Joe and Valerie: A Symptom of that Weird ‘70s Ailment, Night Fever

Continuing our series about “Valerie,” today we look at a slice of American life from the 1970s. It’s hard to emphasize how much the movie Saturday Night Fever changed American culture. In the movie, a high school graduate played by John Travolta, escapes his hard life by dancing at the local disco. The hippie culture of the late 1960s and early ‘70s was shoved aside by the bold and brash disco era. It was hard to go anywhere without the background soundtrack of the movie being heard. Extravagant clothing and three-piece suits were back in style, along with platform shoes and blingy jewelry.

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Saturday Night Fever, the movie that started it all

A year after the movie debuted, a new show called Joe and Valerie appeared in April of 1978. Joe (Paul Regina) works at his father’s plumbing store. He meets Valerie (Char Fontane) at the disco and they get romantically involved. However, Joe’s roommates, Paulie (David Elliott), a hearse driver, and Frankie (Bill Beyers/Lloyd Alan), a spa worker and chauvinist, have their opinions on the romance as does Valerie’s divorced mother Stella (Arlene Golonka). Rounding out the cast were Robert Costanzo as Joe’s father Vincent and Rita/Thelma (Donna Ponterotto), Valerie’s best friend.

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The series was produced by Bob Hope’s production company, Hope Enterprises, and his daughter Linda served as executive producer. Bill Persky, who had been one of the forces behind That Girl, directed the first episode.

The writers for the show included Howard Albrecht, Hal Dresner, Bernie Kahn, and Sol Weinstein. Kahn and Dresner also served as producer for an episode each. Art direction was credited to Bruce Ryan and shop coordinator to Edwin McCormick.

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The chic couple: Makes a person wonder doesn’t it

The series was divided into two parts; in 1978 the episodes show Joe and Valerie meeting, falling in love and planning their future. Jumping to January 1979, the episodes center around the couple beginning their married life. Four half-hour episodes aired in April and May of 1978. Four half-hour episodes were set to air in January, but only three did; the final episode never was played on the air.

Episode 1, “The Meeting” aired April 24, 1978. Joe and Valerie meet at the disco and fall in love when Joe bets his roommates that he can take Valerie away from her dancing partner.

Episode 2, “The Perfect Night” aired May 1, 1978. Valerie arranges dates for Frank and Paulie. She sets up Frank with her best friend Thelma and the date is a disaster. The woman she set Paulie up with ended up getting married the night before, so Valerie is frantically looking for a substitute. Albrecht and Weinstein were credited as writers.

Episode 3, “Valerie’s Wild Oat” aired May 3, 1978. Joe and Valerie’s romance hits a potential roadblock when Valerie finds out that her new boss at the store is her ex-boyfriend Ernie (Marcus Smythe).

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The Village People, a big part in the disco fad

Episode 4, “The Commitment” aired May 10, 1978. When Valerie’s mother is unexpectedly called away for the weekend, Joe and Valerie face the prospect of spending their first night together. Joe loves Valerie too much to stay but worries how his roommates will react if he doesn’t.

Episode 5, “The Engagement” aired January 5, 1979. Joe and Valerie break the news to their parents that they are going to live together and looking for a place to live through a rental service which adds to the confusion.

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Disco fashion

Episode 6, “The Wedding Guest” aired January 12, 1979. Joe and Valerie learn that  a gangster’s funeral has been scheduled at the same time as their wedding at the church.

Episode 7, “The Wedding” aired January 19, 1979. The newly married couple look back at the events that occurred around their wedding. Some of the problems included Vince wanting Valerie to wear his wife’s old-fashioned wedding dress, Frank and Paulie fighting over who is best man, and Valerie’s mother threatening to stay away from the wedding if her ex-husband comes.

The final episode, “Paulie’s First Love,” was never aired.

This was a bad year for series’ debuts. A number of shows flopped during this year including Hizzoner, Sweepstakes, and Supertrain, none of them making it to more than nine episodes.

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Char Fontane

Char Fontane (also listed as Fontaine occasionally) was born in California in 1952. She passed away from breast cancer in 2007. Before being cast in Joe and Valerie, she appeared on a variety of tv series in the 1970s and a couple after: Love American Style (1972), The FBI (1973), Barnaby Jones (1979), Supertrain (1979), Sweepstakes (1979), The Love Boat (1979), and Nero Wolfe (1981). In the mid-1980s she took a role in a made-for-tv movie, The Night the Bridge Fell Down and two movie roles: Too Much (1987) and The Punisher (1989). She was not credited with any roles after the 1989 movie.

