Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mission Impossible: This Blog Will Self Destruct in Five Seconds...

Welcome to the A to Z Bloggers Challenge and welcome to my blog, Classic Television Shows! I'm glad you're here. If you enjoy what you see, please leave a comment. I love chatting with my readers!

Today we are discussing one of my favorite television shows when I was a child. My sisters and I created drew computers on typing paper and taped them on the wall (computers back in the day were as big as entire rooms) so we had research equipment for our spy activities. We had dozens of friends on our block and a huge park at the end of the street, so we had a wide area for our spy territories. Playing Mission Impossible was fun because it was pure action. The show didn't develop the characters very well, which left us plenty of freedom to develop our own spy characters, but I was always the sneakiest and the smartest. Of course, now that I've written this down I'm sure one of my siblings will send me a message to argue this point, therefore, this blog post will self destruct in five seconds...

The cast of Mission Impossible in 1970.

That is one of the most interesting aspects of Mission Impossible. Besides the fact that it was one of television's first action series, it had barely any character development and was a bit slim on the dialogue, as well. It was pure action. Perhaps the violence (low key by contemporary standards) and occasional exposure of cleavage was a bit much for children, but the action was fun, fun, fun! 

Great Characters Considering There was Little Character Development! 

Mission Impossible was an hour-long adventure/spy television show that aired from September 17, 1966 to September 8, 1973, so it had a fairly long run as far as television shows in the 1960s is concerned in spite of the fact that it came in on the tail end of the spy/adventure television craze (according to some views, but I believe there will always be a market for these shows). 

The interesting thing about the action on this show is that the focus on action over characters set it apart from all the other spy/adventure shows of the time, such as Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Wild, Wild West. (Oh yes, I'll get to those eventually! They certainly were favorites, too!) In Mission Impossible, the plots are complicated enough for a two hour film and yet, the characters manage to complete their missions in 48 minutes (subtracting for commercials). This, of course, explains the focus on action and lack of attention to character development. 
Barbara Bain who starred as Cinnamon Carter on Mission Impossible, was also married to Martin Landau, who starred as Rollin Hand, the master of disguises on the show. 

There are other aspects of this show that were "firsts," and some interesting trivia involved with this show. For instance, this was the first appearance of Martin Landau with his wife, Barbara Bain. Landau plays Rollin Hand, master of disguise for the I.M.F. (Impossible Missions Force) and Barbara Bain plays Cinnamon Carter, the show's femme fatale. 

Leonard Nimoy replaced Martin Landau on Mission Impossible in the show's fifth season.

Landau's involvement in Mission Impossible is also a curious classic television bit of trivia intermingled with actor Leonard Nimoy. Landau was offered the role of Dr. Spock on Star Trek at the same time he was offered the role on Mission Impossible. He wisely chose Mission Impossible, which lasted much longer. Five years later, Landau was making more money than the show's star, Peter Graves, and he was replaced on Mission Impossible with...Leonard Nimoy! 

Peter Graves as Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible.

Peter Graves starred as Jim Phelps, the leader of I.M.F. Graves is the brother of one of my all-time favorite actors, James Arness, and changed his name so both actors would receive the attention they deserved for their individual talent. (Okay, maybe there was some sibling rivalry there. Who knows?) Graves was a star before he left high school. He was the state champion hurdler and had his own orchestra. However, he had his heart set on becoming the next Gary Cooper. When he left for Hollywood, big brother Jim chased after him and tried to convince him to go home, but Graves was a stubborn young fella! He landed his first film role within a year and made 30 years and three television series in his lifetime.

Then there is Willie Armitage, the I.M.F. muscle man played by Peter Lupus, who was also a former Mr. Indiana and Mr. Hercules--yes, he was well-cast for the part. He was 6'4 and 220 pounds, but he also had a personality that made his character seem human--he was more than a hunk. After Mission Impossible ended, Armitage became an author of health books.

Greg Morris stars as Barney Collier in Mission Impossible.

Greg Morris is another interesting character in this show when you place the show in its cultural perspective. Morris plays Barney Collier, an electronics expert who creates the gadgets and gimmicks. In fact, he was televisions first electronics genius! However, Morris was also a talented and intelligent actor. He was not the "token black man," a phrase often so unfairly used during the 1960s when a black actor was hired on a show. Morris was hired because he was the right man for the part, and the producers made this clear from the start. In promotions and media discussions about the show, Morris was praised for his talent as an actor, and not for the color of his skin. 

So, what is I.M.F.?

Good question, if I must say so myself. I.M.F. stands for Impossible Missions Force. Assignments for I.M.F. agents are delivered on audio tapes that self-destruct (love that plot device!) The messages are sent from an unidentified government agent who seems to know Jim Phelps because the messages always ends with, "This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim." 

The assignments generally involve saving the life of an unidentified European diplomat. Each member of the team is a specialist of some kind. Barney Collier's expertise is electronics; Rollin Hand is a master of disguise; Willie Armitage hauls the heavy spy equipment (lucky thing all of our equipment when I was a child was drawn on typing paper!); Phelps is the organizer, the leader; and Cinnamon Carter is a fashion model who skillfully leaves the top buttons of her blouse undone. 

Barbara Bain and Alf Kjellin in Mission Impossible.

