Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Li'l Abner in Dogpatch Today

There have been quite a few live action interpretations of Al Capp's classic LI'L ABNER comic strip but few besides the Broadway musical of the fifties could really be called successful. In the sixties there was a sitcom pilot that didn't sell. In the early seventies, there was a new TV musical (featuring Billie "Witchipoo" Hayes as the ideal Mammy Yokum!). In November of 1978, however, there was one that seems to have fallen through the cracks as I can't find it on IMDB at all.

LI'L ABNER IN DOGPATCH TODAY was a one hour NBC variety/musical TV special produced by LAUGH-IN's George Schlatter. As you can see from the ad, Stephen Burns starred as Abner. Burns was one of those under the radar character actors who did a number of things during that period and then faded away. Daisy Mae was played by Debra Feuer who had a slightly better career and would later be married to Mickey Rourke.

Capp had already stopped his strip by this point but the special stayed true to its ideals in satirizing women's lib in connection with the famous Sadie Hawkins day. Polly Bergen and Kaye Ballard appeared as thinly veiled parodies of the real-life Phyllis Schlafly and Bella Abzug. In this case, Phyllis Shoefly and Bella Asgood! Louie Bye seems odd casting for Capp's General Bullmoose. The oddest casting listed in the TV Guide, however, is Rhonda Bates as the strip's ultimate sex symbol, the temptress Apassionata Von Climax!

Bates was around quite a bit in late seventies TV. She was over 6 feet tall and had a great, toothy grin and an undisguisable Southern accent. She was funny but, no offense, not sexy. And yet here she was following in the steamy heels of Tina Louise in the Broadway version and Stella Stevens in the subsequent movie.

Sadly, I have no memory of who played Mammy and Pappy Yolum. TV GUIDE doesn't say and I can find no info online at all other than the barest hint that the show ever existed.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Happy Days Premiere-January 15th, 1974

I had seen the pilot on LOVE AMERICAN STYLE but I had NOT seen AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I liked Ron, though, so we tuned in and kept watching ABC to catch Elizabeth Montgomery's TV movie, MRS. SUNDANCE that premiered immediately after.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

R.I.P.--Chad Everett

Another loss from the TV family we all grew up with. The impossibly handsome Chad Everett remained best known from MEDICAL CENTER, a show I almost hated watching because the next day I always seemed to get all the symptoms of the disease of the week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jack Benny's New Look-1969

Jack Benny really wasn't one to look backwards. He always lived in the moment. I grew up watching the final years of his long-running CBS series, then looking forward to his annual NBC specials like this one from 1969.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Nick Clooney Show

The biggest local show on TV for grown-ups when I was a kid was THE 50-50 CLUB aka THE RUTH LYONS SHOW. That legendary lady retired in 1967 leaving Bob Braun to carry her show forward for another couple of decades. I watched them because my Mom watched them when she was home but they were "old people's shows" or so it seemed. When Nick Clooney, a former co-star of the 50-50 CLUB who had left Cincinnati for more opportunities to shine, returned in 1969 he got his own competing show on WCPO. It wasn't really that much different but it was new...so it was mine.

Nick was, of course, Rosemary Clooney's brother and he was both a good entertainer and a good host. His show was a talk a show and a variety show, aired live daily and soon enough he was attracting major guests. For reasons I can't recall, he left the station in the early seventies. Due to a non-compete clause, he was unable to appear on local TV for a year afterwards. While that might be death to some celebrities, Nick was welcomed back with open arms when he premiered the revised and improved version of his show on WKRC-TV a year later. Although he was once again successful, by the end of the decade Nick had unexpectedly morphed into the city's leading news anchor which he remained until being wooed to the West Coast. He would return as a deejay, a national movie host, a newspaper columnist, an author, a politician and a social activist. To most Americans who know Nick Clooney at all, he's just George's Dad. In Cincinnati, we know better. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

TV Guide Treasures--a Preview

I kept a lot of TV GUIDE Fall Preview issues over the years. My old pal Terry kept more than that. Today, he was cleaning out his mother's attic and asked if I wanted some old TV GUIDES. To be precise, SIXTEEN YEARS WORTH!!! They take up a lot of space, they're a fire hazard, hard to store, harder to find something in when you want it...so of course I said YES!!! 