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Char Fontane in The Night the Bridge Fell Down

Paul Regina was born in Brooklyn in 1956 and passed away from liver cancer in 2006.

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Before his role on Joe and Valerie, he had parts in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Hour and Police Woman both in 1978. After the show ended, his career stayed fairly busy. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he could be seen on many popular television shows including Benson, Gimme a Break, TJ Hooker, Hunter, and Empty Nest. He would be cast in three series: Zorro and Son in 1983, Brothers from 1984-89, and The Untouchables in 1993-94. He also had a recurring role as a lawyer on LA Law between 1988-1992.

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Post 2000 before his death he was in Law and Order several times as well as two movies, The Blue Lizard and Eddie Monroe.

David Elliott had a successful career going when he received the role of Paulie. He began with several roles on tv including a mini-series, Pearl, that Char Fontane was also in. From 1972-1977, he had a role in The Doctors in 272 episodes. Before beginning Joe and Valerie, he had a role on Angie in 1979.

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After the show ended, he continued showing up in television series including TJ Hooker, St. Elsewhere, Simon and Simon, and Murder She Wrote. He ended his credited acting career with seven movies in the 1990s.

He is an interesting guy. After dropping out of high school, he drove a cab in New York. He was a professional boxer, ran a PI business in Hollywood, received his pilot’s license, sat on the board of a major labor union, and traveled extensively through every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Recently he earned a certificate in both long and short fiction from the UCLA Writer’s program and has written a novel, The Star Shield, about a body guard trying to rescue a kidnapped movie star. Currently he is working on a collection of short stories.

The role of Frankie was played by two different actors, Bill Beyers in 1978 and Lloyd Alan in 1979.

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Bill Beyers

Bill Beyers was born in New York in 1955 and died in 1992 in Los Angeles. His first role was that of Frankie on Joe and Valerie. Following the end of that show he was cast in several series including Barnaby Jones, Quincy ME, The Incredible Hulk, CHiPs, Too Close for Comfort, and Murder She Wrote. He had a recurring role on Capitol, appearing in 24 episodes from 1982-1987.

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Lloyd Alan was in 1952. He might have had the shortest career of the cast. Before being cast in Joe and Valerie, he was in an episode of Eight is Enough. After he appeared in The Love Boat, Knight Rider, and Baywatch. His last credited acting job was 1998. I was unable to locate a photo of Lloyd Alan.

The actors with the longest careers were Robert Costanzo who played Joe’s father Vince; Arlene Golonka who was Stella, Valerie’s mother; and Donna Ponterotto who played Rita/Thelma, Valerie’s best friend.

Donna Ponterotto had a successful career following the cancellation of Joe and Valerie. She came to the show having appeared on The Police Story, Happy Days, and Rhoda.

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Following the show, she appeared on Trapper John MD, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Who’s the Boss, Murder She Wrote, Night Court, Murphy Brown, ER, Mad About You, Third Rock from the Sun, and NYPD Blue among others. Her last film was Sharkskin in 2015.

Arlene Golonka grew up in Chicago where she was born in 1936. She began taking acting classes when she was quite young. At age 19, she headed for New York and began a career on Broadway. In the 1960s she relocated to Los Angeles. She continued to appear in movies and appeared in dozens of television programs during the next three decades. While she is probably best known as Millie on Mayberry R.F.D., she has appeared in many respected series.

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Golonka came into Joe and Valerie with a strong resume. She had made appearances in shows such as The Naked City, Car 54 Where Are You, The Flying Nun, Big Valley, Get Smart, I Spy, That Girl, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Barnaby Jones, Alice, The Rockford Files, and Love American Style. She made five appearances on The Doctors with David Elliott.

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After Joe and Valerie, she continued to receive many roles including on Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Simon and Simon, Benson, and Murder She Wrote. Her last appearance was on The King of Queens in 2005, and she is now retired.

Robert Costanzo was born in New York in 1942. He also came into the show with a very strong string of shows, having been in Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show, and Lou Grant. He also was in several profitable movies including Dog Day Afternoon, The Goodbye Girl, and Saturday Night Fever.

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Following the end of Joe and Valerie, he would continue his successful career. Costanzo has been cast in recurring roles in ten shows: Last Resort, Checking In, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, LA Law, 1st Ten, Glory Days, NYPD Blue, Charlie and Grace, and Champions. He has continued to take roles on other series including Barney Miller, Alice, Who’s the Boss, Family Ties, St. Elsewhere, The Golden Girls, Friends, and Murder She Wrote.

His movie career has also been very successful, and he is remembered for his roles in Used Cars, Total Recall, Die Hard 2, and Air Bud.