The show used a tremendous amount of fancy gadgets, a fact highlighted in the contemporary film versions starring Tom Cruise. The show also made use of spinning camera shots; snare drum music; and a skilled use of tension that continuously builds to the climax like a well-written novel. In fact, one plot device used often to increase the tension is a ticking clock. Another is dripping water. 


They also used a lot of scams, which may have inspired films such as The Sting, which was released the same year the show ended. One of my favorite "stings" was "The Sting," which aired in 1971. In this episode the operators must convince a hit man that he received a heart transplant with a heart that belonged to a priest, then subtly convince him that his personality is changing due to the priest's heart. 

The Beginning and the End of Mission Impossible

The creator of Mission Impossible was Bruce Geller who, like supernatural televisions Rod Serling, was considered a Hollywood whiz kid. He sold his first script at 23 and by 35 he wrote, produced, and directed dozens of TV shows, two off-Broadway musicals, and won nearly as many awards as the shows he created. In 1965, Geller wrote a screenplay that was rejected, but he had faith in his idea, and a fascination with action shows. He approached Lucile Ball and Desilu Studios who backed the show, then sold it to CBS. Geller won an Emmy for Dramatic Writing the first year Mission Impossible was on the air. 

Peter Graves in Mission Impossible.

So, what was the problem? An exciting show, hot actors, action, action, action--what went wrong? Money, and not from the place you would expect. Not from the star of the show, Peter Graves. In 1965, Martin Landau was a hot commodity with numerous films and television shows on his resume. When he was first offered the role of Rollin Hand he demanded--and received--$4000 per episode for a yearly contract, which gave him the freedom to up the ante if the show took off in ratings. In 1965, Mission Impossible was #11 in the Top 25 and Martin Landau's per episode salary was $11,500, $4500 more than the star of the show, Peter Graves. Surprisingly, CBS believed he was worth the money, Paramount did not. 

Martin Landau in Mission Impossible.

They replaced Landau with Leonard Nimoy and the ratings went down, though not by much. Eventually, however, the actors and writers lost interest, believing they were running out of story ideas. Peter Graves felt it was best to leave the show with a good reputation and completed his last mission on September 8, 1973. 

Awards, Revival, and Films

Peter Graves and Martin Landau both received Best Actor Golden Globe Awards for the original Mission Impossible and the actors, crew and show received an additional 14 wins and 36 award nominations. Clearly, it was possible with viewers and critics. 

In 1988, Mission Impossible was revived with Peter Graves leading a completely different cast. This version lasted until 1990 and won two Prime Time Emmys. 

Tom Cruise at a Mission Impossible press conference in 1996. Photo by Hendrike.

In 1996, Tom Cruise revived the Mission Impossible story as the producer of a blockbuster film. He has now produced four films in this series: The 1996 version of Mission Impossible; Mission Impossible II released in 2000; Mission Impossible III released in 2006; and Mission Impossible--Ghost Protocol released in 2011. According to an article on Wikipedia, Tom Cruise revealed in a 2011 interview that he will most likely make a fifth Mission Impossible film soon.  

Sources:
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Mission Impossible. Creator: Bruce Geller. Perf. Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupis, Leonard Nimoy. Desilu Productions (1966-1968), Paramount Television (1968-1973). Running Time: 50 min. 
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

Leave it to Beaver: Classic Family Fun!


Welcome to day twelve of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! I hope you're enjoying the adventure back in time to the early years of television! Today we'll discuss yet another one of my favorite family sitcoms, Leave it to Beaver! Leave it to Beaver was a bit before my time, but I watched the re-runs and loved the show!

Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. 

Some actors spend their lives tending bar in Hollywood restaurants waiting to be discovered. Jerry Mathers walked into a department store with his mother and shortly after he'd learned how to walk and talk he was already a Hollywood "pin-up" boy--literally. A department store owner saw his cute freckled face and used his photo for the cover for the stores calendar. Six months later, in 1954, he debuted on the Ed Wynn show. In 1955 he was cast in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry. Mathers appeared in two more films before 1957 when he was cast as Beaver Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. Jerry Mathers was a not-so-typical all-American boy. He was an overnight sensation. Promoters, producers, directors, and viewing audiences across America were crazy for the kid from the time they first saw that cute face on the department store calendar. 

Meet the Cleavers (or the actors)

Of course we must start with Beaver! Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) lives with his parents and older brother in the town of Mayfield. When Jerry Mathers auditioned for the role he was a bit fidgety. The producers asked if he was nervous and he said, "No, but I gotta go to my Boy Scout meeting!" That sealed the deal. They were looking for an all-American boy who caught frogs, rode his bicycle with his friends so he could be home in time for dinner, and spoke respectfully to his parents. They found the right boy in Jerry Mathers. 

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers who played Wally and Beaver in Leave it to Beaver.

Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow) is Beaver's older brother. He grew up in Hollywood, but like many young actors (John Wayne's protege Gail Russell) Dow just wanted to have fun with his friends. He wasn't in Hollywood seeking stardom, he was just being a kid. Sometimes that attitude brings out the best in a child during an audition. Dow's friend auditioned for a show and Dow promised to be there for moral support. He was a bit too supportive--he got the part! When Leave it to Beaver ended, Dow became a regular on daytime soaps. He even starred in a very important commercial for McDonalds Restaurants (he married the woman who gave him the role!) 

Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as Ward and June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver.

Hugh Beaumont stars as Ward Cleaver, the well-intentioned father who works hard as an accountant, but is eager to advise his sons. He sometimes makes mistakes. He is human, and that's why we like him. Beaumont had a side career as a Methodist minister. On the show, Beaumont is married to June (Barbara Billingsley), the perfect mom for the, well, average family! I am well-familiar with Billingsley as she was a regular in detective dramas and B-movies. In spite of her obvious acting talent, Billingsley was convinced she was cast in the role because the producers felt sorry for her as her husband recently died. Clearly, she was cast because she was the perfect mom for Beaver. The line you hear her speak most often in the show? "Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver..."

Jerry Mathers as Beaver in Leave it to Beaver. 

I just have to include this story! I read it in John Javna's Cult TV. When Jerry Mathers auditioned for the role, he was asked to cry, but struggled with the request. Hugh Beaumont, also auditioning for the role of Beaver's father, took Mathers aside and quietly suggested that if he cover his face with his hands and laugh it will sound the same as crying. According to Jerry Mathers, he went home that night and prayed that Hugh Beaumont would get the part of Ward Cleaver, and he did. 

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

Part of the appeal of this show is the fact that they really are average. They are not too perfect, in spite of the fact that Barbara Billingsley is always shown cooking dinner in a dress with pearls (she wore the pearls because she had an indentation in her throat that she thought looked bad on camera). When Ward comes home from work, the first words he generally hears from his wife are, "Ward, I'm very worried about the Beaver." 


The phrase Beaver hears most often from his brother, Wally, is, "Boy, Beave, are you gonna get it..." Beaver is subjected to a tremendous amount of family advice, particularly from his brother, but the most touching advice the Beaver hears comes from his father who tells him, "I don't care what kind of trouble you may get into in your life, you don't ever need to be afraid to come to your parents and tell them." 

Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow as Beaver and Wally in Leave it to Beaver. 

Beaver attends Grant Avenue Grammar School, which means he is in school with students from kindergarten age through eighth grade. Beaver is in the second grade when the show begins and his brother, Wally, is in the eighth grade, and naturally feels a bit of responsibility toward his younger brother. 

In the episode, "The State Versus Beaver, which aired on March 26, 1958, Ward helps Beaver and his friend, Larry, build a homemade race car (powered by a lawn mower engine), but he also provides them with a long list of restrictions, including restricting them from riding the vehicle in the street. Of course, Beaver and Larry break just about every rule, including driving the car in the street. Beaver is afraid to tell his parents and convinces Wally to appear as his "guardian." Beaver receives a ticket and appears before a judge in traffic court. The judge agrees to "sponge off" the record, but Wally does tell his father about the incident. When Ward asks Wally why Beaver didn't come to him in the first place, Wally replies, "he didn't want you to feel bad 'cause you got a kid like him." Aww. This episode goes straight to the heart, and of course Beaver is given the "talk" about always telling your parents, no matter what you do.  

So, who are these trouble-making co-conspirators? 

Wally and the Beaver both have best friends, and if truth be told, the two boys and their friends manage to find equal amounts of trouble, but we'll start with Wally's friends. 

Ken Osmond plays Eddie Haskell, Wally's best friend in Leave it to Beaver. Osmond later joined the Los Angeles Police Department and was shot in the line of duty, saved by his bullet-proof vest.

Perhaps the most famous of their friends is Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond), who is Wally's best friend. He is Wally's foil. Classic good versus bad. Where Wally tries (but sometimes fails) to do the right thing, Eddie inevitably tries to do what he knows is wrong. He is known as a two-faced wise guy, but Wally, remember, is a very forgiving person. (Believe it or not, Ken Osmond, in his adult years, joined the Los Angeles Police Department and was decorated for valor when he was shot in the line of duty, saved by his bullet-proof vest.) The reason Eddie is fun to watch because he's so obnoxious! And, because he brings out the best in Wally, highlighting Wally's ability to forgive. I like that in Wally.

Wally is also friends with Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford (Frank Bank). Lumpy is big, a bit slow, and according to leaveittobeaver.com, Beaver refers to the Eddie Haskell/Lumpy Rutherford team as "Creeps Incorporated." In the real world, though, Frank Bank eventually became a successful stock broker in Palm Springs, which only goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover, or its on-screen character! 

Beaver's best friend is Robert "Rusty" Stevens (Larry Mondello). Rusty of course has red hair, hence the nickname, and a nice spread of freckles to highlight the hair. He is a bit whiny and always munching on something, most often an apple that he has pulled out of his pocket.

Kid Talk

Beaver, Wally and his friends were known for their "kid talk" on the show. Since the emphasis was on presenting them as average American kids (note the contrast between the carefully dressed and cleanliness of Ward and June to their dirty, dusty sons), then of course they are going to come up with their own form of kid slang. 

Wally and Beaver both use the word "gyp" when they've been cheated out of something. Of course, in contemporary television the word would not be used as it is a hurtful form of expression implying that gypsies are thieves, but this is not something that ever would have occurred to Wally and Beaver. They also talk about "messing around," which is a phrase I still use to explain that I'm not really doing anything important. 

