Monday, September 29, 2014

An Easier Way To See the World

Playing the entertainment director on a cruise ship traveling far and wide should be a good chance for an actress to see the world. In the 1950s, however, the leading lady of The Gale Storm Show found that the world came to her instead of the other way around.

Aboard the S.S. Ocean Queen: Gale Storm and Jimmy Fairfax.
Nowadays, an audience might expect to see genuine location footage of those exotic locations to which Susanna Pomeroy and the S.S. Ocean Queen traveled. But for purposes of Storm's 1956-60 sitcom, the effect was created almost entirely on studio soundstages. In a widely syndicated article that appeared under Gale's byline in 1959, she wrote, "I'm getting the greatest vicarious geography lesson of all times. The sets those studio workers build are as close to the authentic thing as you'll find. I feel I've tiptoed through the Taj Mahal and scaled the Alps, without ever having to leave home. We got to do a highland fling in a Scottish castle and a Bali dance in a tropical paradise." The illusion was good enough to keep viewers entertained for four seasons in prime time, and years of reruns afterwards. You can read more about Gale's career as the star of two long-running sitcoms (this one and its predecessor, My Little Margie), in my book The Women Who Made Television Funny

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Joan Davis, Radio Star

Though many know her primarily for her film or television work, Joan Davis was also a major radio star in the 1940s. One of my goals in writing about her was to better document her work on popular shows such as The Sealtest Village Store, The Joan Davis Show, and Leave It to Joan. To do so was one of the biggest challenges in researching and writing the book, which is why I was especially pleased by a review in the August newsletter of the Radio Collectors of America.

Leave It to Joan, with Joseph Kearns.
According to reviewer Bob Jennings, Joan Davis: America's Queen of Film, Radio and Television Comedy "offers the best and certainly the most complete examination of Joan Davis' radio career ever assembled ... he has connected almost all the radio programs Joan Davis did, including all of her guest appearances, with plots, cast, and background information that reveals some of [the] turmoil and pressure that creating those shows caused." In conclusion, he notes, "This is a good book. It is well worth the asking price, and it's a reference book anyone who has an interest in the life and career of Joan Davis will find invaluable..."

Since only a small percentage of Joan Davis' radio comedy is currently in circulation among Old Time Radio collectors. I can't help agreeing with Mr. Jennings when he writes, "Perhaps it is not being too optimistic to believe that treasure troves of Joan Davis' original radio shows may yet surface." Here's hoping!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Say, Aren't You..."

Here's a face you probably never expected to see on I Married Joan. Bing Crosby makes a cameo appearance in the closing scene of "Opera," a first-season episode which aired on February 25, 1953. Der Bingle plays a new neighbor who drops by, though he firmly insists he's know. At this juncture, General Electric was sponsoring both I Married Joan and Crosby's CBS radio show, explaining the unexpected walk-on.

Joan and Bing also appeared in print ads for their sponsor, as you can see below:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Where Reruns Live Forever

A few weeks ago, I accepted an invitation to become an administrator on a Facebook page called Classic TV Lovers' Haven. Founded by classic TV buff Cassandra Majors, the group currently boasts more than 9,000 members, and is becoming the go-to place on Facebook for those who love the television favorites of the 1950s through the 1970s.
The group has a new theme each week; currently; we're observing "Emmy Winners Week," commemorating those honored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for their work, and in a few cases those who weren't. But we're always happy to discuss any favorite shows, pose trivia questions, and often just say, "Who remembers this?"

If that sounds like fun, feel free to check us out at the link above. There's also a popular sister site called Classic Film Lovers' Haven. Be sure to say hello if you're in the neighborhood.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Remembering Reta

If you don't recognize her face, I have to question whether you watched much classic TV. Reta Shaw, born on this date in 1912, is one of those consummate character actresses who seemed to turn up in almost every show at one time or another. Here are two of her guest appearances that immediately come to mind:

Above, on the first-season Lost in Space episode "Return from Outer Space" (originally aired December 29, 1965), she was kindly Clara Simms, who took in young space traveler Will Robinson when he unexpectedly landed back on Earth. On I Dream of Jeannie's "Jeannie and the Wild Pipchicks" (September 23, 1968), pictured below, she was stuffy military officer Colonel Finch, who proved surprisingly willing to shed her inhibitions after a taste of some magical candy.
She may be best known for her two-year run as housekeeper Martha Grant on the 1968-70 sitcom The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. When I was researching Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television, I had the chance to see her as another sitcom domestic, in the short-lived CBS comedy Ichabod and Me.

For Shaw, who once thought she wanted to have a career as a missionary, her acting work gave her -- and viewers -- a different kind of satisfaction. "People love to laugh," she said in a 1968 interview. "They love to be entertained. If I can bring a laugh, or please someone, I have accomplished something. It's different from feeding souls in one way, but it's feeding them in another way."

Though Reta Shaw passed away in 1982, she left behind a gallery of wonderful performances, and this blog entry has only scratched the surface. Suffice it to say she accomplished her goal of entertaining people more than she may ever have realized.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Main Street Blues

Almost any classic TV watcher will remember actor Robert Young as Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, or for his starring role in Marcus Welby, M.D. But how many know that, in between those two iconic roles, he spent a year starring in a CBS series called Window on Main Street?

Young and his producing partner, Eugene B. Rodney, shut down Father Knows Best while it was still popular, and the show's many years of success had paid off for both. But after a year or so of early retirement, Young was bored, and agreed to do another weekly series. Window on Main Street, which debuted in 1961, mixed drama and comedy, casting the star as a celebrated writer returning to his hometown after many years' absence. The show was designed to be an anthology, telling the stories of many different residents of the town of Millsburg through the eyes of Young's character. "This character is certainly no father image," Young told journalist Cynthia Lowry at the time of its debut, "so there can be no confusion between the old role and the new one. If you want to tie the two together, I suppose you might say that we're making the whole town of Millsburg my family."

Somewhere between concept and execution, however, Young and Rodney's new project went awry. Audiences didn't take to the show, which lasted only one year. Looking back some years later, Young said the show had him playing "a male Mary Worth ... in each episode I stuck my nose into somebody else's business ... it lasted one season and I was delighted when it was canceled." Being burned by that experience, Young would do little acting after its cancellation, until 1969, when he was cast as Marcus Welby, the doctor viewers everywhere wished they could consult.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

50 Years of Samantha, Herman Munster, and Gomer Pyle

It's a big year for classic TV anniversaries. The fall 1964 prime time schedule brought forth seven new shows that would quickly become audience favorites, enjoy healthy runs on the network schedule, and be seen in reruns for years afterward.

Among the shows being commemorated for 50 years as TV favorites are The Addams Family, Bewitched, Flipper, Gomer Pyle -- U.S.M.C., The Munsters, Peyton Place, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Of these shows, three of them -- Bewitched, Gomer Pyle, and Peyton Place -- would rank among the year's Top Ten hits during their freshman seasons.

Which of these shows meant to the most to you as a kid, or still entertains you today?