhappy. Their idyllic drive sounded good, so he took the same back roads and encountered a few crises himself.
When Danny is unable to find his birth certificate or pictures of himself as a baby, he is convinced that he is adopted and sets out to find his birth family. He finds the only boy born at their local hospital on that date and is convinced that is his real identity. Finally, his birth certificate arrives. Shirley explains he was born two weeks early in a hospital in a nearby town.
Laurie gets the bad news that she needs braces just as she thinks Jerry might finally get up the nerve to ask her to go steady. However, if that wasn’t bad enough, Reuben informs the Partridges that they have been booked to appear on a high-profile talk show. Things then go from bad to worse when Laurie’s braces somehow pick up radio signals during rehearsals and causes her to play a different tune than what the band is. Her dentist, who was invited to the taping, informs her if she is willing to wear a brace at night she won’t have to worry about picking up signals in her mouth but she’ll have to wear it twice as long. Laurie is thrilled to not have the braces, and Jerry asks her out before he finds out the braces are temporary.
With a hit record on the radio, Keith is starting to be followed and adored by the girls at his school. He is not too happy about it. However, the one girl Janet he does like is not impressed that he is a recording star. He likes her because she doesn’t care about his music, but she also doesn’t care about him. Meanwhile a young girl thinks he is wonderful and Shirley invites her to dinner. When the Janet finally agrees to come for dinner, Keith goes to tell Kathy that she can’t come that night, but he can’t do it. He breaks his date with Janet instead.
The family gets a good review from a famous columnist after one of their recent performances. However, she was seemingly impressed with Danny and declares him a future star. Unfortunately, Danny lets the review go to his head and is seriously contemplating leaving the band, even to the point where he holds auditions for his replacement. Now it is up to Shirley to convince her middle son that going solo is not such a hot idea. After their concert, the columnist shows up in their dressing room and coos over Chris whom she thought was Danny.
Laurie comes home from school excited because her friend Phyllis asked her to be a campaign manager for student body president. The excitement changes to a constant battle when Keith announces he is running for president – against Phyllis. Phyllis lacks confidence and slowly comes out of her shell. Keith realizes she is the best candidate and tells everyone he is voting for her because she’s so qualified and they should too. However, Keith is voted in. The night they learn the results, Phyllis comes in crying. Everyone thinks she knows she lost but she is crying because a cute boy asked her out. When they get the call Keith won, she says not to feel sorry for her because she made a lot of friends and has more confidence. Keith asks her to be his advisor.
Keith gave an interview for a magazine and revealed that Laurie has a crush on a classmate, Harry Murphy. Laurie is upset and says it is the wrong name anyway. A motorcyclist, Harry Murphy (played perfectly by Rob Reiner), comes to visit Laurie to see who she is as a joke. Snake likes Laurie but embarrasses her by literally driving his cycle through the halls at school and throwing a rock through the window with a message. When she takes some time to talk to him about this, she realizes he is a nice guy and invites him to take her to her school dance. He is made fun of there and takes as much as he can before dumping the punch all over one of the guys. Laurie explains she doesn’t think they have enough in common to date but he understands she likes him and he respects her.
School finals are approaching and Keith has a problem in one course. America’s heartthrob is failing sex education. The teacher seems to be picking on Keith and it takes some work to find out why it seems like that. After Keith studies for three days so he knows he’ll get an A, he falls asleep the morning of the test in a quiet place at school. He tells the teacher that who finally gives him a new test. He calls Keith and Shirley into his office the next day and Keith assumes he failed and will not be graduating. Mr. Grisby informs him that he aced the test. He says Keith has a great mind but only does enough to get by. Keith says he is the only one who thinks that and is hard on him, but Mr. Grisby says he talked to his other teachers who agreed with him but like Keith and said he did enough so they gave him decent grades. Mr. Grisby wanted to push him to do better than average.
This is a remake of the pilot. The kids have a band and when their singer gets sick the day they are recording, they ask their mother to stand in for her. When a famous manager is in town, Danny goes to his hotel room to try to make him listen to their song. After several attempts that don’t work, he corners him in the bathroom at the airport and plays the song. Reuben realizes it could be a hit and takes on the family as his client. This is a fun first episode and lays out the groundwork for the basis of the show and the personalities of each of the main characters.
This is the first time Bonnie Kleinschmidt’s name comes up. Reuben yells at Danny for telling Bonnie Reuben can get her into show business. Shirley decides Reuben needs a wife and introduces her to a friend she used to work with. When they decide to get married, she wants Reuben to give up managing and join her company. Reuben agrees. The kids are sad but try to support him. When they do their first out-of-town gig without him, everything goes wrong. As Reuben is trying to help them, his fiancé tells him how much kids mess up your life and he realizes she won’t want kids. Next we know, he is at the hotel just in time to straighten everything out.
Shirley meets an old friend Larry and goes on a date with him. The children are worried that she is too interested in him, and even more worried when they see him with another woman (Jaclyn Smith). They try to get Reuben to investigate him only to learn he is quite wealthy. After they tell Shirley he’s a two-timer, he brings the woman to their hotel room and introduces his niece. The kids feel terrible they might have stopped Shirley’s special romance and so Shirley and Larry stage a proposal where she turns him down so the kids are let off the hook.
When Keith is worried that he may not be able to write songs anymore because he has musician’s writer’s block, Danny decides that it’s time for him to become the group’s songwriter. Keith finally has a breakthrough. Unfortunately, the song he writes is the song Danny played for the family before Keith got up. They both claim it’s their song and finally Shirley realizes the walls are thin between their rooms and Danny heard it while he was sleeping. She has Keith write a bad song and Danny claims the song as his the next day but says he is now a bad song writer. When Keith plays it and Danny recognizes it as his, they explain what has been happening. However, Keith says Danny made the original song better so he gives him credit for cowriter.
