As we are taking a look back at some favorite crime shows, The Rockford Files with its memorable answering machine message opening and fun theme song, is one that definitely is worth exploring. The show was on NBC from 1974-1980.
Jim Rockford (James Garner) is not the average TV detective of the seventies. He does not have an elegant apartment; his clothes come off the rack, not a designer’s showroom; and he doesn’t have a sexy assistant, just his dad, a former truck driver who sometimes helps him out. He lives in a small mobile home in a parking lot; the home also serves as his office.
Creators Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell created the show. Huggins had also been the force behind Maverick which also starred Garner from 1957-1962. Robert Blake was also considered for this role, but Huggins cast him in Baretta, another one of his shows.
Rockford has a gun, but no permit for it. However, he prefers to talk his way out of most situations. He tends to work on cold cases, missing persons, and low-budget insurance scams.
The story was that Rockford was incarcerated in San Quentin for five years for a crime he did not commit. Eventually, he was pardoned, but now he is having a tough time making ends meet. He’s a private eye who charges $200 a day (about $1000 today) but he doesn’t get enough work to do more than pay the rent and incidentals.
His father Joe (Noah Beery Jr.) nags Jim to find a more secure job and to settle down and get married. Jim’s friend Joe Santos (Dennis Becker), a sergeant for the LA Police Department, also helps him out from time to time.
Rounding out the cast were Evelyn “Angel” Martin (Stuart Margolin) who had been Jim’s friend in prison. His con artist schemes cause a lot of headaches for Jim. Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) is Jim’s attorney and sometimes girlfriend. Lt Diehl (Tom Atkins) was on the first half of the show while Lt Doug Chapman (James Luisi) was on the final three seasons. Neither of them like Rockford much.
This show had an impressive list of guest stars, including Lou Gossett Jr., Isaac Hayes, Rita Moreno, Tom Selleck, and Dionne Warwick. Garner’s brother Jack also shows up in quite a few bit parts; you can see him as a policeman and gas station attendant, among other minor roles.
Jim drove a gold Pontiac Firebird. Rockford was known for his “turn-around” to evade police and criminals, a procedure commonly taught to Secret Service agents. As Garner described it in his autobiography, “When you are going straight in reverse about 35 mph, you come off the gas pedal, go hard left, and pull on the emergency brake. That locks the wheels and throws the front end around.” Then you release everything, hit the gas, and off you go in the opposite direction.”
The theme song for the show was written by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. It went through several versions over the years. It hit the Billboard Top Ten in 1975.
When I think of the show, the iconic answering machine introduction is what comes to mind. After two rings, you heard, “This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.” Typically, the message was its own little skit which help us get to know a little bit more about Rockford. The writers had to come up with 122 different messages during the run of the show.
The show was popular with viewers throughout the four seasons. However, after being #12 in its first year, it fell to #58 by season five. In 1979, Garner was advised by his doctors to take some time off because he was suffering some knee and back problems, as well as dealing with an ulcer. Until then, he had performed many of his own stunts on the show. When the physical pain did not get dramatically better, Garner decided not to continue with the show, and the network canceled the program midseason.
It was also popular with critics. James Garner was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979; he won in 1977. The show was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series from 1978-1980; the show won in 1978. There were an additional nine nominations with Margolin winning two and Rita Moreno winning two.
If you were a fan of the show, you will know a few of these fun facts about Rockford. One of his favorite foods was tacos, and he ate a lot of them on the show. When he needs an alias, he typically was Jim Taggert. Rockford’s full name is James Scott Rockford; the star of the show’s name is James Scott Garner. Rockford was a Korean vet, and one of his military friends was played by the great Hector Elizondo. He cares for a stray cat who lives near his home. And, last but not least, a running gag of the show is that even though Rockford’s job involves crucial details, he can never remember license plate numbers.
This show holds up well today. The show is on DVD and can be found on several cable channels. Check it out, even if you just want some inspiration for creative voice mails.
This month we are taking a look back at some of the game shows on television in the fifties and sixties. If you grew up in that era you will definitely remember The Dating Game. Airing in December of 1965, it was created by Chuck Barris who would create many game shows and might be known best for The Gong Show.
The original host was Jim Lange. The show was revived several times, a trend we continue to see with Match Game and the 100,000 Pyramid among other shows that have appeared in different decades. The original series was on the air until 1973. Jim Lange continued to host for the syndicated version in 1973 which only lasted a year and again in 1978 without the participation of Barris. Johnny Jacobs was the announcer with Lange. In 1986 the show was rebooted with Elaine Joyce as host, followed by Jeff MacGregor for 1987 and 1988. The show popped up again in 1996 with Brad Sherwood hosting, again followed by Chuck Woolery for two years.
