Thursday, April 30, 2015

Eve's Big Day

Happy birthday to one of my favorite performers. Born as Eunice Quedens on April 30, 1908, in Mill Valley, California, Eve was stagestruck from her youth. She went on to build an impressive career in theater, radio, film, and TV. Whether you know her from Our Miss Brooks, her Oscar-nominated turn in Mildred Pierce, or one of her other many credits, you aren't likely to forget this distinctive performer once you've encountered her. Though she left us in 1990, many of her best performances can still be enjoyed today.

Researching and writing a book about her professional accomplishments was a labor of love. I hope it encourages others to discover her, or check out some of her lesser-known credits. Some of my favorite Arden films include Stage Door, The Voice of the Turtle, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. And have you seen her feature film version of Our Miss Brooks? Does it finally turn her into Our Mrs. Boynton? Watch and see.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Judy! Judy! Judy!

Happy birthday to Judy Carne, born on this date in 1939. Best-known as the "Sock-It- To-Me Girl" on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, she previously starred opposite Pete Duel (both above) in the charming romantic comedy Love on a Rooftop, which aired from 1966 to 1967 on ABC-TV. (This show is the subject of a chapter in my book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television).

As detailed in her outspoken memoir, Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside, life itself had a way of socking it to Judy, and she's been out of public view for quite a few years. Whatever she's up to these days, I hope she's well and happy. She certainly seemed to be overdue for her turn at it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Two from "A Majority of One"

Recognize this distinguished-looking couple? It's Gertrude Berg and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who teamed up to star in the 1959-60 Broadway hit A Majority of One, by Leonard Spigelgass. Berg, known to radio and television audiences as the creator and star of The Goldbergs, played an American widow who becomes involved romantically with a Japanese man. She won a Tony for her performance in the show, which ran for more than 500 performances.

As for Hardwicke, who was Tony-nominated for his performance as well, Berg so enjoyed working with him that she wanted him for her co-star when she returned to series television in 1961. Can't quite remember that show? Refresh your memory with my book, Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television, which covers it and twenty-nine other sitcoms that are rarely revived today.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Go West, Miss Vance

Here's something you don't see every day -- TV's Ethel Mertz on the set of a Western drama. In 1959, with the cast of I Love Lucy playing those characters only in occasional hour-long episodes, Vivian Vance was ready for an opportunity to broaden her horizons. She was therefore pleased by the booking to play a guest role on NBC's The Deputy, which starred Allen Case (above) as the title character, Clay McCord.

As a regular player on one of TV's first top-rated shows, Miss Vance was likely unprepared for the level of fame that weekly coast-to-coast exposure could bring to an actor. While the professional success was gratifying, she feared that her years as frumpy, plain-spoken Ethel Mertz had so overshadowed her previous achievements in films and theater that she would be irrevocably typecast. As she told a reporter while working on The Deputy, "When my friends begin calling me Ethel instead of Vivian, it is time to make a radical change in style."

Unfortunately, her efforts to change things up met with limited success. Her friend Desi Arnaz cast her in a 1960 sitcom pilot, "Guestward Ho," but the network insisted on a different leading lady. So, with some hesitation, she accepted a lucrative offer in 1962 to be Lucille Ball's co-star on The Lucy Show. As it turned out, she never quite escaped the enduring identification as Lucy's sidekick. While she's fondly remembered for those performances, we'll never know what other types of roles she might have played.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Revving Up in Reno

I am pleased to announce that I am taking part in "The 1950s: Expanding the American Dream," a symposium sponsored by the National Auto Museum. This year's event will be held April 29 - May 2, 2015, at the museum in Reno, Nevada. Every year, this symposium series examines a different decade, "politically, culturally and socially." My talk will be based on my book The Women Who Made Television Funny, which profiles ten pioneering performers who came to prominence in 1950s TV.

More detail on this event to come, but in the meantime here's an overview. Ready for a trip back in time? I am.