Shirley enrolls in college using her maiden name so her real name does not draw unwanted attention. She meets someone in her class as a friend, but develops a crush on her. He tells his parents and they do not approve of his dating an older woman. When they come by to visit, Shirley is wearing hot pants that might be their new uniform. They are really distressed to learn she has five kids. The parents are Norman Fell and Ann Morgan Guilbert (or Mr. Roper from Three’s Company and Millie Helper from The Dick Van Dyke Show). She assures them they are only friends and she invites him to dinner where he learns she is part of the Partridge Family. After dinner he asks if he can take Laurie on a date.
Danny wants to lose weight so Gloria Hickey will be his date at her pool party. Shirley puts him on a diet. After a week, he weighs more because of cheating. Reuben teases him about no will power so they decide to tackle their own vices – Danny’s food and Reuben’s smoking. They both drive everyone crazy trying to cheat and complaining about what they can’t have, so Shirley tells them to go ahead and eat cake and smoke. When she does, they realize they need to want to stop on their own and do so.
Danny gets a job writing articles about the Partridge Family for the local newspaper. To be sure his article is a success, he embellishes the truth about the family. The first article is about Keith and how he has a tattoo in a private place and loves girls who wear black armbands and has a crush on his English teacher, the middle-aged Mrs. Damian. Everyone teases him mercilessly and Mrs. Damian reads love poetry to him in class. Things finally pass over and Danny apologizes. Shirley tells Keith as a famous face he needs to get used to people writing untrue things, etc. Danny says he will never do it again except for the second article which was already written and ready to be published. Then Shirley finds out it is about her and goes after Danny till Laurie and Keith give her the same speech she gave Keith. The article says she ran an exotic dancing school, loves men in trench coats and beards. She goes through the same humiliation Keith did before things get back to normal. Even the milk man delivers in a trench coat.
Shirley’s recent boyfriend, the politician, comes to town. He brings his youngest daughter along, played by Jodi Foster. While Shirley and Dick enjoy being together, his daughter has a crush on Danny and he cannot escape her. Laurie and Keith tell him he has to be nice to her for the weekend they are in town. The next day he tries to kiss her and she punches him. Danny goes to Shirley and Richard for help, saying one day she liked him and he didn’t like her and the next day it was reversed. Now he is sure he is in love. They tell him to talk to Julie. He takes her for a soda and they have what sounds like an adult conversation but people around them keep referring to them as just kids. They decide to be friends for now and let the future take care of itself.
Danny has a crush on Gloria Hickey but pretends he can’t stand her. When Shirley finally understands what is going on, she talks to him. He wants to invite her to the class dance but keeps chickening out. Gloria comes to the house and tells Shirley and Laurie she wants to ask out Shirley’s son to the dance and they assure her he will go and has admitted to liking her. Suddenly, they realize she had been talking about Keith. Later she comes over to ask Keith to the dance and Danny is furious at Keith. Danny comes into the room to fight for her and Keith tells Danny he has no interest in Gloria; she is just a little girl. Gloria is humiliated and runs home. Later she comes back to ask Danny to the dance and to thank him for defending her. After a concert for the girl scouts, Keith has his pen ready but all the girls run to Danny for autographs.
Keith wants his own apartment so he can have some peace and quiet to write music. Shirley reluctantly agrees to let him move into a room in the house next door once Reuben reminds her in a year Keith can leave as an adult and there might not be an apartment next door. Having his own place is not what he expects. He gets free rent for light gardening which turns out to be 3 hours a day so he has trouble getting his school work done. Danny charges him for meals and clean clothes. Keith gets peanut butter and jelly sandwiches even though he overhears the family is having soup and roast beef. Shirley figures out what is going on and decides to take food to Keith at the same time he invites a date over. Danny sends him a message by arrow. He hides his date in the closet while Shirley is there, trying to hide any evidence. Later that night he goes home to see if he can use his old room to write a song in because his place is too crowded and noisy. His date invited a bunch of people over. Shirley asks how a simple date turned into a party. He asks how she knew and she lists off the smell of perfume, a pompom under the couch, and a Bolero album on the record player. Keith decides he would like to move home. This episode has a very touching scene between Keith and Shirley when he has to explain he is not ready to live on his own and wants to come home which is not easy for a 17-year-old to admit.
After being scolded because they left the kitchen a mess, Chris and Tracy decided to run away from home. Shirley helps them get ready to run away, explaining to the other kids that they all did the same thing and ended up at Mrs. Monahan’s for brownies before coming home. Keith watches the kids go to Mrs. Monahan’s. However, they don’t come home and when Shirley calls, Mrs. Monahan says they left a while ago and should be home. It turns out, they went to Reuben’s apartment building. He calls Shirley in code and lets her know. They cause several mishaps at his place and then Bonnie comes over as a surprise. He decides to get the kids to go home. He says they will play Blackjack and if they lose, he decides what will happen. They keep winning. Finally, Shirley shows up and says she is running away too because she is always the bad guy and she doesn’t have any little kids left to take care of. They explain they wanted to come home an hour ago but thought they should keep playing with Reuben since he let them stay. I liked this episode because we see the relationships that all the characters have. The older kids are truly sad Chris and Tracy are gone for the day and worried. Reuben shows his affection for them. They understand there are consequences for bad behavior and they need to follow rules.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I am a big fan of the show Family starring James Broderick and Sada Thompson. Along with Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, Meredith Baxter played one of their children on the show. As Nancy, she got divorced and moved into a garage apartment with her son Timmy. She went to law school to follow in her father’s footsteps. Today we will learn a bit more about the life Meredith Baxter had off the show.
Baxter was born in 1947 in California. Her mother was Whitney Blake who played Dorothy Baxter on Hazel. Her father was a radio announcer. Her parents divorced when she was 6. She lived with her brothers and her mother who eventually remarried; Meredith’s stepfather was sitcom writer Allan Manings. Manings wrote for a variety of shows, including McHale’s Navy, Laugh-In, Good Times, and both the original and reboot of One Day at a Time.