The Newlywed Game, which we’ll discuss next week, was often packaged with The Dating Game for an hour of programming beginning in 1966.
If you are not familiar with the show, three bachelors would sit on stools behind a wall and a bachelorette on the other side asked the three men questions. Every once in a while, things would reverse with the man asking questions to three women. She referred to them as Bachelor No. 1, 2, and 3. At the end of the question-and-answer period, the bachelorette would choose one of the three and the pair would go on a date with the show paying the expenses. The dates began as expensive dinners, but when the show went to primetime in 1966 exotic locations like Paris or Hawaii were the destinations, and the couples were chaperoned.
That chaperone would have been very important in the case of Rodney Alcala, one of the bachelors chosen for a date in 1978. Jim Lange introduced him as a successful photographer. At that time, there was no technology available to conduct background checks which would have already flagged him as potentially dangerous. Cheryl Bradshaw, the bachelorette, found him creepy and refused to go on the date. It was later learned that by the time he made his appearance on the show, he had killed at least two women in California and two in New York. After the episode aired, he continued his serial killing career and killed between 8-120 women in a nine-year time span. He was on death row at San Quentin Prison and is currently serving his time at the Corcoran State Prison with his execution postponed due to a moratorium on the death penalty in the state.
Bradshaw was not the only contestant who refused to go on the date. Many contestants chose to skip that once they met in person.
Barris had a problem with the show in that so many of the responses were not appropriate to put on the air. Often, they were crude or had sexual connotations. Finally, he came up with a creative solution. He hired an actor to dress like an enforcement official. He appeared in the dressing room before the bachelors were sent to the set. He told them any profanity or sexual references would be a violation of the FCC policy which was a federal offense, and it could lead to jail time. This was not true, but the bachelors did not know that, and Barris said the threat took care of his problem.
While I do remember seeing Mel Harris as a contestant on Pyramid reruns, and I’m sure that happens sometimes on game shows, this show really hit the jackpot with contestants who later became celebrities including Yvonne Craig, Farrah Fawcett, Leif Garrett, Phil Hartman, Don Johnson, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Lee Majors, Burt Reynolds, Michael Richards, John Ritter, Tom Selleck, Suzanne Somers, and Lindsay Wagner.
The set screamed 1960s with colorful daisy-like shapes on the wall designed by Art Director George Smith. The flowers were vivid sixties colors. The show ended with the winning contestants and Lange blowing kisses to the audience.
The music was also easily identifiable with the show. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass songs were used in the three different parts of the show. “Spanish Flea” before introducing the bachelor, “Whipped Cream” when introducing the bachelorette, and “Lollipops and Roses” when the couple first meets.
The show was a hit from the beginning. Airing during the day in 1965, in 1966 it switched to primetime.
If watching the show was not enough excitement, you could play at home. Hasbro released three different games based on the show. In 1968, an album was recorded called The Dating Game Party Pak. Jim Lange narrated the album and packaged with it were invitations, name tags, and scorecards.
As for “happy ever afters,” I could only find two mentions of potential marriage from the show, and I could not verify either one of them. Barris said the network told him he needed to have at least one couple end up together; one couple discussed marriage and the network was involved with it but they called it off right beforehand; the other was a reporter who Barris knew would not give the show favorable publicity, so he apparently had three call girls as contestants and asked the reporter to be on the show. The reporter and one of the prostitutes went on their date, hit it off, and apparently, married. Happy ever after? Who knows?
Like Laugh In, this was a show that could only have come out of the late sixties and early seventies. While I do remember watching the show often, I think it was probably because my parents were watching it. I’ll take Jeopardy, Concentration, or Sale of the Century any day.
For the month of June, we are celebrating some of our favorite fathers. One of my favorite dads was Carl Betz in his role as Dr. Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show.
Betz was born in Mary of 1921 in Pittsburgh, PA. He came from an upper middle-class family, and his father was a laboratory chemist.
in school, Betz started a rep theater company with several friends. They
performed plays in his grandmother’s basement.
During WWII, he served in the army. He was deployed to Italy and North Africa and left the military as a technical sergeant with the Corps of Engineers.
When he returned to the States, he enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh, majoring in drama. While going to school at Carnegie, he played football and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl against Texas Christian University.
His first job after graduation was a radio announcer. He moved to New York and worked as a doorman at Radio City Music Hall while auditioning for Broadway productions. He received his first part in “The Long Watch” in 1952. He then toured in “The Voice of the Turtle” with Veronica Lake.
his work as a young adult, he said, “Those were good times for the beginning
actor. There were so many summer stock companies. We worked for room and board
and the princely sum of $45 a week. By
eliminating haircuts, we managed to keep ourselves in shaving cream, clean
shirts, and beer.”
