Sunday, October 20, 2013

Here Comes Hazel!

Ted Key's Hazel likes her TV counterpart.
More than fifty years later, it's hard to picture anyone but Shirley Booth (1898-1992) playing the starring role in television's Hazel. Here, in a vintage magazine ad taken out by the show's sponsor to promote its NBC debut in 1961, you can see how Shirley shaped up to Ted Key's cartoon character familiar to readers of the Saturday Evening Post. When Screen Gems acquired the TV rights to the character, executives considered Thelma Ritter and Agnes Moorehead, but thought Miss Booth was the ideal choice. Other studios bidding for the rights had wanted to cast The Honeymooners' Audrey Meadows, or Ann B. Davis (Schultzy on The Bob Cummings Show) as Hazel.

Already an Oscar and Tony winner, Miss Booth was considered by some an unlikely candidate to want a sitcom job, and indeed she'd told her agent she wasn't available for television series work. But she liked the pilot script, and thought the character was one she'd enjoy playing. Soon enough the Ford Motor Company signed on to sponsor her new series, describing her in ads like this one as "the most improbable maid you've ever seen." After her first season in the role, Miss Booth found herself not only the star of a hit series, but also the possessor of an Emmy for Best Actress to add to her award shelf.

For the complete story of Miss Booth's illustrious career onstage, in radio and film, and as TV's most beloved maid, check out my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record, which also features a detailed episode guide to Hazel.

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