Some of the more interesting terms are "hunka," which means a large serving, generally of desert. They also use words that were popular in the 1940s with gangs, which is an interesting cultural observation, words like "rat" and "wiseguy." Some of Beaver's favorite words are: crummy; creep; grubby; goofy; and his favorite phrase when he is feeling frustrated or receives some form of punishment is "oh, gee whiz." 

Popularity of Leave it to Beaver 

Leave it to Beaver had solid ratings, consistent ratings, and yet, it never made it into the Top 30. This could be because of the competition in the time slot--during its first season it was up against The Defenders and in its final season it competed with Perry Mason, and in the 50s, shows about law and order were as popular as shows about families. Nevertheless, critics called the show charming and sincere. Variety compared the series to Tom Sawyer

Family time for the Cleavers in Leave it to Beaver. 

Leave it to Beaver ran from October 4, 1957, to September 12, 1963. During that time, the show received two Emmy nominations, both in 1958 for Best New Program Series of the Year and Best Teleplay Writing for the pilot episode "Beaver Gets Spelled." Years later, in 1984, Jerry Mathers received the Young Artist's Former Child Star Special Award and in 1987, Ken Osmond and Tony Dow both received the Young Artist's Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award. Ken Osmond was also nominated in 2005 for TV Land's Character Most Desperately in Need of a Timeout Award! Leave it to Beaver did make Time Magazine's list of "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-Time" and the show placed at number 74 on Bravo's list of "100 greatest TV Characters."

Jerry Mathers as Beaver in Leave it to Beaver. 

If I had to name one reason why I am a dedicated fan of Leave it to Beaver it would have to be the undeniable fact that the characters are real--they are flawed. They make mistakes, and, well, golly gee, Leave it to Beaver is just plain fun. 

Postscript: Regarding my comment about the word "gyp." According to my most trusted word origin source, World Wide Words, it is widely believed to come from gypsy, but the word actually originated in the U.S., so the author of the page questions the racist connection.

Sources:
  • Applebaum, Irwin. "The Gang." leaveittobeaver.org. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Hello! This is a reminder for the A to Z challenge that I am having problems with my blogs and may run behind a day on my posts, but I will always catch up within a day. Thank you so much for your patience!
Darla Sue Dollman

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kung Fu: Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting!


Welcome to day eleven of the A to Z Blog Challenge. Today's topic is the 1970s television phenomenon Kung Fu. Kung Fu aired on ABC from October 1972 to June of 1975 and never once made it into the Top 25 shows, but it was nominated for two Golden Globes and was undoubtedly a cult TV favorite for children and teens in the 1970s. Kung Fu had everyone Kung Fu fighting! 

David Carradine starred as Caine in Kung Fu from 1972 to 1975. 

I believe Kung Fu was popular with the masses for a number of reasons. First, the art of Kung Fu was popular at that time. Chinese American martial artist Bruce Lee, instructor, philosopher, filmmaker and actor dominated Hollywood with his powerful on-screen presence and intense physical appearance and performances. Just as skinny teens in the 1950s wanted to be Charles Atlas, the man who never allowed anyone to kick sand in his face, young men in the 1970s wanted to be Bruce Lee, who played Kato in The Green Hornet, fighting crime, kicking butt and asking questions later. The emphasis, of course, was taking care of oneself, and defending the oppressed. 

Caine's Childhood   

Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine), the star of Kung Fu, is the child of a Chinese woman and American sea captain. He is raised in a Shaolin temple to be a monk, but in the pilot episode he is forced to flee his temple family when he kills the Chinese Emperor's nephew, an act of revenge for the murder of his mentor and elder, Master Po (Keye Luke), a man of peace who was shot with a gun, an issue that Caine often struggles with throughout the show. Caine manages to escape to America where he searches for his half brother, Danny Caine, in the American West while constantly on the run from Chinese government agents. 

Keye Luke plays Master Po in Kung Fu

In each episode, Caine flashes back to his childhood experiences growing up in the temple and the teachings of Master Po as he searches for answers to his current problems (young Caine is played by Radames Pera). In these flashbacks, Master Po refers to young Caine as "Grasshopper." The fact that Caine is Chinese and in the Old West is a problem in itself as the Chinese were forced to endure tremendous prejudice, particularly when they were hired by the railroads to work for lower wages. Caine does not limit his use of Kung Fu to defend the Chinese, though. He will protect anyone who is threatened or in danger. Unfortunately, this means he is constantly on the move to avoid retaliation.

David Carradine as Caine, a man of peace, in the television cult show Kung Fu. 
  
Life in the West is even more difficult for a man raised to be a monk as Caine's life quest is to find peace. He lives for truth and goodness. He is patient and shows great humility. He will only kill if forced to defend himself or someone who is victimized from death, only with great reluctance. In the words of David Carradine, quoted in Cult TV, "Caine has a great "reverence for all life." It is these qualities that made him so appealing to the Flower Children of the 1960s and early 70s. Kung Fu was also positive education for children in the 1970s because Caine fought for the weak, the victimized, the oppressed, and he always won. More importantly, Caine taught children self-control and the advantages of living a peaceful life. 

David Carradine and Chief Dan George in Kung Fu, 1973.

