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

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