While John Forsythe Chose “To Rome with Love,” The Network Let the Show Roam Without Much Love

We continue our series with a salute to fathers looking at one of my favorite actors, John Forsythe in a little-remembered show, To Rome with Love.

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The show debuted on CBS in September of 1969 and aired until spring of 1971. In 1967 Forsythe had starred in The John Forsythe Show and in the successful sitcom, Bachelor Father, seven years before that.

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The John Forsythe Show

After the acclaim of Bachelor Father, The John Forsythe Show was a big disappointment. The premise of the show was that Forsythe as retired US Air Force Major John Foster inherits a private girls’ school in San Francisco. A buddy of his and former sergeant helps him run the school and they have conflicts with the principal Miss Culver. Forsythe once commented on it, saying “I choose to froget about that one. It was a disaster from the start. I hope the world forgets it too, especially the name.”

To Rome with Love also had a school setting. Forsythe played Michael Endicott, a widow with three daughters. He accepts a teaching position at an American school in Rome and relocates his family there from Iowa. His sister Harriet (Kay Medford) comes with the family for season one to help out. Endicott’s father-in-law, Andy Pruitt (Walter Brennan), comes to Rome to visit and ends up moving there during the second season.

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The oldest daughter is Alison (Joyce Menges), the middle is tomboy Penny (Susan Neher) and the youngest is Mary Jane, nicknamed Pokey (Melanie Fullterton). None of the girls continued in television past 1974. Menges had been a former tv and magazine model.  She appeared in two films, one before (1967) and one after (1972) the show. Fullerton made an appearance on High Chaparral before this show and appeared in two movies (1972 and 1974). Neher had the most productive acting career. She was cast on Accidental Family before appearing on To Rome with Love. After the show, she would guest star on Young Lawyers, Getting Together, Love American Style, The Partridge Family, with her last appearance was on Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers in 1974.

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Photo: famousfix.com


Photo: famousfix.com
Photo: pinterest.com

Rounding out the cast was Vito Scotti who played Mr. Mancini and Peggy Mondo who was Mama Vitale in Rome.

Photo: tvmaze.com

Photo: tvmaze.com

The show was on Sunday nights at 7:30 for the first year. It was up against Land of the Giants and The Wonderful World of Disney. The second year it switched to Tuesdays at 9:30 for the first half of the year on against movies of the week and then was moved to Wednesdays at 8:30 for the rest of the season. On Wednesdays it was up against The Smith Family and the Men from Shiloh. They were one-hour shows and To Rome with Love was on during the second half of both shows. The show never received the ratings the network had hoped for.

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Jack Gould reviewed the show before its debut. His comment was “the personable John Forsythe is the main asset of the series, but it is doubtful if he alone can overcome the handicap of imposing Hollywood nonsense on a city rich in drama and laughter and yet to be explored with understanding by TV. For the viewer, one solution is to turn off the sound and settle for incidental scenic background.” Donald Freeman from the San Diego Union called the show “all stereotyped and unfailingly pleasant.” Terrence O’Flaherty of the San Francisco Chronicle described it as a “giant pizza which appears to be filled with every situation comedy cliché in TV history and every Italian character actor south of San Luis Obispo. Dwight Newton of the San Francisco Examiner said it was “another little innocuous comedy drama series.” Apparently, viewers agreed with their opinions.

The combination of bad reviews and going up against Disney before moving to two different nights almost guaranteed its failure.

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Don Fedderson and Edmond Hartman produced the show. They were also the creative forces behind My Three Sons and Family Affair. An interesting concept was the cross-over episode. In season two, Anissa Jones and Johnnie Whitaker from Family Affair appear on the show on episode 4, “Roman Affair.” Episode 6 featured William Demarest, Don Grady, and Tina Cole from My Three Sons in “Rome is Where You Find It.”

After the show ended, Forsythe commented that his “fate is to be surrounded by ladies at home and at work which is not at all painful. I have a wife and two daughters at home. But on the television, I’ve always been unmarried. We might have started the single-parent trend with ‘Bachelor Father.’ Now the air is filed with widows and widowers raising children alone. There’s a reason for it. One unqualified parent dealing with children is more amusing because of the difficulty it presents.”

This sounded a bit exaggerated to me, so I went back to take a closer look at the shows that were on during the 1960s, and he was right. I always think of the typical sitcom as a nuclear family like the Donna Reed Show or Leave It To Beaver, but during this decade many shows were about adults. Think of Get Smart, The Joey Bishop Show, That Girl, The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or The Flying Nun. When shows were about families, the norm was almost to have a single parent. In addition to Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, and Family Affair, we had The Farmer’s Daughter, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Doris Day Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, Gidget, and Julia. It wasn’t confined to sitcoms either; consider The Rifleman, Bonanza, and The Big Valley. The genre would continue into future decades as well. Some of the most popular shows featured single parents: The Partridge Family, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Nanny and the Professor, Diff’rent Strokes, One Day at a Time, Eight is Enough, and Alice.