Baxter went to Hollywood High. She briefly transferred to Interlochen Center for the Arts as a voice major, but returned to Hollywood High to graduate. Shortly afterward she married Robert Lewis Bush and they had two children. They divorced in 1971.
For the next few years, Meredith appeared on a variety of television shows and in several big-screen movies, including The Doris Day Show and The Partridge Family.
The following year, Meredith got her first major acting role: Bridget Loves Bernie. She starred with David Birney. The premise behind this sitcom is that wealthy, Catholic Bridget Fitzgerald marries lower-class, Jewish Bernie Steinberg who drives a cab. Both sets of parents are uncomfortable with their children’s mates.
Although the show only lasted one season, she and Birney lasted a little longer. They married in 1974 and had twins. In 1989 they divorced and don’t have very good things to say about one another.
In the mid-seventies, television kept Meredith very busy with 11 appearances on shows such as Medical Center and McMillan and Wife and 10 made-for-tv movies.
She appeared on the big screen in All the President’s Men in 1976 before taking the role of Nancy Maitland on Family that same year. Family featured the Lawrences. Kate is a stay-at-home mom and a bit distant but obviously loves her children. Warm, friendly Doug is a lawyer and judge. Nancy is in her twenties but much more mature than her brother Willie who can’t decide what to do with his life. Buddy, a tweener, is the youngest in the family.
Critics as well as viewers were devoted to the show. Baxter was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in both 1977 and 1978. She was beat by her “sister” McNichol in 1977 (McNichol was nominated every year the show was on) and by Nancy Marchand for Lou Grant in 1978. For both years, Family was nominated as best show and Sada Thompson as lead actress which she won in 1978 (Thompson was also nominated every year). Gary Frank as Willie won in 1977. James Broderick also received a nomination during those years.
After Family ended, she went back to making made-for-tv movies with 7 during the 1980s and 21 in the 1990s.
The following year, she would land the role that made her the most famous, Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. In this much-beloved show, Elyse and Steven, former hippies, raise their four children who have different values than they did. Alex, the oldest is a conservative interested primarily in money, Mallory cares more about shopping and boys than anything else, Jennifer has a dry sense of humor and is trying to find her spot in the family and the birth of baby Andy doesn’t help her figure that out. The show was on the air for seven seasons.
In 1995, Baxter married actor and screenwriter Michael Blodgett, but their married only lasted five years. (Blodgett wrote for a variety of television shows and several movies.) Shortly before her divorce, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She made a full recovery and has become a spokesperson for treatment and research and developed a skin cream (Signature). A portion of the proceeds is donated for breast cancer prevention.
In 1996, she again attempted a television series, The Faculty. The show wasn’t renewed for a second season. Baxter played the role of a principal who is divorced and a single mother, and features the choices she has to make to balance her busy life. While the critics praised Baxter’s performance, they didn’t find much else to like about the show, and it was cancelled after 13 episodes.
She made several television appearances on various shows or movies but her only recurring role was as Lilly Rush on Cold Case in 2007.
In 2011, Meredith published her memoir, Untied. She talks frankly about her unhappy marriages, including the abusive one with Birney. She also discloses that she was a recovering alcoholic and that she was gay. After coming out, she met Nancy Locke whom she married in 2013.
In 2014 Baxter accepted a role as Maureen, Nicky’s friend, on The Young and the Restless which began and ended that year. Since that time, she has appeared on a variety of television shows and in several movies. She has a couple of movies coming out soon.
Baxter has also done a variety stage work including the two-character play, “Kissing Place” with David Ogden Stiers. Most recently she has appeared in “Women Beyond Borders,” “Angels in America” and “Love Letters.”
Although Meredith has definitely had some trauma and sadness in her life, she has had a varied and long-lasting career. Being cast in three successful television shows is not something that happens for most actors. She seems to have come to a place in her life where she is happy and content and that is something all of us strive for. Join me next week as we look more closely at the show that made her a household name: Family Ties.
As we continue honoring revered television actors who passed away in 2019, Arte Johnson certainly is at the top of the list. Although he accepted roles in movies, most of his work was on the small screen.
Arte was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1929. Acting was not Arte’s first profession. He graduated with a radio journalism major from Illinois and decided to pursue a career in the advertising world. He left Chicago when he could find no ad agency jobs and moved to New York where he began at Viking Press. He loved books and collected them throughout his life.
Unlike the stories of people who hone their craft in hundreds of auditions in the Big Apple, Arte impulsively stepped into an audition line for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and got the part. His real name was Arthur and he decided on Art E. Johnson for his stage name, but “Arte” was mistakenly printed on the playbill, and he decided he liked that better.
Although acting began easily for him, after he moved to LA, his career hit a rough spot and he did take a job as a men’s clothing salesman for a while at Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills.
Arte began on television in the 1950s. In the mid-50s, he had a recurring role on It’s Always Jan starring Janis Paige and Merry Anders. A widowed nightclub singer, Janis Stewart, shares a small apartment with an aspiring actress, a secretary, and her daughter. Arte plays a deli employee, showing up in 4 of the 26 episodes.
He was cast as in his first ongoing role later that year. He played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr. on Sally. His father, a department store owner, was played by Gale Gordon. This show about a girl who worked in a department store who became a wealthy matron’s companion also lasted 26 episodes.
During the 1960s, Arte would appear in 32 different series, including The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale’s Navy, Bewitched, Lost in Space, The Donna ReedShow, and I Dream of Jeannie. Once again, he was cast as a regular on a show, Don’t Call Me Charlie. If you’re not familiar with the show, you are not alone. The show starred Josh Peine as a rural veterinarian who is drafted into the Army. He leaves Iowa and heads for Paris. Like Gomer Pyle he retains his simple view of life and his “Sargent Carter” is Colonel Barker. Johnson played the part of Col. Lefkowitz.