Twentieth Century Fox offered him a contract, and he received a number of supporting roles in films. In 1953, he made an incredible six movies.
In 1952 he
married Lois Harmon. They had one son and divorced in 1961.
His first job on television was a soap opera, Love of Life. Throughout the fifties and sixties, he performed in a variety of plays, including “The Seven-Year Itch” and “The Zoo Story.”
In the mid-1950s, he began appearing on television shows, and shows up in reruns on Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Mike Hammer.
In 1958, Carl was offered the role of Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show, and he was with the show until it ended in 1965. The heart-warming show centered around Donna and Alex Stone, a pediatrician, and their two children, Jeff (Pete Petersen) and Mary (Shelly Fabares). Betz continued his stage career in his off time with the show.
Both Carl and Donna were protective of their television children. In an interview in 2011 when Petersen was 66, he discussed his second set of parents. “They made a commitment to Shelley and me as surrogate parents to be on our side and be with us for the long haul. They kept that commitment up to their deaths.”
As Alex, Betz was the voice of reason. When anyone got too worried, he gave advice and put things in perspective. He had a fun side to him and could always see the humor in situations. He was a caring doctor and had fun in life, realizing death and illness were always lurking around the corner. He often made fun of Donna and the kids but in a loving way, not cruel. His comments typically illustrated that things were not as dower as they appeared. But when there was an emergency or a serious situation, he was calm and collected and took charge.
Carl continued to take roles during breaks in taping for The Donna Reed Show. In 1964, Betz received amazing reviews for his performance as the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in “The Night of the Iguana.”
During his time on the show, he ironically married Gloria Stone, and they would remain married until his death in 1978.
In 1967, he starred in Judd for the Defense where he played an attorney. Clifton Judd, a lawyer based in Texas, would travel across the country to defend a client. Many cases involved labor unions, draft evasions, civil rights, and murder. The series featured a number of guest stars, including Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Norman Fell, Beverly Garland, Ron Howard, Ted Knight, Cloris Leachman, Ruta Lee, Gavin MacLeod, Vera Miles, Tom Selleck, and Dennis Weaver. The critics gave the show great reviews, but the ratings were always a struggle. In 1969, ABC cancelled the series and that same year, Betz won the Emmy for Outstanding Performer by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series.
Once the series was cancelled, Betz continued in plays and also picked up several television appearances on a variety of shows, such as Love American Style, Medical Center, McCloud, The Mod Squad, Ironside, The FBI, Mission Impossible, BarnabyJones, and Quincy ME. Since he handled comedy so well on The Donna Reed Show, I was surprised to learn that most of his career was spent on drama or crime shows.
In 1977, Betz was diagnosed with lung cancer. He kept the illness a secret until November when he was hospitalized. He died in January of 1978, 56 years young. Ironically, thinking about celebrating fathers, my dad also died at age 56.
From all accounts, Carl Betz wanted to be an actor from a very young age. Fortunately, he was able to spend most of his life in the entertainment business. Unfortunately, his life ended much too early, and his career was cut short. Any time someone can spend their life pursuing their passion, it’s a life well spent. Happy Father’s Day to one of our favorite dads.
For some reason, the group including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr. have been referred to the Rat Pack since the 1960s. The original rat pack was coined by Lauren Bacall about a group who gathered at her home whom she referred to as a pack of rats. The group we know as the Rat Pack preferred to call themselves the Clan or the Summit. Whatever they chose to call themselves, they had a hip, cool aura.
When one of the members of the group was scheduled to perform at Las Vegas, another one or two of the Clan would often show up as well. Because concert goers knew this, their shows tended to sell out. The Sands marquee promoted the possibility during one of Dean Martin’s shows when they put up “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY.”
I thought it would be fun to look at
the Rat Pack on television and see how much influence this group had. Let’s
start with Old Blue Eyes.
his film career in the 1940s. In 1953 he had one of his most famous roles in From Here to Eternity. I was surprised
to learn that he began appearing on television in the mid-1950s as well. He
showed up in The Colgate Comedy Hour
in 1954, The Producer’s Showcase in
1955, and The Thin Man in 1958.
In the 1970s
we find Frank showing up on Laugh-In
for several appearances.
