Bob Newhart: Laughing Through Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Blink: Shows That Received Pink Slips by the Holidays

One thing I have learned doing blogs the past four years is how many shows don’t make it. Although every year has its share of flops, some years are just notorious for having weak programming. The late 1970s was a period of just truly awful shows. Bob Newhart who starred in The Bob Newhart Show decided to quit in 1978. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.” As bad as that sounds, the shows that the networks put on the air during this time were even worse. Let’s take a look at some of the programming that didn’t make it through a season in the late 1970s.

A Year at the Top

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Note the young Paul Shaffer

Believe it or not, in 1976 Norman Lear teamed up with Don Kirshner of Rock Concert fame for a sitcom about the music business. This show was supposed to begin in January of that year but was delayed until summer with an entirely different cast. Two young pop stars Greg and Paul (Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer—yes the Paul Shaffer from David Letterman) move to LA for their big break. They meet a potential agent named Hanover (Gabriel Dell) who agrees to sign them if . . . and if you think the concept is weird so far, get this: Hanover is the devil’s son, and they need to sign over their souls to become famous. The pair never actually sign the contract. It might have taken a year to get on the air but it only lasted five weeks.

Quark

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This show’s concept was also a bit of a reach. It took place on Perma 1, a space station in 2222. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) had a mission to clean up all the trash in outer space. Quark took orders from a giant disembodied head called, what else, The Head, along with Perma 1’s architect Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis). If you think this sounds crazy, wait till you learn about Quark’s crew: a part fish/part fowl first officer, a humanoid vegetable named Ficus, clones Betty 1 and Betty 2, and Andy the Robot, a walking junk pile. I was surprised not that it was cancelled after two months, but that it lasted two months. I was also surprised to learn that Buck Henry was the creative force behind this series.

Sanford Arms

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A year later in 1977 we have another interesting set-up. When Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, the two stars, the only stars, left the show Sanford and Son, Norman Lear was left with a show title only. Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) had been one of the cast members on Sanford and Son and suddenly she was at the hub of this new show. Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) a widower with teenagers buys the house, the junkyard and Esther’s rooming house and tries to start a residential hotel. A month or so later, before he could even make his first payment, the show was done.

Another Day

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David Groh (who had played Rhoda’s husband) is Don Gardner, a struggling businessman who can’t make ends meet. His wife Ginny (Joan Hackett) has to get a job, and they both had to deal with their introverted son Mark (Al Eisenmann) and their extroverted daughter Kelly (Lisa Lindgren), as well as Don’s mom Olive (Hope Summers who had played Clara on The Andy Griffith Show) who is critical of all of them. Don struggled through a few episodes and was finished.

Apple Pie

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A lonely hairdresser played by Rue McClanahan named Ginger-Nell Hollyhock placed ads in the newspaper for a family. The family that she “found” included a daughter (Caitlin O’Heaney) who tap-danced, a son (Derrel Maury) who wanted to fly like a bird, an elderly grandfather (Jack Gilford), and con-artist Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman). The show was set in Kansas City in 1933. It took place during the Depression and depression is what anyone watching felt, although the pain was fleeting. After one episode the network decided no one wanted this family.

Hanging In

This one was so bad they didn’t want any evidence so there are no photos.

Another flop came along with a star who had been another star’s spouse. Bill Macy who played Maude’s long-suffering husband starred in this show as Louis Harper, a former football hero who did not have the right credentials to be a university president. He has a desire to help the underprivileged, but the rest of the faculty is more concerned about raising money. Other cast members included high-pressure dean Maggie Gallager (Barbara Rhoades), PR man Sam Dickey (Dennis Burkley), and housekeeper Pinky Nolan (Nedra Volz). No finals for this series; it was cancelled after a few weeks.

Hizzoner

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David Huddleston plays Mayor Cooper who runs a small Midwestern town. The cast included the mayor’s secretary Ginny (Diana Muldaur), the mayor’s daughter (Kathy Cronkite, yes Walter’s daughter) and several other quirky characters. While the mayor is quite conservative, his children are left-wing liberals. Apparently, the mayor broke out into song at least once an episode. I guess, he was singing the blues because the show was cancelled after 7 episodes.

In the Beginning

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The year 1978 just keeps getting worse for television series. Father Daniel Cleary, played by McLean Stevenson, works in a community center in the heart of Baltimore. Sister Agnes (Priscilla Lopez) works with him. She loves her neighborhood; Father Cleary does not. She is fairly liberal and he is not. It ended almost before it began after seven episodes.

Miss Winslow & Son

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In this one, an unmarried woman (Darleen Carr) who is an art designer, decides rather than marry a man whom she doesn’t love, she will become a single mother after getting pregnant. Her next-door neighbor Mr. Neistadter (Roscoe Lee Browne) hates kids. Her wealthy and snobby parents are divided about her situation; her father (Elliot Reed) is much more sympathetic than her mother (Sarah Marshall). Before the baby had its first check-up, the show was off the air.