Seen here are a few wonderful things from just three of these TV GUIDES from 1968, '69 and '70!

More, as you might imagine, to follow! Stay tuned to this blog!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dennis the Menace

Premiering in 1959 just about the time I became aware of...well...anything...DENNIS THE MENACE has literally been a part of my entire life. We watched the show regularly although I'm sure I had little input in that decision at that stage. I continued to watch early evening reruns throughout te sixties and enjoyed the occasional cable revivals since. 

DENNIS THE MENACE was based on Hank Ketcham's classic comic panel that had debuted a decade earlier. The strip was about a 5 year old boy who was always getting into unintentional trouble as boys tend to do. In the TV version, as played by Jay North, he's a little older and slightly less menacing but otherwise things are pretty much the same. 

Gloria Henry made a wonderful mother for Dennis and if Herbert Anderson had NOT gotten the role of Dennis's father there would have been no justice in the world. Never has a human being looked so exactly like a comic strip character!

Dennis's younger friend from the newspapers, Joey, appears from time to time but his contemporary, Tommy, is his best friend here.

Jeannie Russell was cast as Dennis's girlfriend/antagonist Margaret. As a wee lad, I thought she was a particularly cute "older woman" and have sometimes wondered if she's the reason I still have a thing for  girls with glasses today!

The real conflict on the show--as in the papers--was our hero's relationship with Good Ol' Mr. Wilson! For years, DENNIS THE MENACE was all I knew actor Joe Kearns from but then I discovered he was one of the great voices of old time radio! Among other things, the actor played many roles--Mel Blanc-like--on THE JACK BENNY SHOW as well as announcing for many shows such as SUSPENSE.

Nobody could do vein-popping frustration like Kearns. He died suddenly during the shooting of the series, however. 

Willard Waterman, another radio vet (from THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE) had the occasional role of Mister Quigley who ran the local store. After Kearns' death, Waterman's role was beefed up and he even filled in for the Mr. wIlson character in one script. Many years later, I was privileged to perform with and have dinner with this distinguished performer. 

Eventually, the producers brought in yet another veteran radio performer, Gale Gordon (one-time neighbor to Waterman's Gildy), as Mr. Wilson's brother...another Mr. Wilson. 

The actress who played the original Mr. Wilson's wife stayed for awhile but eventually the new one was given his own spouse in actress Sara Seeger, the wife of actor/director Ezra Stone (radio's Henry Aldrich). I would get to know Stone before his death also, not long after Sara's passing. 

Although the DENNIS THE MENACE episodes were fun and funny and remain nostalgic today, young Jay North had some major behind the scenes issues, not with the show or anyone connected with it but with his "handlers" as Willard Waterman described them to me. "He was a good kid. A really GOOD kid, but his handlers..." He shook his head. After another attempt at a series a few years later, he left show business for good.

 Dennis has proven quite popular on DVD most recently and Jay has been persuaded to do a few of the autograph shows around the country, sometimes with his old friend, Margaret, Jeannie Russell.

Both Jay North and Jeannie Russell will be making one of these rare joint appearances at the 2012 THE MID-ATLANTIC NOSTALGIA CONVENTION coming next month!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Mrs. Kate Columbo the Detective Loves a Mystery

She wasn't really the Lieutenant's wife. She couldn't be. Continuity-wise, virtually nothing worked. MRS. COLUMBO was invented when Peter Falk was having behind-the-scenes issues with his legendary series. Actress Kate Mulgrew, whom I had never before seen, played the role and was absolutely nothing like one would have expected from Columbo's mentions of his unseen wife over the years. It was a good show. It really was, hampered only by its forced attempt at an association with a better show. The fans just couldn't accept her as Falk's life partner, either, so the name was changed to downplay the connection. In fact, the name was changed several times as seen below. This didn't exactly help viewers keep up with the show either. After a suitable period to forget this exercise in ridiculous marketing, Mulgrew was given a chance to redeem herself as Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager...which she did admirably.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lucky Luke Rides Again