Currently Costanzo is still acting and has several movies debuting in the next couple of years.

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I have to admit I do not remember Joe and Valerie, and obviously I did not watch it, but I don’t think I missed much. It’s fun to learn about some of the more obscure shows that had a brief flicker in television history. There are many more shows that lasted for less than 20 episodes than there are the classics we remember today. If nothing else, the show captures a unique time in American history.

The Friendship and Careers of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis

Fred Gwynne was born in New York in July of 1926 and died in Maryland in 1993.  Al Lewis was born in New York in April of 1923 and passed away in New York in February of 2006. At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common, but a closer look reveals why they enjoyed a long friendship.

Fred Gwynne

Fred Gwynne grew up in New York and had a very wealthy and advantaged upbringing.  He was a radioman in the Navy during World War II.  When the war was over, Gwynne entered Harvard, studying drawing and dramatics. He became a member of their Hasty Pudding Club, being involved with many theatrical productions. Gwynne graduated in 1951 and went on to work for a Shakespeare repertory company. He was a talented man with a variety of interests and earned his living from several careers.  He was a copywriter, a musician, a book illustrator, and a commercial artist.

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In 1952, he made his Broadway debut, acting with Helen Hayes in “Mrs. McThing.” The play ran for 320 performances.  In 1953, he performed in his second Broadway play, “The Frogs of Spring” which had a much shorter run.  In 1954, he had a small role in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.

He also began appearing on television in the 1950s, and most of his roles were on dramas such as Kraft Theater or DuPont Show of the Week.

The one exception was The Phil Silvers Show where he appeared in 1955 and 1956. The producer of this show, Nat Hiken, went on to create a similar show called Car 54 Where Are You? about New York policemen.  He cast Gwynne as one of the leads, Francis Muldoon. The show ran for two seasons and when it was cancelled, Gwynne went back to his theatrical dramas.

In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver, decided on a different concept for a show called The Munsters.  Fred was cast as the lead role.  While this show also ran two years, the part of Herman Munster was much harder to overcome than Francis Muldoon had been.  Gwynne struggled to find new roles, and when he was unsuccessful, he went back to Broadway.  He did make one pilot during these years for a show called Guess What I Did Today, but no network picked it up. His favorite Broadway performance was Big Daddy in 1974 when he starred in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.”

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During the 1980s, his cinema career picked up and he ended up with 15 movies to his credit from 1979-1992. Included in this list are The Cotton Club, The Secret of My Success, Fatal Attraction, Ironweed, Pet Sematary, and My Cousin Vinny.

His book writing and illustrating also continued.  His first book, The Best in Show, was published in 1958.  The King Who Rained came out in 1970, and Simon and Schuster published A Chocolate Moose for Dinner in 1976 and A Little Pigeon Toad in 1988.

Throughout most of his career, Gwynne lived a quiet life far from Hollywood. He was married to his first wife Roxy from 1952-1980 and his second wife from 1981 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1993.

Al Lewis

Al Lewis claimed he was born in 1910 and was a circus performer in the 1920s.  He also said he went to Columbia and graduated with a PhD in child psychology.  After he passed away, his son confirmed that he was born in 1923, and Columbia had no record of him attending school with his given name or his stage name.  His son thought he made himself older to get the role of Grandpa in The Munsters because in real life Yvonne DeCarlo was a year older than he was.

Some of his other jobs included a salesman,  hot dog vendor for the Brooklyn Dodgers, waiter, pool room owner, and store detective.  He was a good basketball player in high school and apparently worked as a basketball scout at some time in his early life. A friend convinced him to join an actor’s workshop in 1949 and that led to a career in vaudeville. In the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a variety of TV shows including US Steel Hour, Route 66, Lost in Space, and Gomer Pyle.  He too was cast in the Phil Silvers Show which later resulted in his role of Patrolman Leo Schnauzer in Car 54 Where Are You?

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In 1964, he too was offered a role in The Munsters. In 1966 when the show went off the air, he continued making television appearances and starred in cinema movies.  During the 1970s and 1980s, he appeared on Night Gallery, Green Acres, Love American Style, Here’s Lucy, Taxi, and Best of the West.  His career featured 22 films including They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Boatniks, Used Cars, Married to the Mob, and a remake of Car 54 Where Are You?

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Like Gwynne, he was married twice:  to Marge from 1956-1977 and to Karen from 1984 until his death from heart complications in 2006. Lewis also published several children’s books during his acting career.

Midway through his career he opened an Italian restaurant, Grandpa’s Bella Gente, which Gwynne designed the logo for. He also got into radio and was featured on Howard Stern’s Show often.