13 Queen’s Boulevard

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This show was about “a hilarious group of tenants in a garden complex in Queens, New York.” In the first episode, one of the tenants, Felicia Winters (Eileen Brennan) decides to host a class reunion and invites her best friend and spouse, her ex-husband, the class “sexpot,” Fat Hughie, and the class photographer. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong; however, not much went right since it was gone within two months.

Turnabout

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I get Freaky Friday, but in this series the husband and wife switch places. A magic statue allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies.  Sam Alston (John Schuck) is a sportswriter and his wife Penny (Sharon Gless) is a cosmetics executive. The couple tries to live both their own life and their spouse’s life whenever they switch back and forth. They also must focus on keeping the switch a secret. We never know who is who, and all the audience knew is they didn’t like either one of them, and the show was cancelled after a few weeks.

Waverly Wonders

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NBC decided Joe Namath would be a good person to build a sitcom around. However, he’s not a football player in this show; he’s a former pro basketball player, Joe Casey, who now teaches history at Waverly High in Wisconsin. Linda Harris (Gwynne Gilford) is the principal and Mr. Benton, who they call “Old Prune Face” (Ben Piazza) was the former coach. The only problem is Joe Casey is a bad history teacher and a bad coach. That apparently makes for a bad show because it was cancelled after three episodes aired, although nine were made.

Struck by Lightning

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If you think the concept of some of these shows was weird, wait to you hear about this one. Frank (Jack Elam) is the caretaker of an old inn in Massachusetts. A science teacher, Ted Stein (Jeffrey Kramer) inherits the inn and decides to sell it. Then he realizes that Frank was really a 231-year-old Frankenstein monster. Ted just happens to be the great-great-grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. So, they decide to run the inn together. Rounding out the cast was Glenn (Bill Erwin) who had been living there forever, Nora (Millie Slavin) who managed the inn before Ted came, Noras son Brian (Jeff Cotler), and real estate agent Walt (Richard Stahl). Apparently, the only thing “great” about the show was Ted’s relationship to Frankenstein because the network canceled it after five episodes.

So, you might be wondering with all these awful shows, what made it on the air more than a couple of months during the late 1970s. In 1977 the only shows that made it to the next season were Three’s Company and Soap. In 1978 Mork and Mindy and Taxi were the “classics” followed by Diff’rent Strokes and WKRP in Cincinnati. Without Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy would probably have been another concept that would have lasted a couple of weeks. In 1979, out of 21 shows that debuted that fall, Facts of Life was the only one that returned for a second season. With the exception of Taxi and WKRP, I would not rate any of these shows true classics, although you could make a good case for Soap. Anyway, the bar was set pretty low for success during the late 1970s.

At least television viewers could go to the movies for a bit of entertainment.  This was the era of Animal House, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, Kramer vs Kramer, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit. Things stayed pretty glum on the small screen until 1982 when Cheers, Newhart, and Family Ties saved us.

Just a Couple of Characters, Part 1: Edward Andrews and Herb Edelman

We’ve all experienced that moment we’re at the grocery store and see someone we know, but we can’t remember their name or how we know them. Maybe it was work or school, or their kids were friends with ours.  Sometimes we even remember we spent a lot of time with them and like them, but the name and relationship is just not there.

This month we are meeting some of our television friends that we’ve gotten to know, even if we can’t remember their names or what we watched them on. We’ll learn more about eight different character actors. We start off the month learning about Edward Andrews and Herb Edelman.

Edward Andrews

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I remember Edward Andrews from Doris Day and Disney comedies. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s or 1970s will remember this military man with a grandfatherly softness to him.

Andrews was born in Georgia in 1914. His father was a minister and their family moved a lot; he lived in Pittsburgh; Cleveland; and Wheeling, West Virginia. He had a very small part in a James Gleason production at age 12. He attended college at the University of Virginia. In 1935, he got his first part in a Broadway production, “So Proudly We Hail.” He continued in Broadway for the next twenty years, including a touring production of “I Know My Love” with Lunt and Fontaine. During that time, he took a leave from his career to serve in WWII. He was a Captain and commanding officer of Battery C with the 751st Artillery Battalion of the Army.

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In 1955 he married Emily Barnes and they would have three children, remaining together until his death. About the same time, his movie career took off. Andrews looked older than his age which helped him get parts for older roles. He could play a grandfather, then turn around and handle a sleazy businessman or legalistic bureaucrat. He portrayed George Babbitt in Elmer Gantry in 1960. He worked for Disney playing the Defense Secretary in both The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). I remember him fondly in Doris Day’s movies, The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). One of his last roles was Grandpa Howard in Sixteen Candles in 1984. His movie credits totaled 46.

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Edward also kept busy with television appearances. One of the first actors to guest star on television, in 1950, Andrews was on Mama. As early as 1952, he began acting in the variety of drama shows on television. During the 1950s he would appear in eighteen of these shows including The US Steel Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One in Hollywood, and Omnibus.