In 1968, Arte was offered a job that would change his life. Along with a handful of other cast members, he appeared on the new edgy Laugh-In. This is a hard show to describe if you never watched it. (It does appear on the Decades channel quite often.) The show was comprised of fast-moving comedy bits featuring guest stars, skits, regulars performing specific characters, gags, and punchlines in rapid format. It was quite different from anything else that had ever appeared in television. Arte was on the show from 1967-1971.
He was a master of accents and is best known for the characters he created on this show. “Wolfgang” was a cigarette-smoking German soldier hiding out who refused to believe WWII had ended. One of Arte’s taglines was “Verrrrry Interrrrresting.” He would also be seen in a yellow raincoat riding a tricycle that he would fall off from.
Another favorite was “Tyrone” who was an old man wearing a trench coat, always trying to seduce Ruth Buzzy’s “Gladys” on a park bench. She would hit him with her purse, and he often fell off the bench. Oddly, in a far-reaching concept, years later these two characters formed the nexus of a Saturday morning cartoon show, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits.
During the 1970s, Johnson continued his television appearances with 17 different series, including two roles on The Partridge Family and several on Love American Style. He also could be seen on Match Game and Hollywood Squares.
His prolific career continued through the 1980s where he was seen on 25 different shows, including Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat. At the end of the ’80s, he began voicing characters for animation shows, but in the 1990s he accepted roles on 14 shows, including Night Court.
At the end of his career, his love of books provided him an opportunity to begin recording the narration for more than 80 audiobooks, including Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up in 2005.
Married to his wife Gisela since 1968, he survived a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1997. In 2006 he retired from acting. He passed away mid-year in 2019 after suffering from bladder and prostate cancer. Ruth Buzzy, his comrade on Laugh-In, shared this message upon his death: “Thank you for a wonderful half-century of friendship. I could not have shared the spotlight with a nicer guy. Rest in peace. And yes, Arte Johnson, I believe in the hereafter.”
I like to think Arte is working on some skits, waiting for Ruth Buzzy, and some day when we get to heaven, we’ll be able to watch Gladys and Tyrone team up for us again.
This month we are doing a 1980s Rewind, looking at some memorable shows from that decade. We start with one of my all-time favorite series, Family. I think this is one of the most disrespected and underrated shows from the past fifty years. It had an amazing cast, and the scripts were intelligent and well written.
The show ran on ABC from 1976-1980, producing 86 episodes. The critically acclaimed show had three well-known producers: Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, and Mike Nichols. Jay Presson Allen created the series, and she wrote every episode.
Kate (Sada Thompson) and Doug (James Broderick) Lawrence are an upper middle-class couple living in Pasadena, CA. They have three children: Nancy (Meredith Baxter Birney), Willie (Gary Frank), and Letitia (Kristy McNichol), known as Buddy. Doug is a lawyer, hoping to become a judge. He is a warm-hearted person who often finds humor in their family situations. Kate is a practical woman but can come across as a cold woman. She can be quite passionate and loves her family very much but has trouble showing a lot of affection. She always does what she feels is morally right. She has sacrificed her dreams to stay home and raise her family. Later in the show she does go back to school to major in music.
In the pilot, Nancy was played by Elayne Heilveil, but Meredith Baxter Birney took over the role once the series began. Cheryl Ladd also auditioned for the part of Nancy. Spelling remembered her and later cast her in Charlie’s Angels. Nancy finds her husband Jeff (John Rubinstein) in the act of cheating on her and moves back to her parents’ home, living in their guest house with her son Timmy. Even though Nancy and Jeff are divorced, they are friends, and he appears on the show often and is involved in Timmy’s life. The Lawrences also had a son named Timmy who died when he was little. Nancy and her mother often butt heads. In the second season, Nancy decides to go to law school and is very successful.
Willie is always trying to find himself and can’t quite decide who he is. He has a high IQ but drops out of school. He dreams of being a writer and later works for a photography studio for a while.
Buddy was a tweenager. Buddy is a tomboy and well liked by her friends and family. She had two famous boyfriends during the show: TJ played by Willie Aames and Leif Garrett. Buddy is much closer to her mother than Nancy is. Nancy and Buddy have a trying relationship too, although they both want to be closer. Willie and Buddy are very close.
our actual families could find someone in the show to relate to. I notice
myself looking at the show from a different perspective now than I did in my
There were 24 different directors during the series’ run. Richard Kinon directed almost 25 percent of the shows. Kinon had directed episodes of many classic shows including Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, The Patty Duke Show, The Partridge Family, Room 222, and That Girl. After Family, he would direct a quarter of The Love Boat episodes. James Broderick directed four of the episodes. Not surprising for me was learning that Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick also tried their hand at directing. Both of them were also listed as producers and writers of the show. They would later go on to help create thirtysomething, a show we’ll learn about next week. Both men were also involved with Once and Again and Nashville, among other shows.
The storylines were very realistic and handled with delicacy and intelligence. Some of the topics the show tackled included breast cancer, infidelity, senility, divorce, adoption, terminal illness as well as the typical teenage issues faced by most youth.
In the last season, the Lawrences adopt Annie Cooper (Quinn Cummings) after her parents are killed in a car accident. They were her parents’ friends and their choice for guardians if anything happened to them.
Rubinstein who played Jeff composed the theme music. Apparently, he inherited some musical genes from his father, Arthur Rubinstein, the famous classical musician. He has continued his dual career in both acting and composing since the show ended.
A couple other cast members also had famous relatives. Broderick’s son is Matthew Broderick, actor, and Baxter Birney’s mother was Whitney Blake who played Missy on Hazel, among other roles.
The show was
nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1977, 1978, and 1980.
Thompson, Frank and McNichol all won Emmys, and Broderick and Baxter Birney
were nominated as well.
I could not find a reason for it, but only the first two seasons have been released on DVD and that was in 2006. I have not seen the show in syndication for many years.
made for a 1988 reunion movie. James Broderick had passed away, but he rest of
the cast was on board. When the writers went on strike, the project was placed
on hold and later dropped from production.