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It is surprising that both of these stars were in two sitcoms which both lasted only two years. Let’s take a look at the shows that made them household names.

Car 54 Where Are You?

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This sitcom, set in the 53rd precinct in Brooklyn was an early Barney Miller. Gwynne played Francis Muldoon.  His partner, Gunther Toody, was his exact opposite.  While Muldoon was a bachelor, an intellectual, calm and quiet, Toody was married, naïve, excitable, and talkative. In one show, when the precinct is debating splitting up the two men, Muldoon says “I guess most of the men are smarter than Gunther and less trouble than Gunther, but  . . . well, I’m so used to Gunther.  When he chatters away, the days just fly by.  I’d just be lost without Gunther.” Gunther concurs, “You mean ride around with someone next to me that’s not Muldoon? Francis is a quiet man. He doesn’t say a word. He just sits there all day thinking. It’s very comforting for a man like me to know there’s someone next to him doing the thinking for both of us.” Of course, they split them up only to partner them up again because no one else could take the silence or constant chatter.

Al Lewis played Officer Leo Schnauzer, appearing in every episode.

Policemen were split on their view of the show.  Some took offense and felt they were portrayed in a negative light, while others enjoyed it and identified with some of the comedic elements. It was filmed in The Bronx at Biograph Studio.  There was a large sign out front identifying it as the 53rd precinct till a woman came in pleading to save her from her abusive husband and the sign was quickly taken down.

Originally titled Snow Whites, the show aired at 8:30 eastern time Sunday nights between The Wide World of Disney and Bonanza.  The only clue I could find for the original name was that the show was sponsored by Proctor and Gamble who made several detergents for clothing. It was filmed in black and white, but the police cars were red and white so they would show up better on black and white film. The show also starred Beatrice Pons, Charlotte Rae, Nipsey Russell, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch.

Perhaps what the show is best remembered for was its catchy theme song.  Anyone who viewed an episode or two can probably remember the fun lyrics:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights.

There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child; Kruschev’s due at Idlewild . . .

Car 54, where are you?

 

The Munsters

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In 1964, the creators of Leave It to Beaver decided to feature another “wholesome” family who just happens to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights. The family consists of Grandpa who is always experimenting in his lab; Herman who is the funeral director at Gateman, Goodbury, and Graves; his wife Lilly, a vampire; their son Eddie who is a werewolf; and their beautiful black-sheep Marilyn.  Marilyn was beautiful but they viewed her as odd looking and she seemed to get a lot of dates but when she brings them home, they never ask her out again. The family also owns two pets – Spot, a prehistoric animal Grandpa rescued and Igor, a bat.  They lived a somewhat normal life but drank bat milk and cooked in a cauldron. On the hour, a cuckoo clock chimed and a raven, voiced by Mel Blanc, appeared and said “Nevermore.”

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All the actors had to endure a two-hour make-up session, but Gwynne had the worst time because he had to wear 40-50 pounds of padding.  One day he lost 10 pounds filming under the lights.  They gave him gallons of lemonade between takes and later rigged a way to blow cool air on him underneath the material.

The entire family could have been played by different actors.  John Carradine was offered the role of Herman. The pilot featured Joan Marshall as the wife and instead of Lilly, her name was Phoebe. Marilyn was played by Beverly Owens for 13 episodes and then Pat Priest took over for the rest of the show’s run. Eddie was first offered to Bill Mumy, Will Robinson from Lost in Space, and Grandpa to Bert Lahr from The Wizard of Oz.

After the show was cancelled, the Munster mobile often traveled to memorabilia shows.  There was also a Dragula built with purple silk upholstery and chrome pipes for the exhaust. Although the show was only on the air for two years, there were a lot of collectibles such as board games, lunch boxes, paper dolls, and coloring books.

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In 2001, the McKee family of Waxahachie, Texas was such a huge fan of the show that the family built their 5000+ square foot house to exactly resemble the Munsters’ home including the crooked weather vane and grand staircase that lifted up to feed Spot.

Both Gwynne and Lewis were born in New York.  They both appeared on the show Brenner early in their careers. Both were tapped from their roles in The Phil Silvers Show to play roles on Car 54 Where Are You? They both went on to star in The Munsters.  Neither of them ever had another series.  They both chose to live on the east coast. They both wrote children’s books.  They were each married twice and married to their second spouse for the rest of their lives. They both had a lot of success in the movies as well as television. They were both men with fascinating careers before they ever entered acting.  I learned a lot about these interesting friends.  Happy Birthday to Fred Gwynne would have been 91.