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On The Wild Wild West

He showed up in westerns including The Real McCoys, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide. We saw him on medical and legal dramas such as Ben Casey, The Defenders, The Bold Ones, Ironside, and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. Mysteries and crime thrillers also found a place for him. You might remember him from Naked City, The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-0, McMillan and Wife, and Quincy, ME.

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Like his films, he seemed to excel in comedy. Andrews played George Baxter in the pilot for Hazel, but unfortunately when the show went into production, the part was recast with Don DeFore. He would guest star in some of the most popular sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Paul Lynde Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, and Three’s Company.

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In 1964 he starred in Broadside. Commander Adrian (Edwards) is not happy when a group of Waves are posted to his station on the South Seas island Ranakai. His men no longer have focus, so he spends the series trying to get the women relocated.

In 1970 he had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show as Colonel Fairburn. He also starred as Harry Flood in the show Supertrain in 1979. Playing on the Love Boat and Hotel themes, the show was about a bullet train that had new passengers each episode.

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On Bewitched

Perhaps Andrews will be best remembered for his guest starring role on two Twilight Zone episodes, “Third From the Sun” (Andrews plays a company man who thinks a coworker William, a nuclear engineer, and his friend Jerry are going to steal a spaceship to leave Earth) and “You Drive” (Andrews hits a newspaper boy and then flees the scene, trying to hide the crime).

In all, he appeared on 118 different television series as well as made-for-television movies.

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Andrews enjoyed playing a character actor. He said it ensured more work and longevity in his career. He was quoted as saying, “What you get are people who speak to you. They know you from somewhere, but they don’t think of you as an actor. They stop and say, ‘Harry, how’s everything in Miami?’ I’ve learned by experience not to argue with them.”

In March of 1985, Andrews had a heart attack and passed away at age 70. With his white hair, and horn-rimmed glasses, Andrews was an adaptable character actor. Whether he was playing a lovable doctor, a nosy coworker, a fun-loving grandfather, or a despicable murderer, he was believable. He truly was a great character.

Herb Edelman

Herb Edelman, circa 1981
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Another fun actor everyone will recognize is Herb Edelman. Herb was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933 in the midst of the Depression. Tall, lanky, and prematurely bald, he would go on to have a long career in movies and television.

Originally, Edelman wanted to be a veterinarian, and he went to school at Cornell but left after his first year. He served in the Army as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio. After he left the service, he started college again, this time studying acting at Brooklyn College. Once again, he dropped out. He made a living as a hotel manager and a cab driver.

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In Barefoot in the Park

In the mid-1960s he began both his film and television careers. Some of his best-known roles were in the movies. He played Harry Pepper, a wise-cracking telephone operator, in Barefoot in the Park and Murray the Cop in The Odd Couple, as well as Harry Michaels in California Suite.

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In The Odd Couple as Murray the cop

However, it was television where he received most of his work. In the 1960s, he began his career, appearing on a variety of shows, including That Girl, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and The Flying Nun. During these years he also dated and married Louise Sorel who he was wed to for six years.

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In 1968, he accepted the role of Bert Gamus in The Good Guys. Bert and his friend Rufus (Bob Denver) open a diner, their dream. Bert’s wife Claudia (Joyce Van Patten) helped him serve customers.

In the 1970s, his career continued as he appeared in many shows every year. Some of the hit series we saw him on during this decade include Room 222, Bewitched, McMillan and Wife, The Partridge Family, Love American Style, Maude, Happy Days, Barney Miller, Kojak, and Charlie’s Angels.

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On Barney Miller

In 1976, he was again cast in a show, Big John Little John. Edelman was a middle school teacher who drank out of the fountain of youth on vacation. Afterward, he would randomly turn into a thirteen-year-old and worked to keep the secret from his friends and coworkers. The show was short-lived.

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Edelman’s work schedule did not slow down in the 1980s. He would have roles in the cast of five television shows and spent time in between guest starring on other shows such as Trapper John, Highway to Heaven, The Love Boat, and thirtysomething.

From 1980-81, he was cast as Reggie on Ladies’ Man, about a woman’s magazine with one male journalist. From 1981-82, he appeared as Commissioner Herb Klein on Strike Force. This show followed a strike force team that handles cases too difficult for the mainstream officers. The following year, he was Harry Nussbaum on Nine to Five, the show based on the movie about a group of office workers. From 1984-88, he was cast as Richard Clarendon on St. Elsewhere, a teaching hospital.

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On Murder She Wrote

Although his roles decreased in the 1990s, he had one of his most memorable roles during those years as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s ex-husband, on Golden Girls; he was nominated twice for his role on the show.

In 1990, he played Sergeant Levine on Knot’s Landing. Knot’s Landing was a night-time soap about the lives of the wealthy who live in a coastal suburb of LA. His last recurring role was Lieutenant Artie Gelber on Murder She Wrote, about a mystery writer who helps solve crimes.

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On Golden Girls

Edelman died much too early in 1996 from emphysema at age 62.

Another character who was unforgettable in his movie and television roles. Whether playing a repairman, a cop, a teacher, or a ex-husband, he always came through as an authentic actor.