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Fortunately for viewers, Forsythe did not throw in the towel and retire into obscurity. Forsythe would go on to star as Blake Carrington on Dynasty.

DNX6N3 Jan. 1, 1976 – F3353.”Charlie’s Angels”.FARRAH FAWCETT, KATE JACKSON, & JACLYN SMITH. 1976(Credit Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The show he is best remembered for is Charlie’s Angels, continuing his tradition of being surrounded by beautiful women on television.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Love is definitely in the air; whether you think it smells rancid or fragrant depends on your current relationship status.  Remember those days when everything hinged on what type of valentine your current crush gave you at the school party?  Love seemed to be the answer to all questions.  We’re going to look at some classic (and not so classic) television shows that promoted that kind of love.  Sorry, I can’t tell you if that pain you’re feeling is cupid’s arrow as it hit you or heartburn, but I can share some information with you as we learn about shows with “Love” in the title.

Love That Bob (1955). Bob Cummings played ladies’ man and photographer Bob Collins.  His widowed sister, Rosemary Decamp, and nephew (Dwayne Hickman) also lived with him. Before she moved in with the Bradys, Ann B. Davis was Schultzy, Charmaine Schultz, Bob’s assistant, who was in love with him.  Every show opened with Bob holding a camera and saying, “Hold it! I think you’re going to like this picture.” The beautiful Joi Lansing was another model who also was in love with Bob, but he was having too much fun playing the field.  When he never accepted Joi, we knew deep down in his heart, he realized that Schultzy was the one for him. While Bob couldn’t decide on only one woman, the networks couldn’t decide on only one channel for the show either.  It was on NBC Jan-May of 1955, moved to CBS for two seasons, moved back to NBC, and then finished up the last year and a half on ABC. I guess no one could remember where the show was supposed to end up after 1959, so it was cancelled. Bob was one of the first stars to play two characters in one show. Bob played himself and his grandfather Josh Collins. A decade later, Fred MacMurray would play Uncle Ferguson in addition to Steve Douglas in My Three Sons.

Love That Jill (1957). Rival managers of modeling agencies are played by real life couple Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling who had played the married ghosts on Topper.  I guess they spooked the network because they disappeared after three months.

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Love and Marriage (1959). Now we know what Uncle Charlie really did before he moved in with My Three Sons.  He owned a music publishing company that was close to bankruptcy.  William Demerest plays a business owner who brings his daughter into the company as a partner.  She and her lawyer husband also move into his house.  She loves rock and roll; her father hates it, but it might save his company. The network shut down the agency after four months to promote family harmony.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959). This show was based on a 1953 book and it was the first television series to feature teenagers as the main characters. I guess when Dwayne Hickman lived with Bob Collins, he picked up a lot of tips for the ladies, and as high schooler Dobie, he spent most of his time trying to find a girl to go out with and some money to pay for the date. Since his family owned a small grocery store, he was on his own for finances. Once he graduated, the show had to come up with new situations, so Dobie was in college for a couple of years as well as the army for a year. Dobie would go to the Rodin’s Thinker in the park and talk to us and himself about his love life. His best friend was beatnik and bongo player Maynard G. Krebs.  Bob Denver played this role before he went on to star in Gilligan’s Island.  He had never acted before this show; he had been a grade school teacher, and his sister, who worked for the casting department, included his name in the auditions. Super smart Zelda Gilroy was in love with Dobie.  We knew he would eventually end up with her, his own Schultzy.  She always wrinkled her nose at him and before he could stop himself he always did it back. In later years when they did two reunion movies, Dobie and Zelda were in fact married.  Sheila James, who played Zelda, became a California senator.

During the first season, Dobie thought he was in love with Thalia Meninger played by Tuesday Weld.  Thalia only liked Dobie when he had money which was not often. In real life they did not get along, and she left after the first season. Another character who disappeared after the first season was his brother Davey Gillis who was played by Hickman’s real brother, Darryl. Dobie also suffered through Milton Armitage played by Warren Beatty and then Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (Steve Franken) who were his arrogant, wealthy competition. Some of Dobie’s many girlfriends included Marlo Thomas (who became That Girl), Sally Kellerman (who was Hot Lips in the M*A*S*H movie), Ellen Burstyn (starred in many movies), Barbara Bain (who would be in Mission Impossible), and Yvonne Craig (before she was Bat Girl). Two interesting things I learned about this show was that DC Comics created a comic book series of 26 issues about the kids from 1960-1964. Also this show inspired the Scooby Doo Gang in 1969. Fred was based on Dobie, Velma on Zelda, Daphne on Thalia, and Shaggy on Maynard. Garry Marshall also reported that this was one of his main influences for his creation of the show Happy Days. After four years, I guess these kids were too innocent to handle all the crazy situations coming in the sixties and the show ended but has appeared in reruns often since it left the air.

