Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Gifts, Sitcom Style

Valerie, Cloris, and Mary sharing those beautifully wrapped lids everyone enjoys getting.
There are a few things you have to learn if you want to have a sitcom-approved Christmas celebration. Here the ladies from Mary Tyler Moore illustrate one of my favorite TV tropes -- the quick-to-open gift. Someone figured out a long time ago that it slows down a scene to watch actors rip the wrapping off an entire package, as most of us mere mortals do. So when TV characters give gifts, they take those few extra minutes to wrap the lid separately from the box. That way, everyone can just toss aside that lid, exclaim over the contents of the package, and get on with the story.

In my personal circle of friends and family, I've never seen anyone wrap presents this way. What about you? Is this something that happens only on TV?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

(Mostly) Silent Star

Perhaps this should be a blog entry with only pictures, no words, to honor the memory of Harpo Marx, born (with the given name Adolph) on this date in 1888. His inimitable career in comedy drew almost entirely on his ability to mine laughs from facial expressions, sight gags, pantomime, and other nonverbal expressions. What little his characters had to say was often conveyed with the toot of a horn he carried almost everywhere, although most Marx Brothers movies also made room for at least one musical number performed on the harp that gave this great comedian his stage name.

A popular comedy team on stage and in movies, the Marx Brothers began to go their separate ways professionally in the late 1940s. Though Harpo's comedy was obviously ill-suited to radio, he made occasional television appearances in the 1950s and early 1960s, notably a classic episode of I Love Lucy (above) in which he and Lucille Ball play lookalike versions of his iconic character. He also appeared on episodes of The DuPont Show of the Week, The Martha Raye Show, Candid Camera, and his brother Groucho's popular quiz show You Bet Your Life. In 1961, he proved more eloquent than his comedic characters when he published a fascinating autobiography, Harpo Speaks.

Harpo Marx died on September 28, 1964, a few weeks short of his 76th birthday. He was survived by his wife of 28 years, former actress Susan Fleming, as well as by the four children they adopted. You can learn much, much more about this gifted comedian by visiting Harpo's Place, the website created and administered by his son Bill. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Rhoda Met Ethel

Valerie Harper and Vivian Vance on Rhoda
Here's a rare opportunity to see, side-by-side, the actresses who played two of classic TV's best known sitcom sidekicks. The picture is from Vivian Vance's 1975 guest appearance on Rhoda. (Adding to the nostalgic ambiance was Vivian's TV husband, played by David White of Bewitched).

As Valerie Harper admitted, "Vivian was an idol of mine and it was wonderful to see her work ... Her talent contributed to the atmosphere to write for a character like Rhoda ... Without Lucy and Ethel, they wouldn't have wanted Mary and Rhoda."

You can read about this classic episode, and Vance's remarkable career, in Frank Castelluccio and Alvin Walker's book The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: The Life Story of Vivian Vance (Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1998).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Sterling Occasion


Film and television actor Robert Sterling (November 13, 1917-May 30, 2006) was born on this date, 97 years ago. He and second wife Anne Jeffreys (pictured above) made a glamorous and charismatic couple as the stars of the popular 1950s supernatural sitcom, Topper. After a second, less successful series together -- the short-lived Love That Jill (1958), Robert went solo as the star of the CBS sitcom Ichabod and Me. When that show, too, came a cropper, Sterling was reportedly fed up with show business. At the age of 45, he became a successful businessman, working in the computer industry and marketing a line of golf clubs.

You can read more about Topper in The Women Who Made Television Funny, while Ichabod and Me is the subject of a chapter in Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fifteen Questions About Bewitched

Over at Classic TV Lovers' Haven on Facebook, we recently devoted a week to remembering Bewitched. In honor of the occasion, I posed a series of 15 trivia questions related to the show and its stars. If you'd like to try your hand at them, here they are:

1. Name the Academy Award-winning actress who guest starred as Carlotta, a witch who wanted Sam to marry her nerdy son.

2.  Why was actress Kasey Rogers told to wear a dark wig when she was first cast as Louise Tate?

3. What top-billed star of a 1970s Norman Lear sitcom once played a guest role on Bewitched?

4. What real-life musical duo was chosen by Serena to sing her new song at the Cosmos Cotillion?

5.  Darrin thinks it's Terry Warbell, the pretty daughter of a client, who wants a kiss from him. But who is she really?

6. What famed European landmark was supposedly the result of a faulty spell by Esmeralda?

7.  In 17th century Plymouth, what innocent act almost gets Darrin convicted of practicing witchcraft?

8.  Which actor from the series later starred in a fantasy sitcom called Down to Earth?

9.  What was the name of Samantha's childhood nanny, as played by Hermione Baddeley in a 1967 episode?

10.  What was Serena's pet name for Larry Tate?

11.  Before the name "Samantha" was chosen, what was the character's name in the original pilot script?

12. Name the prolific classic TV actor who played Samantha's obstetrician, Dr. Anton.

13. What's the name of the private detective who discovers that Samantha is a witch?

14. What goes wrong when Aunt Clara babysits Jonathan Tate?

15. Name the 1966 movie in which George Tobias and Alice Pearce play a married couple similar to the Kravitzes.

Post your answers in the "Comments" section if you like. In case you're bothered or bewildered by any questions, I'll provide the complete answer key on Monday (unless someone beats me to it).

Happy twitching!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mr. Chicken and a Cast of Characters

My Halloween night viewing of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was like attending a convention of 1960s character actors. Aside from star Don Knotts, no shabby character man himself, I spotted within the course of 90 minutes such instantly recognizable faces as Reta Shaw (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), playing the chairwoman of an occult society, Sandra Gould (Bewitched) as one of the members, Hope Summers (The Andy Griffith Show) as the hysterical witness to a supposed murder, and Hal Smith (also The Andy Griffith Show) as the victim who didn't stay dead long.
Charles Lane questions Ellen Corby, as George Chandler looks on.
In the courtroom scene alone was a plethora of beloved actors. The judge was George Chandler (Lassie, Ichabod and Me), the bailiff was Cliff Norton (It's About Time), the witness was Ellen Corby (The Waltons), and the prosecuting attorney was Charles Lane, who was in -- well, pretty much everything. Want more? Among the courtoom spectators were Lurene Tuttle, Jesslyn Fax, Nydia Westman, and plaintiff Phil Ober. Elsewhere in the film I spotted J. Edward McKinley, Dick Wilson, Hope Summers, Herbie Faye...

Kind of made me wonder who played all the character roles on TV while this film was in production. To be honest, I didn't find the movie as funny as I did when I first saw it some years ago. But it would be hard to find one that better illustrates the color and interest that good character players can bring to the table.