In fact, I believe Caine was adored by children who developed a Kung Fu style of communication in the 1970s. Schoolchildren across America would reply to their friends and parents by placing their palms together in front of their chest and saying, "Of course, Master." The appropriate way to respond to a question was to ask a question. "Do you hear the wind, Grasshopper? Do you hear the water rushing in the stream, Grasshopper? That is your answer." Everyone was a "Grasshopper." Kung Fu talk was great fun! As a teen, I had a secret crush on Caine. I never missed an episode of Kung Fu. If Caine were a man, I would marry him. (Insert sigh here.) 

David Carradine

David Carradine, who plays Caine in the show, comes from a family of famous film and television stars. His father, John Carradine, made a career out of playing mad scientists in Hollywood horror films, but he also made appearances on numerous television anthologies, such as Love, American Style, Night Gallery, and even played a preacher in an episode of Kung Fu

John Carradine, father of David, Keith, and Robert Carradine, in a trailer screenshot from Blood and Sand. John Carradine started the Carradine acting dynasty. 

John Carradine had three sons: David, Keith, and Robert, all famous actors in their own right. Not surprisingly, the equally skilled actress Martha Plimpton is his granddaughter, daughter of Keith Carradine. Each of these actors has their own style and appeal, and are equally successful in film and TV. When the producers chose David Carradine for this role, they not only chose a star with the perfect personality and skill to carry this role, they also cast his family name. 

The Mystery of the Origin of Kung Fu

In her memoir, Bruce Lee: The Only Man I Knew, Bruce Lee's wife, Linda, claims Paramount stole the idea for Kung Fu from her husband. In fact, she presents such a convincing argument that I feel uncomfortable listing Warner Brothers on my source list! 

Actor, director, instructor, and Kung Fu expert Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee first mentioned his idea for a remarkably similar show during a 1971 interview with Pierre Berton. He said that he wanted to play a warrior in the Old West, but he was having trouble convincing Paramount or Warner Brothers to buy the show. The show was eventually produced by Warner Brothers, who denied any connection with Bruce Lee's suggested project and also denied rumors that Lee was their original choice to play Caine. Tragically, Bruce Lee died in 1973, when the series was at its peak.

Sources: 
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Kung Fu. Creator: Ed Spielman. Perf. David Carradine, Radames Pera, Keye Luke. Warner Bros. Television. Running Time: 60 min.  
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.




The Jetsons: Saturday Morning Cartoons



Welcome to day ten of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will be discussing yet another of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons. I came from a rather large family and every Saturday morning my sisters, brother and I would wrestle for the couch so we could watch our favorite cartoons. From The Flintstones to The Archies, we loved them all, but tonight we'll discuss one of our favorites, the futuristic family, The Jetsons

The Jetsons were one of my favorite space-age families! 

The Jetsons were actually on the air twice, from 1962-1963 and 1985 to 1987. I think part of what made The Jetsons so special was their cool lifestyle. The Jetsons lived in Orbit City in 2062. They lived in homes, worked in businesses and shopped in stores that were all raised high above the ground on columns. The Jetson family lived in an apartment building, the Skypad Apartments. They seemed like a typical American family, but their lifestyle was awesome! 

Meet the Jetsons

George Jetson (George O'Hanlon) is the head of the family. He's 40 years old and a loving, gentle family man who is also a bit of a goof. He makes a lot of mistakes. He works for Spacely's Sprockets. His job is to turn the Referential Universal Digital Indexer on and off--a challenging job, sure, but in 2062 everything is mechanized, so there really isn't much for humans to do! George loves and adores his wife, children, and dog, Astro. 

George and Jane Jetson


Jane Jetson (Penny Singleton) is 33 and a housewife. She is the mother of two children. She is also obsessed with the latest space-age fashions and household devices. She loves to shop at Mooning Dales. She is a dedicated wife who works hard to make life pleasant for her family, but she is also a social butterfly. She belongs to the Galaxy Women Historical Society. 

Judy Jetson (Janet Waldo) is a 15 year old typical teenager and student at Orbit High School. Her primary interests include shopping for clothes like her mother, hanging out with her friends like her mother, and discussing her secret life with her digital diary--apparently times changed faster than the producers thought they would when they wrote the show! 

The Jetson's youngest child is 6 1/2 (that 1/2 is important) Elroy Jetson (Daws Butler). He is exceptionally intelligent and a space science expert, one of those children who makes his parents feel intellectually stunted. He is polite and behaves himself. He attends Little Dipper School and studies space history, astrophysics, star geometry and basic math. 

Astro (Don Messick) is the family dog. He had a former owner, Mr. Gottrockets, who called him Tralfas. He is now George Jetson's best friend. He speaks in ruff English that resembles the grumbles of another famous and favorite cartoon character Scooby Doo.

The final member of the family is Rosie, who is the household robot. She is considered to be a bit outdated, but she is a member of the family. She does all housework, some of the parenting chores, and is a bit bossy. There really isn't much for Rosie to do, but boss the family around since everything is mechanized. 

Futuristic Utopia

The daily life of the Jetsons is surprisingly boring. In fact, I think the reason we were so obsessed with this show was because of the space age devices. It didn't have much of a plot. There was little excitement. George Jetson leaves for work every day in his flying saucer with the bubble top and his family uses their time-saving leisure devices. 


The Jetsons--I always wanted a car like that one, but in red!