The Millionaire and His Wife: Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer

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Today we continue our month-long series about the characters on Gilligan’s Island and the stars who portrayed them. We begin with the millionaire, Thurston Howell III, and his wife, Lovey. On the island, their money is worthless, but it doesn’t stop Mr. Howell from bribing other captives when it’s in his best interest.  He must have been a boy scout who learned the motto, “Be prepared,” because he and his wife took clothes on a three-hour tour to last a few years. In real life, Natalie Schafer was the millionaire. Both Backus and Schafer had very interesting careers.

 

Jim Backus

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Jim Backus was born in Cleveland in February of 1913. He was one of those stars who seemed to excel in everything:  radio, Broadway, animation, big-screen movies, and television series. In an interesting aside, Margaret Hamilton who would go on to have a full career including the Wicked Witch of the West at the Wizard of Oz, was one of his grade school teachers. Jim grew up in a wealthy area, attending Shaw High School in East Cleveland. His father was a mechanical engineer. I could not find exact proof of this but several articles mention he was expelled from the Kentucky Military Institute for riding a horse in the mess hall. He later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

In 1939 he married Betty Kean; they divorced in 1942. One of his famous quotes was “Many a man owes his success to his first wife and his second wife to his success.”

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In the 1940s, Backus began appearing on radio as the “rich man,” which he often portrayed afterward on radio and television. He played the role of aviator Dexter Hayes on Society Girl on CBS Radio Network. He also appeared on the Mel Blanc Show as Hartley Benson, an arrogant character, and as Hubert Updike on The Alan Young Show. He also showed up regularly on The Jack Benny Program.

During his radio years, he married Henny Backus whom he was married to the rest of his life.

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He began his big-screen cinema career in 1949 and would go on to appear in almost 100 movies, including Here Come the Nelsons, Pat and Mike, and Rebel Without a Cause (seen above). His most famous movie role was probably Tyler Fitzgerald in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. My favorite movie of his is Hello Down There with Tony Randall and Janet Leigh from 1969.

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During the 1950s, he began auditioning for roles on television. He would go on to appear on 18 different series during that decade, including I Married Joan, on which he starred with Joan Davis. On the show, Backus played a respected judge and Davis was his scatterbrained wife. The show was very popular and lasted three seasons.

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As if he wasn’t busy enough with acting in the 1950s, he also made a song recording with Phyllis Diller that hit the top 40 in 1958. It was called “Delicious,” and the two of them would take a sip of champagne throughout the song, saying “Delicious.” As the song continues, they get more drunk and a bit giddy, slurring their words and laughing hysterically.

 

His television career continued to be demanding in the 1960s. He appeared on 25 series, and four of them had regular starring sitcom roles. In 1960, The Jim Backus Show debuted. The program focuses on Backus in the role of Mike O’Toole, the editor/proprietor of a low rent wire service struggling to stay in business.

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He had made movie shorts about Mr. Magoo in the 1950s and in 1960, he starred in 130 episodes of Mr. Magoo and would make 26 more episodes under the title The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo in 1964-1965. Mr. Magoo was an older nearsighted man who was very popular, appearing in ads and merchandise for years. The humor of the show was based on the difference between what Mr. Magoo thinks he sees and the reality of what was really there. Jim Backus liked to repeat a story about his famous character. He was in the movie, Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe. She asked Jim to meet her in her dressing room later and his curiosity got the best of him, so he went, only to learn she wanted him to portray Mr. Magoo which he did.

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This was also the decade he was offered the role of Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island in 1964. That same year he was asked to play the role of Abner Kravitz on a new show, Bewitched but turned it down because he was committed to Gilligan’s Island. Gilligan’s Island would run from 1964-1967 and he would go on to appear in several Gilligan revivals including the far-fetched The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.

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During 1968-1969, Backus took the role of Mr. Dithers in a revival of Blondie.

During the 1960s, he also appeared on 77 Sunset Strip, The Beverly Hillbillies, Daniel Boone, The Wild, Wild West, and I Spy, among others.

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Backus continued his television work into the 1970s where he appeared on 31 shows. He appeared in a variety of genres including I Dream of Jeannie, Young Dr. Kildare, Medical Center, The Brady Bunch, Gunsmoke, Ellery Queen, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat.

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Backus also continued his commercial work in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the spokesperson for La-Z-Boy furniture and General Electric. He and Natalie Schafer appeared in an ad for Redenbacher’s popcorn. They played their characters from Gilligan’s Island but apparently had been rescued and were in a luxurious home. In a sweet ending, it was the last television appearance for either of them.

When Jim Backus had a little bit of free time between acting jobs, he loved to golf. He also tried his hand at writing a few books and film scripts, including his autobiography which he wrote with his wife, Only When I Laugh in 1965.

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In July of 1989, Backus died from pneumonia, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years.

He had a long and varied career and seemed to have many friends in the business.

 

Natalie Schafer

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A millionaire in real life, Natalie Schafer seemed like a very fun woman, a bit of a character. She was born in November of 1900 in New Jersey and raised in Manhattan. She was quite secretive about her age, often claiming she was born in 1912.