Peter Loves Mary (1960). This couple, played by Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy, were married in real life. They play a show business couple who moved to Connecticut.  Luckily they have a housekeeper played by one of my all-time favorites Bea Benaderet who takes care of the house and children. Opposite the Green Acres viewpoint, Mary wants life in suburbia while Peter loves the city. The network didn’t want to weigh in on the argument so they took the show off the air after the first season.

Love On a Rooftop (1966). Judy Carne (pre Laugh-In days) and Peter Duel are a young married couple, living in San Francisco. He is an apprentice architect and she’s an art student, who gave up her dad’s money for love. Rich Little played their neighbor who designed restaurant menus, among other jobs. It was cancelled after one season.  Oddly, in the summer of 1971 it aired as a rerun show but never aired again.

To Rome with Love (1969). John Forsythe tries his hand in another sitcom.  In this one, he plays a widower who has accepted a job at an international school in Rome, and he heads for Europe with his three daughters.  His sister comes along the first season, mainly to try to talk them into going back home to Iowa.  For the second season, they gave her a one-way ticket home and brought Walter Brennan in as Forsythe’s father-in-law. The family lives in Mama Vitale’s boarding house.  After the second season, they all got air fare home and the show was done. Don Fedderson produced this show, and in the second season they had two cross-over episodes, one with the cast of Family Affair and one with Uncle Charlie, Robbie and Katie from My Three Sons.

Bridget Loves Bernie (1972). Bridget, played by Meredith Baxter, marries Bernie, played by David Birney.  The only problem is that she’s Catholic and he’s Jewish.  This would not even be noticed in today’s world, but in 1972 it caused quite a commotion. Her parents were wealthy and Irish.  His parents owned a deli and the couple lived above it. The ratings were very good–the fifth highest rated show, but they were cancelled after the first season anyway. It was the highest rated show to ever be cancelled, and the network finally caved into the pressure of public protests for having an inter-religious marriage. One fun fact is the Meredith Baxter and David Birney married in real life after this show was over.  However, that was before she came out of the closet, which created another mixed marriage . . .

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Love Thy Neighbor (1973). This show was a summer replacement in the days of All in the Family.  Charlie Wilson, a shop steward at Turner Electronics, lives in LA. When new neighbors move in, not only are they black, but the new guy is hired as an efficiency expert at Turner.  The show explored how two couples of different races become friends.  The white couple was played by Ron Masak and Joyce Bulifant.  The black couple was played by Janet MacLachlan and Harrison Page.  The network didn’t love any of them because they sent them packing after 11 episodes.

Loves Me, Loves Me Not (1976). Jane, played by Susan Dey, fresh from the Partridge Family, is a teacher.  Dick (Kip Gilman) is a reporter.  They have a couple of dates with mixed results and aren’t sure if they like each other or not or should continue dating.  Dick’s boss and his wife are also characters on the show.  Apparently CBS decided it loved them not because they were cancelled after one month.

Love, Sidney (1981). If the network thought they had problems when Bridget loved Bernie, they really stirred up a hornet’s nest with this show.  Based on a movie, Sidney Shore, Tony Randall was the first person to play an openly gay character.  Sidney is an adman and lives with a young woman and her daughter, played by Swoosie Kurtz and Kalena Kiff. There were some heart-warming stories including two different episodes when both Sidney and Kurtz’s character had to make peace with less-than-perfect parents. Once again, the network gave into public dissatisfaction and cancelled the show midway through season 2.

Joanie Loves Chachi (1981). This show was a mid-season replacement.  Chachi (Scott Baio) left Milwaukee and Happy Days and moved with his parents (Ellen Travolta and Al Molinaro who had owned Arnolds’s malt shop) to Chicago.  He sang in a restaurant his family owned.  Because Joanie (Erin Moran) loved Chachi, she convinced her parents to let her go to Northwestern to be a nurse, but she spent more time singing with Chachi. Most of the shows involved one of them being jealous of the other and ending the fight with a song. In the first season this new show followed Happy Days and was a huge success. The second season it moved to Thursday and bombed in the ratings. The network sent both Joanie and Chachi back to Milwaukee after the second season where they continued on Happy Days until it went off the air in 1984.

Everybody Loves Raymond (1996). Ray Romano played sports columnist Ray Barrone.  He lived with his wife (Patricia Heaton) and kids, right across the street from his overbearing mother (Doris Roberts), cynical father (Peter Boyle), and jealous older brother (Brad Garrett). No one had any privacy on this street, but there were a lot of poignant episodes. We all knew everybody loved Raymond, but they also loved each other.  In 2004 after 9 seasons, the network decided not everybody loved Raymond, just most people, and they cancelled their sports subscription.

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If you’re not crazy about love right now, apparently you’re in good company because the majority of these shows were cancelled within a year.  If you’re a hopeless romantic, you’re probably watching Everybody Loves Raymond on Nickelodeon. Happy Valentine’s Day, or not.