I watched a few of the episodes from season one. The show still holds up today. Although it closely mirrored the social issues from its era, those topics are still relevant today. It may have included some melodrama, but it never was about melodrama. It contained enough humor to offset the tragedy just like real life. Doug and Kate had strong moral values and they passed them on to their children but understood life was changing and they could not be close minded.
Jay Presson Allen brought insightful writing to every script, but the incredible acting brought the characters to life.
Sada Thompson was not overly affectionate but calmed her children down and could discuss anything with them. They relied on her guidance and wisdom. She embodied class and elegance. I was surprised to learn that Lear had hired her to play Archie Bunker’s blue-collar neighbor, a plumber named Irene Lorenzo for All in the Family. I was not surprised to learn that Betty Garrett replaced her in the role because Sada had too much genuine class and didn’t yell loud enough for Lear. James Broderick discussed working with Thompson. He said he “was only one of her many fans. Sada is about as close as we get in this country to the British super actresses like Dame Edith Evans and Dame May Whitty. I’m sure if Sada lived in England, the Queen would have dubbed her Dame Sada a long time ago.”
Broderick flawlessly captured the fun nature of Doug Lawrence. Doug left the disciplining up to his wife most of the time and was not as serious as his wife. Doug and Kate were also very affectionate with each other.
Baxter Birney was the perfect combination of brains and beauty who wanted to be the wife and mother she saw in her mom as well as the respected lawyer she saw in her father.
Frank portrayed the young adult who couldn’t figure out what he wanted from life. He was not a “sit behind the desk kind of guy,” but needed to make a living. Willie was more interested in the humanities and finding meaning in life. He always seemed to be in difficult relationships. Early in his adult years, he fell head over heels in love only to find out she was pregnant before they met and she left him eventually but weaved in and out of his life for years. He later met his soul mate, but she had terminal cancer, so even though they married, they only had a short time together.
McNichol was believable as a young girl moving into her teens and dealing with all the stress and changes teens go through. She was funny, silly and loveable and could be irritating occasionally and whiny, just like teens are. McNichol appeared very mature for her age and seemed to have everything under control, but it was a façade. She said she “was like a miniature adult.” She’d go off to the set “every day with a little briefcase. I really think I grew up backwards.” Dinah Manoff, who guest starred on Family before acting on Empty Nest with McNichol said “Kris was the most adult kid I’d ever met. She didn’t even have to study her lines. They’d hand them to her right before she walked out on the set.” Thompson once remembered that the adults “used to talk about how amazing it was that Kristy didn’t appear to feel any of the pressures of growing up as a successful child actress. The cost is enormous, you know, but Kristy didn’t seem to be paying it.” Unfortunately, she paid it with interest a few years after the show ended. When she was a young adult, she began to rebel and made some very poor choices, trying to recapture the childhood that she never got to experience.
I don’t remember a lot about the role of Annie Cooper. Once Buddy began growing up, she was brought in to continue storylines kids could relate to. She had just been nominated for an Academy award for The Good-bye Girl and seemed to transition into the show easily.
Hopefully the rest of the seasons are released on DVD so we can continue to appreciate the remarkable blend of writing, acting, and directing that was featured on this show.
Family–that says it all: joyful, heart-breaking, boring, exciting. loving, conflict and everything in between.
In this monthly “Behind the Scenes” series, we are learning about the people who work behind the camera and help make the show more realistic. It was very hard to find information about wardrobe designers. What these jobs look like vary by show. Some shows have actual designers like Marilyn Lewis on That Girl or Jean Louis on Green Acres, who we learned about in previous blogs. Some shows have a dresser who helps take care of costumes and keeps them in good condition. I could not find anyone listed in the wardrobe or costume departments for The Partridge Family. Perhaps they only had shoppers who purchased the items for the cast each season.
One thing I noticed and liked about The Partridge Family that was similar to My Three Sons was that each cast member got a wardrobe for the season, and they wore the same items on various episodes. You can definitely get a feel for their favorites by how many times they appeared throughout the year. I think this makes the characters more realistic. Like us, they only have so many clothes in their closet, and they wear them over and over, unlike current shows where the wardrobes are new for each episode.*
I chose to look at the clothing for The Partridge Family for a few reasons. Obviously, I can relate to them since I had those same items in my closet during that time. I can remember wearing bell bottoms, flowered or checked shirts with pointy collars, and carrying macramé purses. My favorite outfit during this time was a pair of bell bottoms with maroon and navy flowers that I wore with a navy blouse with a pointed collar and cuffs with buttons on them. I also remember a pink and white gingham skirt and blazer that I wore with a black bodysuit. My favorite skirt had a black background with jewel-toned flowers all over it. It had a slit up the side of the skirt, and I wore it with a black top. Another reason, I picked the Partridges to analyze style was because there were a variety of characters to dress—teens, older adults, kids, as well as a singing group.
The clothes The Partridge Family members wore fit with the times. They were a great representation of the clothing of the 1970s. In That Girl, Ann Marie’s wardrobe was almost like another character. Many people paid special attention to what she wore. In shows like The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family, clothes were appropriate to the time and trendy, but they didn’t take center stage. They just reflected what everyone was wearing and made the characters more realistic.
So, what were the fashions during this time? There was not “a” predominant style in the 1970s. Walking down a city street, you could observe Indian block print dresses, tie-dye shirts, hip-huggers, mini skirts in bold patterns, and peasant type dresses in muted colors.
There were tons of options for dresses: long or short, single pastel or bold multi colors, solid or patterned, sleeveless or long-sleeve, jumpers or long, flowing skirts.
Men’s pants might be worn low or higher waisted. They might be cuffs or bell bottoms. They might be corduroy or denim.
Teen Girls and Young Adults
The Hippie themes carried over from the 1960s into the early 1970s. Many people were wearing bell bottoms, maxi dresses, granny dresses often trimmed with leather or lace, peasant blouses, and ponchos. There was not a hemline for the era; both maxi and mini-skirts were popular.