She began her career in Broadway, appearing in 17 plays. She married actor Louis Calhern in 1934 and they divorced in 1942. She moved to Los Angeles in 1941 to become a film actress and received parts in 34 movies. Incidentally, she and her ex remained friends and appeared together in the movie Forever Darling in 1956.

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Like Backus, Schafer typically played wealthy and sophisticated roles. She did not have the versatility her tv husband had but continued to stay busy acting on television.  While Gilligan’s Island was her only long-term role, she appeared on 21 shows in the 1950s (including I Love Lucy, Loretta Young, Phil Silvers, and Topper); 8 in the 1960s (including The Beverly Hillbillies, 77 Sunset Strip, and Route 66); 15 in the 1970s (including Mayberry RFD, The Brady Bunch, and McMillan and Wife); and an additional 8 shows in the 1980s before she passed away (including Three’s Company, The Love Boat, Trapper John, and Simon and Simon).

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Schafer made most of her money from investments, particularly in real estate.

Several sources revealed that much of her fortune was bequeathed to either her Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells or to care for her dogs; however, at least $1.5 million was donated to the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home to renovate their outpatient wing. I never saw any answers from Wells about inheriting money, but on Vicki Lawrence’s talk show, she did say that Schafer spent her last years living with her. Like many wealthy people, she was quite thrifty.  She often admitted that she accepted the role of Mrs. Howell because she got a free trip to Hawaii to film the pilot and didn’t expect it to get picked up.

 

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Everyone seemed to like her on the set. Dawn Wells said she especially adored Schafer and Backus. Schafer was a hard worker and liked to keep fit. In a Chicago Tribune article from October 25, 1965, she relayed her secrets for staying in shape. For one thing, she did her own stunts on the show. She also said she swam nude every morning and evening, doing 100 strong kicks at the side of the pool. She also invented an ice cream diet for herself. She claimed to eat a quart a day, saying she had a bowl of vanilla ice cream with her coffee, two bowls of varying flavors for both lunch and dinner, and another single bowl for an afternoon snack. She claimed that she would lose three pounds in five days.

In 1990, Schafer passed away from liver cancer. After her death, she wanted people to realize her true age, and many of her closest friends were quite surprised to learn she was 12 years older than she claimed.

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While Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey were two interesting characters, I don’t think they can compete with the characters who were Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer. I had a lot of fun learning about them.

The Show That Never Really Ended

 

The past few weeks we have been exploring the shows that were part of the Friday night schedule from 1970-1972. We end this series by getting to know The Brady Bunch.

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How It All Began

Sherwood Schwartz read a stat in LA Times that 31% of all marriages include children from a previous marriage. He put together a script for a show based on that statistic. All three networks liked it, but they all wanted significant changes, so he shelved it. In 1968, the films With Six You Get Eggroll and Yours, Mine, and Ours debuted. Schwartz’s script predated the two movies, but because the movies were so popular (Yours, Mine and Ours was the 11th top grossing movie that year), ABC decided to put Sherwood’s show on the air. At the time, the title of the show was either “Yours and Mine” or “The Bradley Brood.”

ABC gave Schwartz a 13-week commitment. John Rich was brought on to direct the pilot, the cast was hired, and sets were built at the Paramount TV Stage 5. The filming began Oct 4, 1968 and lasted 8 days.

The Brady Bunch

The show was supposed to reveal how a blended family overcomes daily problems, but by the second season, we forget that this was ever a blended family and the family deals with the same issues all siblings do.

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Realizing how popular The Brady Bunch has been for decades, it’s surprising to learn that the show was never in the top 30 during its original run. When it had the number of episodes it needed for syndication, it was canceled by the network. The series found a new life in syndication becoming an American icon. When anyone says it was a “Brady Bunch” kitchen, dress, etc., everyone instinctively knows what that means.

 

Casting the Show

Shirley Jones was offered the role of Carol Brady first. Joyce Bulifant was then given the role. I’m not sure why she did not get the role; the only information I could find was that she was surprised because she had already signed the contract and had the wardrobe. But for some reason, they tested Florence after and thought she was the better choice for Carol.

 

Both Kathleen Freeman and Monty Margetts were auditioned for Alice. When Florence Henderson got the role, Ann B Davis was hired because they wanted a comedienne that seemed a better fit for Carol.

To find the 6 Brady kids, 464 were auditioned. Sherwood felt it would be more realistic if all the boys had dark hair like Reed and the girls were blonde like Henderson. Mike Lookinland, hired to play Bobby, was really a blonde and they had to dye his hair dark brown.

Allan Melvin played Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend who owns the butcher shop. He was only in eight episodes but was mentioned often.

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Tiger the dog appeared in half the episodes from season 1 but only six in season 2 and then disappeared altogether.

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During the middle of season 5, Robbie Rist was introduced as Oliver, Carol’s nephew who came to live with them while his parents traveled overseas.  It was an attempt to get the younger audience back since the youngest kids were now 11 and 12. The addition of Oliver felt forced and it wasn’t a popular change.