LUCKY LUKE was an early nineties western comedy series shot in America and featuring American actors alongside Italian superstar Terence Hill. It seems to have been shown all over the world except in the US, however, where it apparently went straight to VHS. This catchy theme is sung by Roger Miller who also did the voice of the horse (you heard me) Jolly Jumper until his death before the series ended its short run. Much fun, though.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Come On, Get Happy! The Partridge Family

In 1970, I fell in love with an older woman...Shirley Jones. Oh, I might have seen here around before. I'm not sure.  She had been in a number of successful films, after all, mostly musicals, but it had been nearly a decade since her last major triumph. I was only three years old when THE MUSIC MAN had been released. But now here she was in my living room starring in THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

I'm not sure how much Shirley actually sang on most of the Partridge Family records--heck, even David Cassidy wasn't allowed to sing on some early ones! My first exposure to the new show, though, was the song I THINK I LOVE YOU on the radio, a song I played endlessly, over and over, once I bought the 45.

It's hard not to think of the albums and the show as being two totally separate things. The music was pre-fabricated but there were a number of catchy tunes and David was a very powerful singer for such a young age. Shirley took the lead on two gorgeous renditions of holiday songs on the Christmas album but none of the other TV series regulars appeared on the albums at all. I'd be surprised if any of them ever even set foot in the recording studio.

Taken on its own merits, though, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY TV series was genuinely one of the best sitcoms on the air in its day.

You all know the plot: A struggling family garage band draft their mom to sing backup and they become a successful, working act, traveling to gigs in a restored old bus painted up in very seventies style. What makes it work, however, is the chemistry between middle son Danny Partridge and the group's hapless agent, Reuben Kincaid.

Danny Bonaduce, sadly destined to a lifetime of very public failings and issues, was quite the amazing little actor in his day with his deadpan delivery and generally expressionless face. He had a great way with a precocious line and former LAUGH-IN sad sack comic Dave Madden made an excellent oil for him in the pilot and in subsequent episodes.

David Cassidy as the lead singer, Keith, with his unique, almost feminine hairstyle, was the talented son of Broadway and TV star Jack Cassidy, at the time married to Shirley thus making David her stepson.

The cast was rounded out with Susan Dey as older sister Laurie, Suzanne Crough as younger sister Tracy and Jeremy Gelbwaks as the youngest boy, Chris. The fact that he was replaced by Brian Forster   and no one really seemed to notice although he looked very, very different, shows that these three were pushed quickly to the background. Susan Dey got some episodes to herself and a few good sisterly digs but THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY very quickly grew to revolve around Keith, Danny and Shirley.

The show was designed almost as much for marketing as for anything else and quickly spawned books, puzzles, games, magazines, comics and toys.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY lasted for four seasons, their records, I believe, a little longer, during which time David Cassidy had become the flavor of the month and, like most, had grown to despise the lack of privacy and respect as well as being pigeonholed as a teen idol.

Cassidy made a number of moves to be looked at as more adult--including posing nude--but in the end, his career went the way of all teen idols and he had to rebuild it from nearly scratch. He never did achieve the same heights but in time his Partridge fame returned as nostalgia and made him bankable again.

Shirley had been a star beforehand and remained a star afterwards, appearing on stage as well as on the big and small screens, her effervescent beauty and talent growing more so with age.

Susan Dey attempted an image change with a sexually explicit movie that flopped, had a reasonably good second sitcom that also flopped, but eventually had a nice, long run on LA LAW.

The younger kids predictably faded from show business and Danny Bonaduce's growing pains became all too public with arrests, substance issues and a reality show.

Over the years, there have been a number of partial reunions of the sitcom cast including an appearance by David on Danny's TV talk show where Shirley called in by phone.

In time, it became obvious that the music, although not incredibly inspired, was well made and memorable. And that the sitcom was one of the few family shows of the early seventies that has survived to become a classic.

Shirley Jones will be one of the many guests at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention taking place in Maryland next month. Go to http://midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com/ for details.