He also sang
a few lullabies on Make Room for
Granddaddy, Danny Thomas’ revival of his hit show Make Room for Daddy from the 1950s. I was amazed at the talent of
actors who guest starred on the reboot considering the short time it was on the
air, but that is a topic for a future blog. On this episode, he bumps into
Danny. His wife Kathy is not happy Danny is bringing home a guest for dinner on
“hamburger night” but then she learns it’s Frank. He sings “All the Way” and
“Baa Baa Black Sheep” for Danny’s grandson, Michael.
Jumping ahead a decade, we find Frank’s last two television roles, one as himself and one as a New York cop.
Frank had met
Tom Selleck in Hawaii on one of his trips. In 1987 Frank appeared as Michael
Doheny, a retired police sergeant on Selleck’s show, Magnum PI. Frank and his entourage traveled to Hawaii (although he
worked for scale) and took over a floor at The Colony Surf in Diamond Head. In
this episode he returns to help find the men who kidnapped his granddaughter.
There were plans for Sinatra to return in season eight as well but Selleck cut
back on the number of episodes he was filming, and the show was never written.
In 1989 Sinatra showed up on Who’s the Boss as himself. Angela is invited to an exclusive party, but she gets waylaid by a work issue. Mona and Tony decide to take the tickets, but they can’t get in when they get there and then Angela shows up, which results in all three of them being thrown out of the gala. As Frank is showing up to sing, Tony gets to meet him and tell him he is his idol.
Not surprisingly Dean’s first appearance on television was on Make Room for Daddy in 1958. He portrayed himself. Danny calls on Dean to help him out with his daughter Terry who has been not very nice to a boy at school who likes her. Danny learns she is ignoring the boy because she has a crush on Dean. The plan works, and she and Donald get together.
During the same year, Dean shows up on The Phil Silvers Show. Bilko (Silvers) is sent to Yucca Flats to work on a nuclear test program. Ritzik is amazed by one of the scientist’s machines. They skip the base and head for Las Vegas, so Rupert can demonstrate his gambling skills. Dean Martin is an unnamed gambler they run into.
In 1964 Martin got on the western bandwagon, appearing in Rawhide. Martin is stalking Hispanic cattlemen. His wife wants him to drop the assignment and retire to her family’s plantation with her, but he refuses, and she seeks help from Gil Favor, the boss of a never-ending cattle drive.
We see Martin
pop up on a Bob Hope special in 1968 and a Red Skelton show in 1970.
In 1978 Martin made an appearance on a show that surprised me: Charlie’s Angels. Martin plays the owner of the Tropicana Casino who hires the Angels to investigate several suspicious deaths that he thinks are part of a plot to make him think he’s going crazy. This was a two-part season opener and instead of singing, Martin got to display his magic skills. Naturally, he becomes romantically involved with one of the Angels, Sabrina played by Kate Jackson.
Dean’s last appearance was in the show Vega$
in 1979 as himself.
Bishop’s first role was not much of a stretch. He played a
comedian on RichardDiamond in 1959. Bishop’s plays Joey
Kirk and hires Diamond to determine who is following him and why, leading to a complicated
He appeared in the DuPont
Show of the Month in 1960 and The
Dick Powell Theater in 1963.
Like most of the Rat Pack, Bishop made an appearance on Make Room for Daddy in 1961. As Joey
Mason, he helps out Danny. Danny has flown from the east coast to the west
coast and took two sleeping pills. However, there are four conventions in town
and his assistant forgot to make him a reservation.
In 1965 he is Fred Jackson on an episode of Valentine’s Day starring Tony Franciosa
and Jack Soo about a young eligible bachelor who lives with his valet, a
poker-playing con artist who saved his life while they were in the Army.
From 1961-1965, Joey stars in The Joey Bishop Show as Joey Barnes. Barnes is the host of a talk show. He has to deal with his personal and professional life as a celebrity. A lot of guest stars show up playing themselves as guests on his show or friends of his. The show produced 125 episodes. I have recently been watching it on Antenna TV where it now is shown every morning.
In 1967, Joey had a cameo on Get Smart. Max and 99 are sent on an assignment to rescue Don
Carlos, the dictator of San Saludos. A general has imprisoned him and wants to
marry his daughter. Max and 99 try to disguise themselves as flamenco dancers.
When they are also thrown in jail, a guard, played by Bishop, attempts to bribe
the firing squad.
In the 1970s we find Joey on Chico and the Man in 1976. He plays an inept burglar and when Ed
doesn’t press charges, every lowlife crook appears at the business.
In 1981 Bishop appears as Dr. Burton on Trapper John MD.
In 1985 Bishop again takes on the role of a comedian on Hardcastle and McCormick. That same year he also played another comedian on Murder She Wrote.
shows were very popular in the early days of television. Lawford appeared in
quite a few of these shows from 1953-1965.