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Schwartz’s daughter Hope was on the series four times:  Jenny at a slumber party in season 2, episode 3; Rachel, Greg’s girlfriend in season 3, episode 18 and in season 4, episode 15; and in the series’ finale as Gretchen, a graduate in Greg’s class. Many of the script ideas came from her real life.

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Many famous guest stars who played themselves met the Bradys: Davy Jones, Desi Arnaz Jr., Don Drysdale, Don Ho, Deacon Jones, NASA astronaut Brig. Gen James McDivitt, Joe Namath. Imogene Coca starred as Aunt Jenny. In an early episode Cindy and Bobby are ill; without discussing it, the parents each call their doctor to make a house call, so two doctors arrive at the same time played by Marion Ross from Happy Days and Herbert Anderson from Dennis the Menace. It worked out because the family decided to keep both doctors.

The Theme Song

The well-known theme was written by Schwartz and Frank De Vol with the famous and often-parodied tic-tac-toe board featuring the family members.

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The Peppermint Trolley Co. recorded the theme in season 1. The Peppermint Trolley Co. was a pop band that is known for performing on The Beverly Hillbillies and Mannix. They released one album in 1968. When Christopher Knight was heard singing it on set, the producer decided to have the Brady kids sing the theme, and a new arrangement was recorded each year.

If you need a reminder, the words are:

Here’s the story of a lovely lady Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the story, of a man named Brady, Who was busy with three boys of his own, They were four men, living all together, Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow And they knew it was much more than a hunch, That this group would somehow form a family. That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.

The Brady Bunch, the Brady Bunch That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.

The Brady House

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The house was a mid-century modern split-level home at 11222 Dilling St., Studio City, CA. Schwartz chose it because he thought it looked like a home an architect would live in. To make it look like there was a second story, a window was placed on the A-frame. The interior was used in two Mannix episodes and one Mission: Impossible episode. It was also re-created for an X Files episode “Sunshine Days.”  In that show, Scully and several agents investigate a bizarre murder case where the main suspect has an obsession with The Brady Bunch.  The Bradys’ address was given as 4222 Clinton Way. To help with privacy when the show ended, the owners put up a fence and tried to let some of the greenery grow to block the house from the street.

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Vehicles

The vehicles were provided mainly by Chrysler. Throughout the series, Carol drove a brown Plymouth Satellite station wagon, using different models each year.

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Mike primarily drove convertibles: Pilot – a blue 1968 Dodge Polara 500 convertible, Season 1 and 2 – a blue 1969 Plymouth Fury III convertible, Season 3 – a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda convertible, Season 4 – a blue 1972 Chevy Impala convertible, and for something different Season 5 – a red 1973 Chevy Caprice Classic convertible.

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In one episode, “The Winner,” from season 2, Carol and Mike take Bobby to a local television station to compete in an ice-cream eating contest. They leave in their blue convertible but return in the brown station wagon. Whoops!

Spin Offs

This show spawned a variety of spin-offs and reunion shows including The Brady Bunch Hour (1976-77), The Brady Kids (1977), The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), The Brady Brides (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988), The Bradys (1990), and a big-screen movie, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995).

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Kelly’s Kids – a pilot for a spinoff was one of the episodes about the Bradys’ friend and neighbor Ken Kelly, played by Ken Berry. Ken and his wife Kathy adopt three boys, all of different racial backgrounds. One of the boys was played by Mike Lookinland’s younger brother. (Todd Lookinland went on to have a successful acting career.) The show was not picked up by the network.

The Brady Kids was a show from 1977 with 9 episodes. Eve Plumb declined the role, so Jan was played by Geri Reischl. It was scheduled sporadically and did not receive great ratings.

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The Brady Girls Get Married was supposed to be a one-night tv movie. It ended up being split up into four half-hour weekly shows with the final one being the pilot for a show called The Brady Brides. In the movie, Jan and Marcia have a double wedding. It was the only time the entire cast worked together again after the original show. Mike is still an architect while Carol is a real estate agent. Marcia is a fashion designer, Jan is an architect, Greg is a doctor, Peter is in the Air Force and Bobby and Cindy are in college. Alice has married Sam. The concept of the series is that the two married couples buy a house and live together, but the guys are very different and don’t see eye to eye about much. After ten episodes, the show was cancelled.

THE BRADY BRIDES, Susan Olsen, Mike Lookinland, Eve Plumb, Christopher Knight, Maureen McCormick, Ba

When the show ended, the kids released a few albums; however only Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick stayed involved with the music business in their future careers.

In 1983, Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, and Cindy Olsen competed on Family Feud in a celebrity edition of the show.

Life After the Brady Bunch

The cast was close and remained friends after the series ended. Robert Reed did not always agree with Sherwood Schwartz on the details of certain episodes, but he was close with the crew, especially Florence Henderson. At his own expense, he took all the kids to London on the QEII in 1971. When he was dying in 1992, Florence called each of the kids to tell them personally.

