Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Merv Griffin Show


Merv Griffin, by many accounts, was the single richest man in show business toward the end of his life.  That's a long way from being a second string Big Band singer known for the novelty tune, "I've got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!"

Already doing reasonably well as a singer, Merv was "dscivered' by Doris Day who got him an intro to Hollywood where he would appear in a number of small roles in the fifties. By the end of the decade, though, he was hosting game shows.

After a stint as a TONIGHT guest host pre-dating Carson, Merv arranged to have his own talk show first in syndication and then on a rival network with Arthur Treacher as co-host. Yes, THAT Arthur Treacher, a 1930's character actor best known today for creating an American fish and chips franchise bearing his name. 

Treach was very tall and very English and not a little sarcastic toward his boss. It made for a very different dynamic than what Johnny ended up with with Ed.

The two got along quite well, though, and even recorded several albums together. 

Eventually Merv took his show back to syndication to avoid censorship from the network. Treacher stayed behind when the series moved to the West Coast and was not replaced. Seen below is a bit more Merv merchandise, a game he created. He would create even more popular games in time including JEOPARDY (for which he always credited his ex-wife, actually)  and WHEEL OF FORTUNE. Those two shows alone made him a mogul.

It was said that Merv knew everyone, often having guests on his show that simply wouldn't do other talk shows. Orson Welles, for instance, was not only a frequent guest but it was Merv who orchestrated a late in life reconciliation between Welles and his former theatrical partner John Houseman. 

Seen here, most likely in Vegas, is Merv with Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and comedian Norm Crosby. Eventually, Merv would buy and sell casinos and hotels in Vegas. 

In the seventies, as seen by how many times I mention it in my 1974 and 1976 journal blogs, Merv's show was easily one of my favorites. 

He put out several entertaining books including the autobiography seen below and underneath it a collection of pieces about the various guests on his program over the years. The autobiography left out one major aspect of his life. 

After his official retirement in the eighties, Merv grew a stylish little goatee for a while. I was looking for a picture to run here and typed in "Merv Griffin with beard." The search engine gave me a picture of Merv with his frequent late-in-life fellow traveler, Eva Gabor.

Due to a couple of lawsuits, it was widely rumored that Merv was, in fact, gay. In retrospect, that seems to have been the case.

But gay or straight, there is no question whatsoever that this reasonably humble man who knew everyone who was anyone was, in the long run, one of the savviest and most successful businessmen Hollywood has ever well as one of its most entertaining interviewers.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Three Sons

I was nearly two years old when MY THREE SONS premiered on ABC in the Fall of 1960. I don't really remember much about watching it first run in those early years but, because we did, it feels like it was always there. Especially since it would remain there for the next twelve years. 

Actor Fred MacMurray had been in films for three decades, a star for most of that time, in comedies, dramas, westerns and musicals. He had major roles in TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE, MURDER, HE SAYS and the classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY. He was still appearing in major roles such as THE CAINE MUTINY, THE APARTMENT and THE SHAGGY DOG leading up to his TV series. According to many reports, his face had also been the visual inspiration for that of Captain Marvel in comics.

When he accepted the role on MY THREE SONS, he used his movie star leverage to have a provision added to his contract that all of his scenes for the season would be shot in two big lumps so he could then go off and play golf or make movies the rest of the time. Somehow, in spite of the fact that this meant all the episodes were shot out of sequence, the editors made the odd idea work and Fred came across as quite the wonderful TV sitcom father.

In the series, he was a relatively recent widower, living with his late wife's father, Bub, who helped take care of his three sons, Mike, Robbie and Chip. Bub was played by veteran Bill Frawley whose career had been saved from alcoholism by his many successful years on I LOVE LUCY, thanks to Desi Arnaz.

In 1965, however, the actor was forcibly and somewhat bitterly retired for health reasons. That wasn't the only change as oldest brother Mike, played by actor Tim Considine, chose to leave, also, and was given a big send-off with a wedding to his character's longtime girlfriend, played by Meredith MacRae. He was rarely mentioned and never seen again.

The kid with the glasses was a friend of Chip's named Ernie Thompson who, after Mike's departure, was adopted by the family, keeping the "three sons" aspect intact. Chip was played by Stanley Livingston and Ernie was his real-life brother, Barry.

Another veteran scene-chewer, Bill Demerest, came on as Bub's brother Charlie and soon made the housekeeper role his own. This supposedly was the cause of much consternation to Frawley who died not long afterwards. Around this same time, the show switched both to CBS and to color episodes!

Here's the core group--with dog Tramp--from the period I best remember the series as a favorite!

As with any show with longevity, things were tried to make MY THREE SONS combination of comedic and semi-dramatic shows more up-to-date. One was a steady girl for now oldest son Robbie in the form of singer Tina Cole, of The King Cousins.

Tina's Katie quickly won over the audience and she and Robbie were wed, allowing for the show to deal with the less-controversial problems of young marrieds. Eventually, Katie became pregnant and had...wait for it...three sons. Triplets!

The fan magazines made much at the time of the on and off-screen friendship between semi-teen idol Grady and his new co-star. Both were attached to others in real life and insisted that they had just quickly become very close friends.