I guess we enjoyed the Jetsons so much because they sparked our imaginations, and many of the devices that seemed so cool back then are in homes now! They were also a loving family and good role models. I think the message behind The Jetsons is: Futuristic utopia can be boring. If you don't ever do anything, well, you don't ever do anything! 

Source: 
  • The Jetsons. Dir. Joseph Barbera, William Hanna. Perf. George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Daws Butler, Janet Waldo, Don Messick. Hanna-Barbera Productions. Running Time: 30 min.    




Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Love Lucy: The Funniest American Comedy with the Saddest Ending


Welcome to day nine of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! I hope you've enjoyed your reading! Today we will discuss one of the most popular sitcom anthologies in America, primarily due to the charm and talent of the late comedic actress Lucille Ball. 


I Love Lucy was a masterpiece in comedy. With its ridiculous plots (and Lucy's ridiculous behavior) and hilariously funny one-liners, no other show could compete. Lucille Ball, a tall, stunningly beautiful ex-showgirl didn't hesitate to make herself look silly for a laugh, and that's what made her so charming--her ability to join the audience in laughing at herself. 

The Incomparable Lucile Ball

Lucille Ball dropped out of high school when she was 15 to become an actress. Unfortunately, she had a rough start--she flunked out of the John Murray Anderson School of Drama! (The star of the school at that time was 18 year old Bette Davis!) Lucille then tried modeling for a career. She modeled hats, which always looked lovely on her bright red hair; modeled for billboards, and briefly changed her name to Diane Belmont trying to appear more sophisticated, but she eventually realized that the public didn't want sophistication, they wanted Lucy! 

Lucy appeared with Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals and the Three Stooges in Three Little Pigskins. It's not often that Hollywood quickly recognizes star material in an actor, but they did in Lucille Ball. She was soon cast alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Gene Kelly, and Katherine Hepburn. 

A Match Made in the Commissary

In June of 1940, the lovely, leggy, red-haired model Lucille was at the commissary at RKO studios when a devastatingly handsome Cuban bandleader asked her if she knew how to rumba. Of course she said no, hoping he would teach her, which he did. The couple fell hopelessly in love, with the emphasis on hopeless as it was well-known that Desi Arnaz enjoyed spending time with women, something Lucille knew from the start, but chose to ignore. 


Desi Arnaz was actually the son of a Cuban senator and his mother was considered one of the most beautiful women in Latin America according to John Javna's Cult TV. He was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y Acha III into a wealthy family in Santiago. When the Batista revolution exploded in Cuba in 1933, Desi was 16 years old. He fled to America with his mother and they found a home in Miami, Florida. Desi quickly learned English, which enabled him to find employment quite easily. He was hired as a singer for the Xavier Cugat band. Critics found his singing tolerable, but raved about his looks and when he was 23 he was cast in the film Too Many Girls. Lucille Ball was also in the film. As a interesting bit of irony, when she met and fell in love with her husband, he really was a famous bandleader!  

A Failing Marriage Sparks a History-Making Sitcom

At the same time the audience is laughing at the antics of Lucille, there is always the very public knowledge hovering in their minds that she created the show to save her failing marriage. Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911-April 26-1989) and Desi Arnaz (March 2, 1917-December 2, 1986) eloped on November 29, 1940. The Marriage was problematic from the start due to the performance schedule of Desi Arnaz, who was always on the road, and constant rumors of his infidelity. 


Lucy was searching for a way to keep the two together and thought she'd found it when she was cast as Liz Cugat for the CBS radio program My Favorite Husband in 1948. The show was a great success and she was asked to develop it for television, but she insisted on having Desi Arnaz on the show. CBS was reluctant due to the Cuban background of Arnaz, so Lucille Ball created the Desilu Productions company hoping to convince sponsors to buy the show if she created it herself. They promoted the show as a vaudeville act with Lucille Ball playing the role she made famous in I Love Lucy, the zany housewife constantly trying to appear on her husband's show. 


Lucille Ball was a clever woman, always. She realized early on in her marriage that she was dealing with an insecure man who was apparently jealous of his wife's success, so she created a show that made him the hero. The vaudeville act was a hit, and CBS bought the television show. The show temporarily brought them closer together as Desi Arnaz cancelled his performance tour to appear on television in I Love Lucy

Friends, Neighbors, and Landlords 

Lucy was undoubtedly the star of the show, which starred Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo, Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo, and their neighbors/landlords, William Frawley as Fred Mertz and Vivian Vance as Fred's wife, Ethel. Desi and Fred were like two peas in a pod, constantly grumbling about their zany wives. Ricky's trademark shout was "Loooocy," which he used when he was angry with his wife and when he was seeking the love of his life, either way, but with a different tone of voice. Lucy's trademark was a bawling "Waaahh" whenever she knew she was in trouble, which was often. Ethel was the voice of reason in her friendship with Lucy. She would shake her head, express her doubt, but eventually go along with Lucy's plans. 

The cast of I Love Lucy: William Frawley, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball. 

William Frawley (1887-1966) played Fred Mertz on the show. He didn't audition for the role, he called Lucille Ball and asked for the part. The two met ten years earlier, but Lucille remembered him and cast him in the role, even though he was quite a bit older than his on-screen wife, which sometimes created tension when they were off the set. Frawley was a professional, though, always. He was a veteran vaudevillian who also appeared in over 100 films. He was an accomplished singer who introduced the song "My Mammy" to vaudeville. Unfortunately, he also suffered from the disease of alcoholism. Lucille made it clear to Frawley that he would be fired with no second chances if he ever appeared drunk on the set of the show, and he never did.