 

Maureen McCormick battled several demons before finding herself after the series ended. She performed in Peter Pan and Grease. Maureen has appeared in many television guest spots and feature films, including Dogtown in 1997, Baby Huey’s Great East Adventure in 1999, and The Million Dollar Kid in 2000.  She has released several albums and played country singer Barbara Mandrell in a tv movie. She wrote a memoir, Here’s the Story. She also recently competed on Dancing with the Stars.

 

Eve Plumb starred in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway to combat getting locked into an image when the show was cancelled. She has done guest spots on a variety of television shows including One Day at a Time, Murder She Wrote, and The Love Boat. She played the mom on the Fudge series in the 1990s and was in the television special Grease: Live. She has become a well-known artist, primarily painting still lifes.

 

Susan Olsen sang on The Pat Boone Show and in the Elvis movie The Trouble with Girls before becoming Cindy Brady. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, became a radio talk show host, an artist, an animal advocate, and co-wrote a book titled Love to Love You Bradys about the variety show.

 

Barry Williams starred in Pippin after the show ended. He has been a radio host and co-wrote a tell-all book Growing Up Brady: I was a Teenage Brady. He also guest starred in many shows including Murder She Wrote, Three’s Company, and Highway to Heaven. He tours with music theater and does speaking engagements.

 

Christopher Knight has been employed as a businessman for many years in the high-tech industry. During the 2000s, he appeared in several reality shows.

 

Mike Lookinland also had his share of issues to deal with after the show ended as he grew up. He attended the University of Utah and became a camera technician for two decades. Currently, he creates concrete countertops. (Photo on right courtesy of huffingtonpost.com)

 

Ann B Davis rarely acted after life on The Brady Bunch. She was very involved with her church. (See my blog “Oh Alice” dated February 5, 2018). She passed away in June of 2014.

 

Robert Reed was a trained Shakespearian actor, studying at Northwestern and at the University of London. He continued to guest star in a variety of television shows after The Brady Bunch ended. He passed away in 1992.

 

Florence Henderson continued to stay busy performing after the show. She and Shirley Jones traveled, performing together. She also wrote an autobiography titled Life is Not a Stage: From a Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond. She also spent much of her time raising money for charitable causes. She passed away in November of 2016. (see my blog “The Passing of a Pop-Culture Parent dated December 6, 2016.)

 

Allan Melvin continued to accumulate many acting credits after the show, primarily in animation. He passed away in 2008.

 

Conclusion

It’s amazing how popular the show has been for almost fifty years. Rarely does a show that aired for five seasons have so many spin-offs and show variations. It probably hurt the cast more than it helped because they could never overcome their strong identification as a Brady kid. The cast went on to do a variety of careers. Currently, The Brady Bunch can be seen on ME TV on Sundays for their “Brady Brunch” from 11 am to 1 pm central time.

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In July of 2012, there was a lot of talk about a new version of The Brady Bunch. A reboot was approved by CBS to be produced by Vince Vaughn. The sequel apparently revolved around Bobby as an adult. I could not find any information about the status of the project.

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While I enjoyed watching The Brady Bunch, I was a Partridge Family fan. I loved Alice though and always wanted to be Jan. I remember hoping I might have to get braces when she got them. I think it would be hard to find a show that had such an impact on so many different generations. Brady Bunch memorabilia is still being created and there are a ton of quizzes on the internet such as “Which Brady Kid Are You?”

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I hope you enjoyed getting to know a little more about these Friday night shows from the early 1970s. I am looking forward to a Friday night when I can sit back and watch a few episodes of each show for my own dream line-up.

 

Tonight’s Partridge Family Episode Features . . .

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The Partridge Family (ABC) later seasons (1971 – 1974) Shown from left: (top) Brian Forster, Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough; (front) David Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey

Ask any girl who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies and they will tell you their favorite night of television was Friday.  We looked forward to watching The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style, but the first hour of the night was the only “can’t miss” one. Boys coming of age in that era might have a tough time deciding between Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, but almost every girl will tell you Keith Partridge beat out Greg Brady hands down. Like most nine-year-olds in 1970, I had a huge crush on Keith Partridge. Watching the episodes today takes me right back to that time, and I feel like a kid on Friday night again.

The Partridge Family aired from 1970-1974, and the concept was based on the Cowsills.  The Cowsill family grew up in Rhode Island, and by 1967 the band consisted of siblings ages 8-19 and their mother. Although the group no longer includes all the siblings, they still tour and record.

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I still enjoy watching the episodes today.  Even though the show is filled with nostalgia as far as clothing and interior décor, the problems faced by the Partridge Family were primarily the same problems faced by all families with kids and many of the shows have a timeless appeal. I’m not sure that anyone not growing up during that time period realizes the impact of the Partridge Family.  I still have the Partridge Family game, we had trading cards that were collected and the back of the cards put together formed a puzzle.  I had paperback books featuring the Partridge Family and lots of kids had albums, lunch boxes and other collectible memorabilia. Danny is often referred to as a brat, but I like the character of Danny Partridge.  Then again, I liked all the Partridge Family members.