Culottes debuted in the mid-1970s. Colors tended to be earthy in nature: apple green, mauve, tangerine, mustard, and copper. Neutral solid colored pants were always appropriate, but jeans began to gain popularity in the mid part of the decade. Denim also showed up in jumpers. Accessories included chokers, dog collars, headbands, floppy hats, and jewelry made of feathers, shells, and leather.
Peace signs showed up in a lot of jewelry. Make up tended to look natural with just a hint of blush or lip gloss. Later in the decade, the disco look would bring in shimmery and bolder colors. Along with leather or macramé purses, younger women carried blue suede or tapestry printed bags. Sunglasses were often worn.
Laurie’s clothing was never too revealing or wild. She typically wore dresses to school and on dates but could also be seen wearing solid colored pants with blouses or tunics. She wore a lot of orange. For most of the series, she had long hair parted in the middle.
The photo above shows Laurie’s polka dotted skirt and top. We can also see Danny’s blue and yellow striped top. He had a variety of striped tops he wore as did Chris. The patterned bold-colored shirt Shirley has on was one of her favorites. She wore it on 6 or 7 shows during Season 2.
Older women tended to wear pleated skirts with blazers or pantsuits. Dresses tended to hit the knee or a bit longer. Long skirts were also in vogue—some with loud patterns and colors. Sweaters and sweater vests were commonly worn with pants and skirts. American pride colors of navy, white, and red were popular as were pastels like baby blue, mint green, or bubblegum pink as well as neutrals in the camel or gray family. Polka dots were often added to blouses or dresses.
Everyone had at least one robe and some nightclothes were more casual for wearing around the house. Scarves were often worn with tops or dresses. Make up often included a pinky or peachy blush, green or blue eye shadow, and orange lipsticks.
Most women tended to wear more gold than silver. Bangles, button earrings and hoops were go-to pieces. Flower brooches could often be seen on blazer lapels. Quilted handbags with large wooden rings worked for purses.
Shirley wore a lot of skirt and blazer outfits in pastel shades in Season 1. This made sense because she had been working as a bank teller until they became singing stars. She also wore knit short-sleeved tops with scarves often.
During the other three seasons she wore a lot more pantsuits, often with blazers.
Many times she wore a pin on her lapel, and, in one episode, the plot concerns a pin Danny found and gave her. Her favorite colors seemed to be red, white and blue or pink.
Teen Men and Young Adults
Polyester was the primary material for pants and tops. Bright colors were quite popular early, but by 1975, more neutral colors had taken over, especially browns. Shirts had pointy collars and often were flowered or had geometric patterns or paisleys. Blue jeans were popular with everyone but especially teen males.
Denim would be made into jackets and suits also. Approaching the mid-1970s, bottle green, peacock blue, black, and purple would be seen in shirts. Often, they were Henley type shirts or long sleeves with round necks. Leather belts were quite common. Small round sunglasses with mirrored lens were popular with younger men. Guys often wore necklaces.
During the first season, Keith tended to wear long-sleeved shirts. They were often flowered or patterned. His favorite was a purple, acqua, yellow, and green shirt with a pointed collar that he wore in at least 8 episodes during Season 1.
Later he switched to solid colored tops with round necks and long sleeves, usually in shades of brown, blue or marroon. When Keith Partridge began wearing puka shells, their sales skyrocketed.
Solid pastel suits and sports coats were often worn. Many sports coats had checks or stripes.
Cardigan sweaters in brown, blue, or yellow were often worn over long-sleeved dress shirts.
Dress shirts were available in solid colors in every shade of the rainbow, as well as wild prints.
Rueben often wore sports coats with stripes. His favorite cardigan was a tan one with a bright blue dress shirt underneath.
Birkenstocks were introduced during this era. Boots were very popular. Go-go boots were still often worn with mini dresses, but lace-up granny style boots of leather were worn with longer skirts and dresses. Sandals were very popular with pants as were clogs. Earth shoes also made their debut in the 1970s in colors like navy, gray, burgundy, and cocoa. I have to confess I still have my navy blue earth shoes from seventh grade, and they are still comfortable.
Longer hair was the norm for teen boys and girls, but short hair was not out of place. Young girls parted their hair in the middle. Bangs were also part of many hairstyles.
Older women and men tended to wear their hair shorter as well; women in their 50s and 60s would often put their hair in a bun. Pony tails and braids were ways to corral hair during hot weather. Afros were popular styles too. Shag haircuts were coming into vogue during the middle of the decade.
Kids’ fashions tended to be more mini versions of their parents and older brothers and sisters.
Girls wore matching pants and tops or dresses to school and jeans or other pants for play and after school wear. Often a scarf was worn on the head and tied under the chin that matched the dress. Boys wore solid short-sleeved shirts or striped shirts. Quarter zippers were often featured. They also had long-sleeved shirts like the older boys but in more solid colors or stripes.
When I was in fourth grade, we were allowed to start wearing pants to school but only if they had a matching tunic top, so that’s what my sister and I got for Christmas gifts that year. For weekends we wore jeans but not to school. It wasn’t until I moved to Wisconsin in 8th grade that I saw kids wearing Levis to school.
Olive green, gold, and brown were popular for boys. Girls also wore those colors but had more options with blues, pinks, purples, yellows, and bright colors to choose from. Girls wore colored knee socks with their dresses and skirts to school. Mood rings were a big hit in this decade.
Most of Danny’s shirts were short-sleeved tops in solid colors. His favorite was a solid brown top. Many of his shirts had a zipper in them.
One of Danny’s favorite outfits was a gold top with pants of brown, orange, and gold stripes.
Chris dressed much like Danny.The shirt Tracy is wearing below is very similar to shirts Laurie often wears. Tracy often wore pants with pastel tops. We didn’t see her or Chris or Danny at school, but I’m guessing she wore a lot of tops and skirts.