In 1954 he took on the role of Bill Hastings on Dear Phoebe. The show was on the air for two years, resulting in 32 episodes. Hastings works for a daily newspaper in a large city. He becomes the author of a lonely hearts column and advises his readers as “Phoebe” while trying to deal with his own issues in his personal life.
From 1957-1959, he was Nick Charles on the television version of The Thin Man. The show was very popular with 723 episodes filmed. Similar to the films, Nick marries Nora and lives in a luxurious Park Avenue apartment in New York. He was previously a private detective and many of his underworld friends get him involved in mysteries he has to solve.
appeared as himself on an episode of Jack Benny’s show in 1961.
He also played himself on The Patty Duke Show in 1965. Patty is selected to find a star to perform at the high school prom. Sammy Davis Jr. also guest stars on the episode.
Sammy and Peter enjoyed working together because they guest starred on an
episode of The Wild Wild West in 1966.
Lawford is a wealthy ranch owner and Davis is a hired hand Jeremiah.
While Bishop showed up on Get Smart, Lawford chose the more realistic I Spy in 1967.
Sinatra, he also appeared on Laugh-In
but must have enjoyed it more because he was on ten different episodes.
the 1970s, Lawford shows up on a variety of television show genres. He would be
on the western The Virginian in 1971,
Born Free about Elsa the lion in
1974, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, the bizarre comedy High Cliffe Manor, the crime drama Hawaii Five-0, the dramady Supertrain, and The Jeffersons.
In addition, he was featured on Bewitched in 1972. Lawford played Harrison Woolcott, a client of Darrin and Larry’s. Sam’s cousin Serena decides she wants to date him and try the mortal life for a while.
He made several appearances during seasons four and five of The Doris Day Show. As Dr. Peter Lawrence, he begins a romance with Doris in 1972-1973.
Sammy probably appeared in the most television shows. Like
Peter, he began in drama shows and guest starred in several episodes of General Electric Theater.
He then appeared in The
Lawman in 1961, Frontier Circus,Cain’s Hundred, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman,
and Hennessey in 1962.
In 1963 he was on Ben
Like the other Rat Pack actors, he was on Make Room for Daddy in 1963 and the
revival Make Room for Granddaddy in
As mentioned before, he guest starred in The Patty Duke Show in 1965 and The Wild Wild West in 1966, both with
In 1967, he showed up on I Dream of Jeannie as himself. Tony tries to get Sammy Davis Jr to sing for General Peterson’s party. When he is already booked, Jeannie tries to help by duplicating himself, so he can be in two places at one time.
Davis also took a role in The Beverly Hillbillies in 1969.
The same year he took on his first of three roles on Mod Squad. His first role was a black priest who becomes the target of a bad guy after the church suspends him. The hood is afraid he will reveal his confession now that he no longer is part of the church. The next episode he appeared on was in the role of Billy Lee Watson, a recovered drug addict. He runs a half-say house and is accused of rape of a man’s daughter who he has been trying to help. Her father accused Billy of the rape and after investigating, it turned out Billy was her actual father. The last episode of Mod Squad he appeared on in 1970 had Davis portraying Willie Rush and actor and friend of Linc’s. He says someone is trying to kill him.
The 1970s continued to be a productive time for Davis on television. He would go on to appear in The Name of the Game in 1970, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in 1972, nine episodes of Laugh-In, and like his friend Dean Martin, an episode of Charlie’s Angels in 1977. He plays himself on Charlie’s Angels. When he hosts a charity event that includes a celebrity look alike contest, an attempt is made to kidnap him. The Angels take on the job of his bodyguards and Bosley becomes his chauffeur.
The 1980s were also busy times for him. He appeared as
himself on several Norman Lear shows including Archie Bunker’s Place and The
Jeffersons. He also could be seen on Fantasy
Island, Pryor’s Place, Gimme a Break, The Cosby Show and Hunter
in the 1980s.
One thing that surprised me was his roles on One Life to Live and General Hospital. I have seen a few stars like Carol Burnett who chose to appear on a soap opera. Davis had a recurring role on General Hospital; he didn’t seem to me to be the type of actor who would be interested in a soap opera, but he did receive an Emmy nomination for his role on General Hospital. Sammy was also nominated for an Emmy for his work on The Cosby Show.
While Joey Bishop hosted some of the Emmy Award shows, I
did not find any nominations for the other members of the Rat Pack.
Overall, I was surprised how extensive the television careers were for the Summit members. I think of them more in their performing or movie careers and did not expect them to see that they guest starred in so many shows and starred in some of their own television series. Check out some of these shows or make a batch of popcorn and watch the ensemble in the original Ocean’s Eleven.