The cast of I Love Lucy from the 1955 episode "Face to Face." 

Vivian Vance (1909-1979) played Ethel Mertz, Fred's wife. When she was hired for the show, Vance had only appeared in two other films, which obviously made Lucille and Desi uncomfortable until they watched her act on stage and she won their hearts. She was cast as a frumpy housewife, which unfortunately became less and less appealing to her as time wore on, particularly considering the great difference in age between Vance and her co-star, William Frawley, who she often complained was old enough to be her father--Vance was 39 and Frawley was 64. Vance, however, was loyal, and when I Love Lucy ended and Lucille Ball started The Lucy Show in 1965, Vance stayed with Lucy as a regular cast member.  

And Baby Makes Three

Lucille Ball always wanted to have children and tragically suffered through numerous miscarriages. The first child of Lucy and Desi Arnaz, Luci Desiree Arnaz, was born on July 17, 1941, one month before Lucy's 40th birthday. A year later, when I Love Lucy was on the air, Lucille Ball became pregnant again. The producers decided to write the pregnancy into the script, which was groundbreaking television. They insisted, however, that no one use the word "pregnant." They could only say Lucy was "expecting!" Lol! Oh how times have changed. 

Luci Desiree Arnaz, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz Jr. in Here's Lucy, 1967.

Little Ricky's appearance on the show was made in the episode "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," which aired on January 20, 1953, the same day as the inauguration of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Little Ricky was clearly more popular than Ike! Eisenhower's inauguration attracted 29 million viewers while Little Ricky's birth drew 44 million viewers. 

Lucille Ball with Richard and Ronald Simmons, the twins who played Little Ricky. 

The day Lucille Ball gave birth to Desi Arnaz IV, a record 44 million viewers tuned in to the show. Little Ricky, as he was called, was presented on the show as a doll and a child named Jerry Hausner provided the real life newborn baby cries. Later in the show, six-month-old twins Richard and Ronald Simmons played the role of Little Ricky. Then three-year-old twins Michael and Joseph Mayer were cast in the role. Richard Keith was the final actor to play Little Ricky. 

Most Popular Episodes (in my Little World!) 

In addition to "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," there were many other popular episodes that attracted a wide audience. In the 1956 episode "Lucy's Italian Move," for instance, Lucy is considered for a role in a film called Bitter Grapes. She mistakenly believes the show is about wine making and prepares for the film by flying to Rome. I will never forget the wonderful scene when Lucille Ball climbs into the grape-stomping vat with Teresa Terelli and ends up covered in grapes! One of Lucille Ball's best performances on this show, in my opinion.  

Another one of my favorites is the 1952 episode "Job Switching" when Lucy and Ethel decide to leave their jobs as housewives and are hired at a local candy making factory. They are failures in dipping and boxing and end up in the wrapping department, but cannot keep up with the conveyor belt and end up stuffing candy in their aprons, hats, and mouths. This show was often imitated by Laverne & Shirley, a spin-off of the comedy Happy Days. Laverne and Shirley work at the conveyor belt at Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee and are often shown making hilarious mistakes at work.  

The End, in so Many Painful Ways

I Love Lucy first aired on October 15, 1951. The finale aired on June 24, 1957. The show ranked in the Top 25 television shows every year it was on the air, and it was the number one show in America for five of those seven years. It was the first show filmed for broadcast. It was the first show seen by 10 million viewers. The show won five Emmies, including two for Best Comedy Series. It was the highest rated show in the 1950s.


Following Season Six, Lucy and Desi decided to cut down on the episodes and extend the show to 60 minutes, featuring a special guest star in each episode. The show was also renamed The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, then The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and ran from 1957 to 1960 with the same cast as I Love Lucy

On March 2, 1960, Desi Arnaz's birthday, Lucille Ball filed for divorce after they completed filming the show. At the end of the episode, "Lucy Meets the Moustache," the couple kiss, and for many years this was the most famous kiss in Hollywood when the audience understood that Lucy was kissing her husband goodbye forever. The show ended with a song, "That's All." 

Sources: 
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Leibman, Nina. "Lucille Ball." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved April 10, 2013. 
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Days, and two of Hollywood's Most Famous Actor/Director/Producers


Welcome to day eight of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am, and thank you for reading! Today we will be taking a look at yet another of my childhood favorites (Oh yes, I watched a lot of television as a child, and I do not regret a minute of it!) Today's show is Happy Days! 

Happy Days was the start of retro, and the ultimate proof that you can never please a teenager. In the sixties, American teens rebelled against the perfect families of the 1950s seen in shows such as Father Knows Best so they could tune in to watch the blended family sibling rivalry in The Brady Bunch. in the 1970s, they mocked the ultra-fake cheeriness of the The Brady Bunch so they could return to the 1950s with Happy Days and its theme song, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets! Then, in the 1990s, you could not pry American teens away from the set when That Seventies Show was on. What a long, strange trip it's been, America!


Ron Howard and Henry Winkler in the 1976 episode of Happy Days, "Fonzie's Apartment." 