The clothes of the 1970s were identifiable but were not locked into one style. They were comfortable and natural for the most part.
Women still wore a lot of dresses and skirts, although pants were becoming very popular even for school and parties. There were many options for someone purchasing outfits in this decade for lengths, colors, designs, and prints.
Shoes and hairstyles also could be based on what the individual liked; there was not a “wrong” look. The Partridge Family gives us a great example of what the fashion was like during this time.
Their wardrobes were accurate and trendy but did not overshadow the characters. By concentrating on what each of the characters wore, we were able to learn a little more about them.
*All photos from pinterest.com unless otherwise noted.
As we proceed
with our Behind the Scenes series this month, today we are thinking about set
designers. Before the interior designs are done, the production team needs to
find the perfect home for our television friends.
Did you ever daydream about places you might want to live in, even if you never would actually consider leaving your home? Perhaps it’s a small rose-covered cottage in the English countryside, maybe a ski chalet in the Swiss alps, or a house on the Maine coast with green shutters and a widow’s walk. I’ve thought about all of these places, but now I have another one to consider. It’s an historic neighborhood where some of my favorite television friends lived. Today we learn a bit about the Columbia Ranch.
Warner Brothers Ranch, the former Columbia Ranch was in Burbank, CA. In
addition to dozens of television shows, it was the setting for many movies as
well such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,High Noon, and Lost Horizon. The neighborhood interiors were typically shot at other
In 1934, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, purchased 40 acres in Burbank. In 1948, Columbia got into the television business under Screen Gems.
1950s, Captain Midnight, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Dennis
the Menace were filmed here. By the 1960s, the ranch was used continuously
for television and movies. The set was about six blocks but looked much larger
on camera shots. Shows during the 1960s included My Sister Eileen, Hazel, Our Man Higgins, The Farmer’s Daughter, Bewitched,
Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, The
Monkees, and The Flying Nun.
In 1970, a
fire destroyed a quarter of the neighborhood, including many buildings on
Blondie Street. After rebuilding, taping continued on the set. During the next
three decades, shows included The
Partridge Family, Bridget Loves
Bernie, Apples Way, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Life Goes On.
In 1971, Columbia and Warner Brothers combined their companies and merged into The Burbank Studios. The Ranch then was relegated to a back backlot.
When Columbia Pictures moved its production facilities to Culver City in 1990, Warner Brothers gained ownership of the Ranch.
It’s continued to be a busy spot for filming. The fountain in the park was the one shown in the opening credits in Friends.
Nearby is also a swimming pool used on a variety of shows, including The Partridge Family.
The most famous street in the Ranch was Blondie Street. Blondie Street was named for Blondie Bumstead because the Blondie movies of the 1940s were filmed here. Walking down Blondie Street reveals homes that we were all familiar with growing up in the sixties and seventies.
It’s a curved
residential street with twelve different houses, surrounding a large, central
park. There is also a brick church and paved sidewalks. Three of the buildings—the
Lindsay House, the Little Egbert House, and the Oliver House—were original to
the 1935 set production.
The Blondie House
This set, constructed in 1941, was the home for Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace, and the Andersons on Father Knows Best, in addition to the Blondie movies. Later it housed the operations office for the Warner Ranch. Of course, Jeannie’s house was not here, it was a Jim Beam decanter that was sold during Christmas of 1964.
The Corner Church
When thePartridge Family drives off for a show in their bus, you can often spot the
church which is just down the road from their home, across from The Stephens’
home on Bewitched. It was moved here
in 1953. When any of the series needed a church, this was the one. It can be
seen on an episode of Hazel when the
family attends church.
The Deeds Home
Originally built for Frank Capra’s movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936, the house is only seen briefly in the movie. The Three Stooges filmed there in the thirties and forties. In the sixties it was seen in Batman. Both Gidget and The Partridge Family used the house as the high school and Bewitched used it as a civic building. In 1989, the original house was demolished. In its place, The Chester House and the Griswold House were built. The Griswold House was built for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The Lindsay House
Constructed in 1936, this house was best
known as the Baxter home on Hazel. It
also served as the Lawrence home on Gidget.
The Higgins House
This structure was constructed for the show Our Man Higgins in 1962. It was later the home of Darrin and Samantha Stephens on Bewitched from 1964-1972. On I Dream of Jeannie, it was the home of Alfred and Amanda Bellows.
For Bewitched, the interior and backyard scenes were filmed on a sound stage. The stairs ended in a hallway, but the doors only led to small closets, not the master bedroom. A modular first floor served as a setting for all the rooms. The den doubled as the nursery. A fake wall was put up to hide the view to the kitchen. When the den was needed, brown paneling was put over the nursery walls and the window was covered with a wall near the fireplace.
If you look closely, you’ll notice the avocado and gold flowered sofa in the Stephens’ living room was the same one used by Alfred and Amanda Bellows in their living room. But the shows shared well. On one episode of Bewitched, Louise and Larry Tate are seen at their kitchen table, but the kitchen looks identical to Major Nelsons’s. Roger Healey’s bedroom eerily resembled Darrin and Samantha’s.
I guess I was too busy crying to notice that this house was also Brian Piccolo’s home in Brian’s Song.
The Partridge Family House
The house across the street from the
Stephens’ house was home to Abner and Gladys Kravitz. During the filming of Dennis the Menace, it was Mrs. Elkins’
house. It was also the home of The Partridge
Family. In 1989 it became the Thatcher home on Life Goes On.
The home was built in 1953, modeled after a Sears, Roebuck & Co. plan. The modest two-story home was a perfect fit for the Partridges with its white, picket fence. The interiors were filmed at the Ranch as well. Located next door to the Blondie House, there were shrubs between the homes that were featured several times on the Partridge Family. In an episode where Keith shoots a movie, Shirley is clipping the hedges and begins dancing for the film, not realizing her neighbor is watching her. We see the hedges again when Keith moves into the room above the garage next door and gets free rent in return for yard work.
