Tuesday, February 25, 2014

He Married Joan

What is it about February and funny men? A few days ago, we observed the birthday of Gale Gordon; today, we remember Jim Backus on the 101st anniversary of his birth. Born February 25, 1913, James Gilmore Backus will long be remembered for his classic roles as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island, Judge Bradley Stevens on I Married Joan, and as the voice of the visually challenged cartoon character Mr. Quincy Magoo.
The short-lived Jim Backus Show.

Although a longtime TV mainstay, Backus had a love-hate relationship with series work, and claimed to have formed a support group called Series Anonymous. "Agents love to put an actor in a series," he groused in 1969, "'cause you don't bother them for nine months ... You live in a vacuum and come out asking who's president." Series Anonymous, he joked, would do an intervention for an actor offered a series role. "They call me up, bring over a bottle of booze, and I talk them out of it."

Apparently no one did that for Jim himself. You can read about his starring sitcom, The Jim Backus Show: Hot off the Wire in my book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television. Jim also figures, naturally, into my new book on I Married Joan star Joan Davis, due out this spring. Jim's memoirs painted a less-than-flattering picture of Joan as a colleague; my book provides another perspective, and I hope will encourage you to seek out this classic comedy of early TV.

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