Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mr. Frawley's Birthday

Happy birthday to that grumpy old skinflint, William Frawley, born February 26, 1887. In actuality, of course, it's his iconic character Fred Mertz who I'm describing, but many who worked with him said there wasn't a great deal of difference. One of them was Lucille Ball, who said fondly, "Bill Frawley was Fred Mertz. Period."

He parlayed that memorable face and voice into a long and successful career as a movie character actor before making the switch to TV with I Love Lucy in 1951. From that point on, he seldom stopped working, going on in the 1960s to a co-starring role in My Three Sons. Declining health forced him into retirement a year or so before his death in 1966.

In honor of his birthday, I'm hearing his gravelly voice in my head, singing a little number from a favorite Lucy episode. "Too Many Crooks," finds the brownstone where the Mertzes and the Ricardos live all atwitter over the nocturnal visits of a cat burglar. When Ethel insists that Fred change the locks on all the apartments, and he is equally insistent that they can't afford it, she offers to pay for the hardware herself. To do so, she's dipping into the money she was saving for his birthday present, leaving a resigned Fred to make his exit singing a little ditty to the tune of "Happy Birthday": "New door locks for Fred ... new door locks for Fred..."

If it doesn't sound that hilarious on paper (or on a screen), picture it sung by Frawley in that inimitable voice, and surely that will make you smile.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Questions and More Questions

Over at Classic TV Lovers' Haven, I've been doing a daily "Teatime TV Trivia" question for members lately. Members of that group know quite a bit about classic TV, so the questions can't be simple ones. Even so, they're rarely stumped for very long.

Want to try your hand at a few?

Unfortunately, my trivia quiz doesn't come with prizes like this.
1. Agnes Moorehead won an Emmy for her performance in what 1960s show? HINT: It was NOT "Bewitched."

2. What classic show featured actors David Jolliffe and Heshimu in recurring roles?

3. On what short-lived sitcom did Bea Benaderet play a housekeeper named Wilma?

4. On "I Love Lucy," who emceed the Senior Shenanigans at the Rappahannock School for Girls?

5. What classic series was adapted from a novel called "Poor, Poor Ophelia"?

Post your answers in the comments below, or drop me a note if you need help with one.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Frankie and Joannie

Recognize this young fellow sharing a script with Joan Davis? Yep, it's that bobby-soxer idol of the 1940s, Frank Sinatra. (Guys sure wore their pants hiked up high back then, didn't they?) In the fall of 1943, he was a guest star on The Sealtest Village Store, where Joan's always man-hungry character did her best to catch his eye.

Unfortunately for Joan, it was no fun for the gag writers -- or the audience -- if she actually won the heart of her would-be swain. So instead, when she told co-star Jack Haley that the new dress she was wearing was "just for Frankie," he retorted, "Well, I hope it looks better on him than it does on you."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Credits Where Credits Are Due

Diahann Carroll and her "frequent" co-star.
They're hugely important to many actors (and their agents), but how many viewers pay strict attention to the credits opening and closing their favorite shows? Is "also starring" better than "co-starring"? What does it mean if one actor's name is in bigger type than another's? And how did Jonathan Harris get to be a "Special Guest Star" for three full seasons on Lost in Space?

One man who took a light touch with this issue was writer-producer Hal Kanter (1918-2011), who often eschewed the standard language when giving his colleagues the credit they deserved. According to the titles for his 1968-71 sitcom Julia, the show is "frequently starring Lloyd Nolan as Dr. Chegley." On the short-lived Jimmy Stewart Show, Kanter promises us a cast that includes "very often John McGiver as Luther Quince." And on his earlier Valentine's Day (1964-65), the sponsor was introduced with non-standard phrases like, "intentionally brought to you by..."

Nowadays, most shows don't even have an opening titles sequence, per se -- they just jump right into the action, and flash the actors' names over the opening scenes. Call me old-fashioned, but I kind of miss the way things used to be -- especially when there was someone like Kanter checking to see if we were paying attention.