Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Peggy Rea: From Secretary to Supporting Player

"I'm just an incurable ham," said Peggy Jane Rea of her lengthy career as a film and television actress. Born March 31, 1921, Miss Rea originally worked as a secretary, getting a taste of show business with jobs at MGM, a New York advertising agency, and the production office of TV's Gunsmoke. 

Although she can be seen in early shows like I Love Lucy, it wasn't until the early 1960s that she gave up her day gigs and devoted herself fully to being a character actress. Prior to that, when she served as secretary to producer Arthur Freed at MGM, she was prone to slip out occasionally to have studio costume and makeup artists transform her into whatever character she hoped to play next, whether it be a prim schoolteacher or a little old lady. As she told syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson, Freed indulged her, and "joked about having a secretary with a thousand faces."

Later years brought her prominent roles such as Rose Burton on The Waltons, Lulu Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard, and Jean Kelly on Grace Under Fire. Miss Rea died on February 5, 2011, at the age of 89. But today, on her birthday, let's take a moment and remember this lady who brought so many sharply etched characterizations to life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Coming Attraction

Oh, boy! I'm happy to announce that my sixth book, to be published next year, focuses on yet another unforgettable funny lady. My subject is none other than marvelous, madcap Martha Raye. The book, which provides a complete overview of her life and career, will be published in time to commemorate the centennial of her birth in 1916.

I've been knee-deep in research for more than a year now, piecing together the story of a remarkable career that encompassed movies, her highly rated TV variety shows of the 1950s, and even the zany Benita Bizarre of the beloved Saturday morning show The Bugaloos. I've had the opportunity to conduct some fascinating interviews with those who knew and worked with Miss Raye, and uncovered quite a bit of previously unpublished information about her storied career.

If you have any information to contribute, by all means please let me hear from you, via this blog. There's always room for another good story about this endlessly intriguing star.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mr. Roberts' Birthday

As Captain Huxley on The Gale Storm Show.
Even if you don't know his name, you'll likely know the face of actor Roy Roberts, born March 19, 1906. One of TV's busiest character actors, he was often cast as stuffy bankers or businessmen; his roles included bank president Mr. Cheever on The Lucy Show, Frank Stephens, Darrin's dad, on Bewitched, banker John Cushing on The Beverly Hillbillies, and, from 1956 to 1960, Captain Huxley on The Gale Storm Show: Oh, Susanna!

Though he mostly let his work speak for itself, Roberts offered a few comments to journalist Stan Maays in 1967, while working with Gale Gordon on The Lucy Show. Of his facility for being the straight man in comedy, he explained, "It's important to play up key words. Gale and I, old hams that we are, get together and go over the script. We see a spot and say, 'Let's give this a shot here.' It's fun for us because on the Lucy show you have to play half to the audience and half to the cameras."

Roberts was a busy actor well into the 1970s, until a heart attack cut his career short at the age of 69. As long as classic TV comedies are viewed and appreciated, though, at least a discerning few will stop and notice what a touch of professionalism and skill he brings to the roles he played so well.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Paging Miss McGee

With the recent announcements concerning a live remake of the musical Grease to be aired on Fox TV, I can't help wondering who, if anyone, will play school principal Miss McGee. Eve Arden's memorable role didn't originate with the stage version, but was added for the film, so it may or may not be carried over to this 21st century update. But surely there's some comic actress out there ready to take up the mantle and urge a new generation, "If you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Goodbye Lynn Borden

The new Baxter family of Season Five.
I was sorry to hear of the death last week of actress Lynn Borden, who played Barbara Baxter in the fifth and final season of Hazel. 

Many Hazel fans, loyal to original co-stars Don DeFore and Whitney Blake, were displeased to see the long-running series change so much. Researching Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record, I learned more about what happened in 1965, when NBC canceled the show, and how it ultimately found its way to CBS that fall, with a largely different cast. Despite the backstage drama, I thought Lynn Borden made Barbara likable and sympathetic, and the revamped version of the show was still enjoyable. (She's pictured here with fellow newcomers Ray Fulmer and Julia Benjamin).

To learn more about Ms. Borden's life, pick up Eddie Lucas' book Close-Ups: Conversations with Our TV Favorites, which features a lengthy interview he did with Ms. Borden, and some fascinating reminiscences about Shirley Booth and Hazel.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lessons in Labor Relations from Lucy

So how's your boss treating you lately? Lucy Carter revolts against her employer and brother-in-law Harrison Carter (Gale Gordon) in this first-season episode of Here's Lucy. As you can see, her longtime buddy Mary Wickes showed up to lend a helping hand.