Because they were filming the show when the infamous fire broke out, some of the structure had to be rebuilt for the remainder of the series. From season 1 to 2, Danny and Keith’s bedrooms switch back and forth a couple times, and I wonder if this is the reason.
The Oliver House
Constructed in 1935 for a movie, the Oliver house was moved to Blondie Street for the home of the Stone family in The Donna Reed Show. It was also the Mitchell home where Dennis resided with his parents.
The Little Egbert House
Technically, Little Egbert is not on Blondie Street but on its own, Little Egbert Street, basically an alley. Fortunately, the 1970 fire did not damage any of the original structure. The house was also used in Minding the Mint and as The Shaggy Dog, the hangout for Gidget and her friends.
For sentimental reasons, I would choose the Partridge Family home to live in. However, I would have to remodel the kitchen. I could live with the red breakfast table set. The avocado and gold flowered wall paper may have been very chic in its day, but even I am not that sentimental!
We continue our series with a salute to fathers looking at one of my favorite actors, John Forsythe in a little-remembered show, To Rome with Love.
The show debuted on CBS in September of 1969 and aired until spring of 1971. In 1967 Forsythe had starred in The John Forsythe Show and in the successful sitcom, BachelorFather, seven years before that.
After the acclaim of Bachelor Father, The John Forsythe Show was a big disappointment. The premise of the show was that Forsythe as retired US Air Force Major John Foster inherits a private girls’ school in San Francisco. A buddy of his and former sergeant helps him run the school and they have conflicts with the principal Miss Culver. Forsythe once commented on it, saying “I choose to froget about that one. It was a disaster from the start. I hope the world forgets it too, especially the name.”
To Rome with Love also had a school setting. Forsythe played Michael Endicott, a widow with three daughters. He accepts a teaching position at an American school in Rome and relocates his family there from Iowa. His sister Harriet (Kay Medford) comes with the family for season one to help out. Endicott’s father-in-law, Andy Pruitt (Walter Brennan), comes to Rome to visit and ends up moving there during the second season.
The oldest daughter is Alison (Joyce Menges), the middle is tomboy Penny (Susan Neher) and the youngest is Mary Jane, nicknamed Pokey (Melanie Fullterton). None of the girls continued in television past 1974. Menges had been a former tv and magazine model. She appeared in two films, one before (1967) and one after (1972) the show. Fullerton made an appearance on High Chaparral before this show and appeared in two movies (1972 and 1974). Neher had the most productive acting career. She was cast on Accidental Family before appearing on To Rome with Love. After the show, she would guest star on Young Lawyers, Getting Together, Love American Style, The Partridge Family, with her last appearance was on Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers in 1974.
Rounding out the cast was Vito Scotti who played Mr. Mancini and Peggy Mondo who was Mama Vitale in Rome.
The show was on Sunday nights at 7:30 for the first year. It was up against Land of the Giants and The Wonderful World of Disney. The second year it switched to Tuesdays at 9:30 for the first half of the year on against movies of the week and then was moved to Wednesdays at 8:30 for the rest of the season. On Wednesdays it was up against The Smith Family and the Men from Shiloh. They were one-hour shows and To Rome with Love was on during the second half of both shows. The show never received the ratings the network had hoped for.
Jack Gould reviewed the show before its debut. His comment was “the personable John Forsythe is the main asset of the series, but it is doubtful if he alone can overcome the handicap of imposing Hollywood nonsense on a city rich in drama and laughter and yet to be explored with understanding by TV. For the viewer, one solution is to turn off the sound and settle for incidental scenic background.” Donald Freeman from the San Diego Union called the show “all stereotyped and unfailingly pleasant.” Terrence O’Flaherty of the San Francisco Chronicle described it as a “giant pizza which appears to be filled with every situation comedy cliché in TV history and every Italian character actor south of San Luis Obispo. Dwight Newton of the San Francisco Examiner said it was “another little innocuous comedy drama series.” Apparently, viewers agreed with their opinions.
The combination of bad reviews and going up against Disney before moving to two different nights almost guaranteed its failure.
Don Fedderson and Edmond Hartman produced the show. They were also the creative forces behind My Three Sons and Family Affair. An interesting concept was the cross-over episode. In season two, Anissa Jones and Johnnie Whitaker from Family Affair appear on the show on episode 4, “Roman Affair.” Episode 6 featured William Demarest, Don Grady, and Tina Cole from My Three Sons in “Rome is Where You Find It.”
After the show ended, Forsythe commented that his “fate is to be surrounded by ladies at home and at work which is not at all painful. I have a wife and two daughters at home. But on the television, I’ve always been unmarried. We might have started the single-parent trend with ‘Bachelor Father.’ Now the air is filed with widows and widowers raising children alone. There’s a reason for it. One unqualified parent dealing with children is more amusing because of the difficulty it presents.”
This sounded a bit exaggerated to me, so I went back to take a closer look at the shows that were on during the 1960s, and he was right. I always think of the typical sitcom as a nuclear family like the Donna Reed Show or Leave It To Beaver, but during this decade many shows were about adults. Think of Get Smart, The Joey Bishop Show, That Girl, The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or The Flying Nun. When shows were about families, the norm was almost to have a single parent. In addition to Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, and Family Affair, we had The Farmer’s Daughter, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Doris Day Show,The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, Gidget, and Julia. It wasn’t confined to sitcoms either; consider The Rifleman, Bonanza, and The Big Valley. The genre would continue into future decades as well. Some of the most popular shows featured single parents: The Partridge Family,The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Nanny and the Professor,Diff’rent Strokes, One Day at a Time, Eight is Enough, and Alice.
Fortunately for viewers, Forsythe did not throw in the towel and retire into obscurity. Forsythe would go on to star as Blake Carrington on Dynasty.
The show he is best remembered for is Charlie’s Angels, continuing his tradition of being surrounded by beautiful women on television.