One of the most interesting aspects of Happy Days, in my opinion, is what happened to the two main characters after the show--their careers did not simply "take off," Ron Howard and Henry Winkler became two of the most famous Hollywood superstars in history! Ron Howard has directed 35 films including The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Far and Away, and won two Oscars. Henry Winkler produced 39 films and won two Golden Globes--he's come a long way from The Fonz!

The Fonz, An American Idol

Although he didn't begin the show as the star, and in all fairness shared the star status with Ron Howard, there is no denying that Henry Winkler's character, Arthur Fonzerelli, A.K.A. Fonzie, or "The Fonz," was an American teen idol. The Fonz revived the black leather jacket look, slicked hair, and likely drove many parents in the 70s close to the brink of insanity as their children copied his favorite phrases, "Heyyyy..." and "Whooa..."

Fonzie was an unexpected cult figure. In fact, according to John Javna, author of Cult TV, who referred to The Fonz as "a cross between James Dean and Superman," the focus of the show was supposed to be primarily on the friendship between Ron Howard, who played the all-American boy Richie Cunningham, and his trouble-making friend, Potsie, played by Anson Williams. Instead, American teens were obsessed with The Fonz, who was supposed to be a supporting cast member. Now, his leather jacket is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution!




Fonzie was a lady's man who generally had one lady beneath each arm. He had a special talent with juke boxes and vending machines--he smacked them on the top with his fist and they instantly cooperated. He was also known for his skill with motorcycles and cars.

Fonzie referred to Richie's father as Mr. C. Interestingly, Fonzie and Mr. C. were the only two characters who appeared in every episode of Happy Days.

The All American Family

The Happy Days plot was simple, a close resemblance to the popular family sitcoms of the 1950s with a bit of satire thrown into the mix. Richie Cunningham is a high school student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father, Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) runs a hardware store.


The Cunningham Family. Clockwise, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), Marion Cunningham (Marion   Ross), Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) and Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran). 


Richie's mother, Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross) is a stay-at-home mom who does her best to run a tight household amid the usual teenage dramas. Richie also has a younger sister, Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran) who becomes a major player later in the show when Fonzie's cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) is added to the cast and falls in love with Joanie.


The Cunningham family in a promotional photo for the show. Clockwise, Richie (Ron Howard), Joanie (Erin Moran), Marion (Marion Ross) and Howard (Tom Bosley). 


Richie also has two very close friends, Potsie and Ralph Malph. Potsie is played by Anson Williams. He is Richie's best friend in the beginning, though The Fonz becomes his friend and intimate adviser as the show develops. When this happens, Potsie is shown paired up with Ralph Malph. Potsie was one of four characters who stuck with the show through its entire run. Ralph Malph (Donny Most) was a side character who became a main player in the second season when he was paired up with Potsie. Ralph is a joker who follows up each joke with "I still got it!"


Potsie (Anson Williams), Richie (Ron Howard), The Fonz (Henry Winkler) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most) at Arnold's Drive-In, 1975. 


Richie, Potsie, and Ralph were known as "The Three Amigos" and spent most of their time at Arnold's Drive-In owned by Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro) with the rest of the community's teenagers, including The Fonz and his many girlfriends.


Love, American Style Skit

Happy Days actually began as a skit on the popular classic anthology Love, American Style. The episode was titled "Love and the Happy Day" and aired in February of 1972. When the blockbuster film American Graffiti was released in 1973, the show inspired television genius Garry Marshall to create the sitcom Happy Days.



The first Happy Days episode aired on January 15, 1974 during the most popular prime time slot, from 8 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday nights. (I don't know why that was the most popular time, but I do know I never missed an episode!) The show ran until July 12, 1984 and ranked in the Top 25 seven times.

Eventually, Teenagers Grow Up...

The problem with having a family sitcom is eventually the cast grows up--they can't stay in high school forever. After a remarkable six years, Ron Howard decided to leave the show in 1980 to pursue a career in film. Richie Cunningham was written out of the show by joining the U.S. Army. Before he leaves, he marries his long-time sweetheart Lori Beth over the phone with Fonzie standing in his place. The couple returned to the show on occasion with their son, Richie Jr.

Ralph Malph also joins the Army, but Potsie goes to work for Richie's father as Assistant Manager of Cunningham Hardware. Fonzie falls in love, but he reminds the woman of her ex-husband and for the first time he is not only rejected, but broken-hearted. He eventually meets a young man named Danny who he wants to adopt, but he is turned down at first because he is a single father. Eventually, he adopts Danny and the two attend Joanie and Chachi's wedding together. 

Spin-Offs

Now here's some interesting trivia: Robin Williams first appeared as Mork on Happy Days and his show, Mork & Mindy is actually a Happy Days spin-off!


Robin Williams first appeared as Mork on Happy Days

In fact, Happy Days had a surprising number of spin-off shows, a testament to the brilliance of Garry Marshall. Marshall's daughter, actress and director Penny Marshall, appeared on Happy Days with Cindy Williams as friends of Fonzie, and they were so popular that they were given their own show, Laverne & Shirley. 

When Joanie and Chachi were dating they were a popular couple and eventually married. They also had their own show called Joanie Loves Chachi, but it was very short-lived, the victim of television politics, even though it finished in the Top 20 after its first season.

Sources:

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Lewis, Lisa Anne. "Happy Days." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved April 9, 2013. 
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.