Saturday, June 30, 2018

Dorothy Baxter, Meet Ann Romano

The best role on Hazel was, of course, the sometimes maddening yet always endearing maid played by Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award-winning Shirley Booth. Next in line was Don DeFore, as the boss with whom she regularly butted heads. That sometimes left co-star Whitney Blake, as the mistress of the household, bringing up the rear. "I have had to build the character," the actress told TV Guide in 1963."No one knew anything about Dorothy -- not even Ted Key, the cartoonist who created Hazel ... It's hard to create a role with so few lines." Nevertheless, she made herself a key element of a show viewers embraced. Of Hazel's popularity, she said, "We make people happy. We don't deal with deep problems. People tell me it's refreshing to see our show, that they never miss it because they feel good afterwards."

Written out of the series in 1965, Miss Blake continued to act periodically, but also brought to light other gifts. She hosted a local talk show, Boutique, on Los Angeles' KCBS-TV. And in 1975, she attained new recognition as co-creator of the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time. It depicted family life quite differently than Hazel. The premise -- a divorced woman raising children -- came from her own experience. Not only had she been a child of divorce, but she went on to be a single mother to her own kids (including daughter Meredith Baxter) after splitting from her first husband.

It was a situation that TV up until then had mostly ignored. "This country swarms with divorced women having to be both mother and father to their children," she told the Los Angeles Times' Cecil Smith in 1975. "But as far is television is concerned, they don't exist." Blake and her third husband Allan Manings, who was then producing Good Times, successfully pitched the concept to Norman Lear. The result was a hit show that ran nine years. 

Whitney Blake died of esophageal cancer in 2002, but she is remembered for the way she helped depict family life on classic TV -- both as actress and writer. For more on Hazel and its cast, please see my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

On a Claire Day

Sometimes it seems as if author Derek Sculthorpe can write a book in the time it takes me to run to the post office, or decide what to have for dinner. But you know what really gets my goat? Sculthorpe, who's now released four books about the ladies and gentlemen of film noir, isn't just fast, he's good. Very good.

His latest, Claire Trevor: The Life and Films of the Queen of Noir (McFarland), is an intriguing study of the actress whose finely etched performances were integral to such classics as Key Largo and Murder, My Sweet. Sculthorpe takes us behind the scenes of Trevor's films and introduces us to a smart, self-aware woman who managed her career with care and savvy. (Itching to escape from a B-movie rut in the 1930s, the actress said of her studio's bread-and-butter pictures, "I know all about why they are necessary. I just don't want to be in them!")  He also calls our attention to some noteworthy Trevor performances you may have missed.

You might be wary of meeting some of the tough, ruthless dames Claire Trevor played onscreen. But you'll enjoy getting to know the real Miss Trevor in this compelling, rigorously researched yet readable book.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mistress of Mean: Cathy Lewis of "Hazel"

Cathy Lewis as Hazel's best nemesis.
As many actors and actresses learned over Shirley Booth's long career, it wasn't easy to hold your own in scenes with the star of Broadway, film, and the hit TV comedy Hazel (1961-66). One clearly up to the task was Cathy Lewis (1916-1968), the recurring guest player who created the memorably haughty character of Deirdre Thompson, George Baxter's sister. Deirdre was not a very likable lady; she looked down her nose at Hazel for being a domestic, coldly snubbed any attempt at familiarity, and told her sister-in-law Dorothy, "Why you and George persist in keeping that woman, I'll never understand!"
Cathy (left) and Marie Wilson in My Friend Irma.

Before coming to Hazel, Cathy Lewis was one of radio's most highly respected and versatile actresses. As she told an interviewer in 1952, "It isn't an easy medium, either. It takes less time, perhaps, than television, but don't let anyone fool you that you just read words off a page of script. Projecting a strong characterization into [a] microphone with the voice alone is hard work all the way." Her biggest claim to fame was the role of Jane Stacy on My Friend Irma, the level-headed, somewhat sardonic pal of the harebrained lead character played by Marie Wilson. That job helped her transition into television in the 1950s, where her other roles included the female lead in an unsuccessful video adaptation of radio's Fibber McGee and Molly.

Sadly, Cathy's life was cut short not long after Hazel came to an end, when she died of cancer in 1968, only 51 years old. Like Shirley Booth, she was quite a trouper. Mean as Deirdre was to poor Hazel, it's a safe bet Miss Booth knew full well what a valuable contribution this fine actress made to her classic television series. You can read more about Hazel and its cast in my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Gale at a TVparty!

I'm thrilled by TVparty's review of Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record, which calls the book "a real page-turner," adding, "Tucker specializes in the kind of exhaustive research that results in compelling storytelling."

Go here to read the full review, then here or here to get your own copy.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Gale on Sale

Aaand ... my new book on Gale Storm is finally ready for purchase, either at Amazon, or directly from the publisher. (Other sites, including Barnes & Noble, should follow shortly). It's also available from various eBook vendors.

So put down whatever you've been reading, and learn everything you always wanted to know about one of America's most beloved actress-singers. She's worth your attention.
Who needs a secret code when there's a new book about Gale Storm?