  Around this time, the series caught a bit of a second wind with even MacMurray seeming to devote more energy to it. His patriarch character met and married a new woman who had a young daughter named Dodie! Cult favorite actress Beverly Garland became a regular as the new wife with young and toothless Dawn Lyn as the sole girl child. A year later, even Chip was given a steady romance in the form of actress Ronne Troup.

In the late seventies, not that long after the series finally ended in 1972, the cast reunited (along with the cast of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY) for a nostalgic clipfest. Even Tim Considine and Meredith MacRae showed up!

The young boys on the show grew up with a real affection for each other and both Considne and Grady were treated like actual brothers to the Livingstons ever after.

After MY THREE SONS, Don Grady worked mainly on his first and most true love, music. He died on June 27th, 2012. Rest In Peace.

Have Gun, Will Travel

Richard Boone was probably one of the ugliest men ever to become a TV star. His MEDIC series of the mid-fifties revealed him as a surprisingly deep and intelligent performer. 

HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL is the story of Paladin, an erudite man of culture and breeding who sets himself up as a self-styled knight of the old west.
Based in a San Francisco hotel, he dons an all-black "uniform" to perform various quests and other righteous good deeds for folks who seek him out. sometimes for many, sometimes for other reasons. 

Paladin gets his clients by distributing the card below throughout the land. Although the character was   given no first name (even the supposed last name, "Paladin," is a word defined as "A knight renowned for heroism and chivalry.") the joke was that his first name was right there on his card--"Wire." Wire Paladin.

My friend Martin Grams wrote this definitive book on HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL.

Although dramatic radio was on its final legs, HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL was adapted into a radio series as well. On radio, Paladin was played by veteran radio western star John Dehner.

The only other semi-regular on the series was the character Hey-Boy, a Chinese servant at the hotel. I played Hey-Boy twice on-stage in re-creations of original HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL radio scripts. 

more than a decade after Paladin left the airwaves, Boone reappeared as HEC RAMSEY, a character widely speculated to BE Paladin himself, aged and now obsessed with learning modern methods of fighting crime

Boone's face may not have been that of a typical cowboy star but he had personality and brains behind it. On top of that, he was an excellent actor whose efforts made Paladin into one of the most memorable TV cowboys of them all.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

TV Mags

TV mags overtook movie mags in popularity by the sixties and continued to sell well into the seventies. In the years since, however, they've dwindled down to specialty genre mags, teen tie-ins and the occasional one-shot.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

It's Burke's Laaaaw!


BURKE'S LAW premiered in 1963 and ran in one form another for three seasons before being revived a full three decades later. For me, though, it was one of those Saturday afternoon cop shows that dotted the local stations in the late sixties.

An early one of the gimmick detectives, Gene Barry's Amos Burke was a millionaire police Captain who investigated crimes in his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. He was single and lived in a mansion where he constantly had a different young lady, many of whom were strongly hinted at having stayed the night in the past.

Barry had somehow managed to avoid being typecast after his successful run as BAT MASTERSON--or did he? Both Bat and Burke were stylish lawmen. In a way, Gene Barry was simply updating his basic role the way James Garner would later do with Maverick/Rockford. He was aided and abetted on the series by veteran actor Regis Toomey and former "Teenage Frankenstein" Gary Conway as fellow detectives. Conway, especially in the early episodes was played up as the younger, handsome hero that the younger viewers might latch onto.

After a while, it became obvious that Barry was the show, though. Tough when he needed to be, soft at times but never weak and always, always witty! Burke was constantly quoting old sayings he'd just made up and labeling them as "Burke's Law." Episodes were all murder mysteries whose titles began with "Who killed...?" Familiar faces abounded and many fairly big-name guest stars per episode became a trademark of the episodes.

Toomey was a welcome presence but rarely had much to do other than look authoritative. Actor Leon Lontoc was our hero's chauffeur. Although not technically a policeman, he helped solve the mysteries at times while providing Mantan Moreland-style comic relief to Barry's Charlie Chan character. 

BURKE'S LAW was popular enough to be merchandised in both the US and the UK.

One highlight of the series was the appearance of actress Anne Francis as HONEY WEST, a female private investigator who was spun off into her own popular--now cult-favorite--series.

By 1965, spies were all the rage in all media thanks to the success of James Bond in an era of Cold War politics. The final, truncated season of the series ditched everything and everyone except Barry and made millionaire Burke into AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT.

Barry still avoided typecasting and went on to various other series as well as major TV movies and guest roles and even a surprise successful stint in Broadway musicals.

But in the early nineties, Gene Barry once again became Amos Burke in a short-lived modern revival of BURKE'S LAW, this time co-starring handsome young Peter Barton (THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR).

Anne Francis even returned as Honey West...more or less.

An early hit for Aaron Spelling, BURKE'S LAW has proven to have staying power with rerun success and in time has become a cult favorite due to the many guest stars in episodes, nearly all of who effortlessly have their scenes stolen by the outright charm of star Gene Barry. It's Burke's Law.