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However, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is the unbelievable guest stars that the show was able to attract.  Of course, Shirley Jones was a well-liked and famous movie star and she had a lot of connections in the industry.  However, the names of the people who appeared on an episode of The Partridge Family during those four short years is incredible. I counted more than 50 looking at various shows over the years.  Let’s look at some of those guest stars.

Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, from the Wizard of Oz both made appearances.  Ray Bolger played Shirley Partridge’s father on several shows. Margaret Hamilton is Rueben’s mother.

Two Dick Van Dyke Show cast members were featured:  Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Sorrel and Ann Morgan Guilbert, Milly Helper. Amsterdam provided Danny with some bad comedy material in the first season. Guilbert is married to Norman Fell in the show and they visit Shirley when their son Keith’s age develops a crush on Shirley which he mistakenly thinks is reciprocated.

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In addition to Ann and Morey, there were a lot of previous sitcom stars on the show.  John Astin from the Addams Family, plays an eccentric millionaire. Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, plays a judge which he also portrayed in the movie, Move Over Darling, starring Doris Day and James Garner. Rosemary DeCamp played Shirley’s mother.  Rosemary had been featured on lots of tv shows.  She was on Love That Bob and was Ann Marie’s mother on That Girl. Arte Johnson from Laugh-In was in two episodes, one as an artist who paints a nude on the family garage when they are out of town.  Harry Morgan, a sitcom veteran, played, a man faking whiplash in the first season and appeared again in 1972 as another character. William Schallert who was Patty Lane’s father on The Patty Duke Show stars as a folk musician whose career has taken a nose dive. Ronne Troup who played Polly on My Three Sons was on the show as the fourth season began as their neighbor complains about their music.

Not only were the past tv stars featured but a lot of up and coming stars showed up. Meredith Baxter gifts a million dollars to the Partridges and they find they don’t enjoy being wealthy. Bert Convy played one of Shirley’s serious boyfriends on three shows. Norman Fell is the father of a young man who gets a crush on Shirley when she goes back to school using her maiden name. He later married Helen and was Stanley Roper on Three’s Company. Pat Harrington Jr. appeared the first season and came back as someone else three years later. While he was in hundreds of tv episodes, he is probably most often recognized as Schneider from One Day at a Time.  The Partridges try to set up Ann Jillian with their delivery boy to build up his confidence.  If she had dated him, she might not have ended up a waitress on It’s a Living. Gordon Jump who was a veteran tv guest star, best known as Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati, was on seven episodes as different characters. Richard Mulligan appeared in one show as Shirley’s boyfriend but also came back for another episode two years later; we know him as Burt on Soap and Dr. Westin on Empty Nest. Annette O’Toole plays Keith’s girlfriend in the second season; later her marriage with Nash doesn’t work out on Nash Bridges. Rob Reiner, who will soon be “Meathead” on All in The Family, appears as Snake, a rough biker with a heart of gold who likes Laurie.  Vic Tayback who we know best as Mel on Alice appeared as three different characters on three different shows, Nancy Walker is the mother of Shirley’s date before she was Rhoda’s mom in later years.

Three of the five Charlie’s Angels showed up on different shows:  Farrah Fawcett was a “pretty girl” the kids hire to try to get Harry Morgan to reveal that his whiplash is not real. Cheryl Ladd is the popular girl Keith wants to take to the dance after promising to take Laurie’s friend. Jaclyn Smith plays the niece of Shirley’s boyfriend.  When he buys her a ring for graduation, the kids assume she is his fiancé and take matters into their own hands.

We had big stars from different genres including Johnny Cash playing himself and introducing the first concert the family is performing in Vegas. Richard Pryor talks the Partridges into playing for his charity event, and Bobby Sherman plays a singer, Bobby Conway. This episode actually turned into a spinoff for a short time.

Many famous or soon-to-be-famous movie stars can be spied on episodes including Jackie Coogan who replaced Ray Bolger as Shirley’s father on two later shows. Jodie Foster and Danny have a love/hate relationship when their parents are dating. Lou Gosset Jr., producing a charity event with Richard Pryor, asks the Partridges to fill in when a group cancels. Mark Hamill is Laurie’s boyfriend before he even knew Princess Leia. Charlotte Rae, a bit out of her typical character, plays a doctor.

I could continue, but every blog has to end sometime. It is amazing how many famous people were willing to appear in a new sitcom not only once but up to seven times as seven different characters. It says a lot about the reputation of the show. Let’s finish up with some fun facts about the show.

  1. Shirley Jones was recruited to be Carol Brady but passed and took The Partridge Family
  2. Partridge had passed away in the first episode, but his first name is never mentioned on the show.
  3. Rueben Kincaid’s middle name is Clarence.
  4. When the Partridges are asked to replace another musical act for a charity event put on by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr., the group that cancelled is the Temptations.
  5. When Laurie gets braces, she can hear radio signals in her mouth, and it interferes with her performing. The music she “hears” in her mouth is The Rolling Stones.