The White Stuff

It’s hard to imagine anyone with a more versatile or longer-lasting occupation than Betty White.  During her career, she’s starred in 12 sitcoms, had recurring roles on 17 shows, and appeared in another 45 series. In addition, she was in 14 movies; 18 movies made for television; and 305 different shows as herself, including 326 episodes of Match Game, 85 guest spots on the $10,000 Pyramid, 52 appearances on Entertainment Tonight, and 40 times on To Tell the Truth.

Born January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty was an only child.  Her family moved to California when she was quite young. Her original goal was to become a Park Ranger, but that career was closed to women at that time.  She started her entertainment career in radio, because she was told she was not photogenic. When World War II broke out, she joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services. She was briefly married to Dick Barker, a pilot; they married and divorced in 1945.  In 1947 she married Lane Allan, an agent, but they divorced in 1949.

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Her career took a major leap in 1952 when Life with Elizabeth was picked up by the network. Betty was the star and producer of the show from 1952-1955. Her show gave her total control both behind and in front of the camera.  She was the first woman to produce a sitcom. She was only 28 years old and living with her parents when this opportunity presented itself.

During the 1950s Betty would also star in the sitcom Date with the Angels, as Vickie Angel.  Vickie and her husband, an insurance salesmen, involved their friends and neighbors in a variety of comic situations. She also appeared on variety shows such as Jack Paar Tonight, as well as The Betty White Show, a talk show.  In 1956, she began an alliance with the Tournament of Roses parade which she co-hosted for 19 years.

The 1960s found her starring in her first movie, Advise and Consent in 1962, portraying Kansas senator Elizabeth Ames Adams. She also began her long partnership with game shows, earning the title, “First Lady of Game Shows.” It was when she appeared on Password that she met her third husband, Allen Ludden, who was the host.  They married in 1963 and were happily living life until his death in 1981. (Note: Wisconsin claims Allen Ludden because he was born in Mineral Point in 1917.)

In the 1970s, Betty re-entered the television series realm.  She guest-starred on the Mary Tyler Moore Show during its fourth season as television host Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker. She was such a hit that she became a regular for the rest of the series’ run. In 1977, she and Georgia Engel starred in The Betty White Show (not to be confused with the talk show in the 1950s) which only lasted one season. Because of her affiliation with the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the Tournament of Roses replaced her as host, and she then took on the task of co-hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for ten years.

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In the 1980s, at age 60, Betty’s career continued to steamroll. She became a regular on Mama’s Family, which aired from 1983-86. In 1985, she accepted the role of Rose Nyland on The Golden Girls.  Originally slated for the part of Blanche, it was suggested that Rue McClanahan and Betty switch roles to keep from becoming typecast.  The role of Rose Nyland kept her busy through 1993.  Golden Girls ended production in 1992; the next season, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White reprised their roles for one season on Golden Palace.

During the 1990s, Betty continued her television work. She had a regular role on Maybe This Time where she played Shirley Wallace, a much-married woman, who pushes her daughter, recently divorced, into a relationship, when she just wants to run the family coffee shop and avoid dating altogether. She also was in all 30 episodes of Ladies Man, where she again plays the mother of the main character. He is trying to raise a daughter from his first marriage and a daughter from his current marriage while dealing with a wife, and ex-wife, and a mother.

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As the new century turned over in 2000, at 78, Betty just continued to add to her acting credits.  She had regular roles on Boston Legal and The Bold and the Beautiful.  She also starred in Hot in Cleveland for its entire five-year run. She continued appearing on a variety of television shows during that decade.

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During her career, she was nominated for 21 primetime Emmys and won five. She also won 2 daytime Emmys. She is the only woman to be nominated in every comedy category. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Betty loves animals and is an advocate for many animal associations including the Los Angeles Zoo, the Morris Animal Foundation, and the African Wildlife Foundation. She received the Humane Award in 1987 and had a plaque installed near the gorilla exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo to commemorate her work there.

BETTY WHITE

It’s hard to know what she will attempt next. She was the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live which she did in 2010. She appeared on the original Tonight Show with Jack Paar and has appeared with Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. She has been on the Howard Stern Show, the Simpsons, and one of my favorites, Madame’s Place. She has guest starred in both comedies and dramas. She produced Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, where senior citizens played pranks on younger people.

Considering her real name is Betty, not Elizabeth, it’s ironic that her first television role was in Life with Elizabeth and her first movie was portraying Elizabeth Ames Adams.

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At 95, how has she kept so young?  If you ask her co-stars from Hot in Cleveland, they will tell you that she survives on hot dogs, French fries, Diet Coke, and red licorice.  Who am I to argue?

One of her best awards came in 2010 when she was made an Honorary Forest Ranger.  Considering that in 1940 that field was closed to her, when she received her honorary title, one-third of forest rangers were women.

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When asked about why she loves performing, Betty said, “To be able to talk to that camera—the camera became your best friend. You’re looking into that little camera lens and they’re looking into your soul, because they’re right into your eyes. You can’t be phony. You can’t fake it.”

No one has ever accused Betty White of being a fake or a phony.  Everyone she comes in contact with seems to love her. The camera was her best friend, but we all became her friends through those camera portrayals.

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What a wonderful personality.  What a wonderful career.  What a wonderful legacy.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Happy Monday.  It’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” Day. They say fences make the best neighbors, but sitcom television proves otherwise.  In honor of the day, I decided to compose my list of the top ten sitcom neighbors.

10. Wilson from Home Improvement.  We don’t see much of Wilson, literally, but we hear him talking behind the fence.  Wilson W. Wilson, played by Earl Hindman, can solve any problem Tim has. Wilson spouts a lot of philosophical advice for Tim.  He has a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, and has traveled the world studying extinct languages and forgotten cultures.  Much of his wisdom comes from these not-well-known societies. Wilson’s face was never revealed in full; it was always covered by something, most often the fence between the homes.  He calls Tim “Neighbor” and his wife Jill “Neighborette”. One of his pieces of advice is “If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise your price.”

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9. Charlie from Empty Nest.  We all worry about having a neighbor like Charlie.  Empty Nest was about a pediatrician, Dr. Weston, whose wife has died and  his two daughters (Barbara and Carol) move back in with him.  Charlie, played by David Leisure, is their next-door neighbor.  He is  lazy and has no respect for women. He often barges in to borrow food. He is a kind of son to Dr. Weston, but he and Carol have a love-hate relationship.  In one episode they get together, and try to make the relationship work, but both are relieved when they realize it never will, and they can go back to bickering. Charlie really does consider the Westons his family, and there are times he shows how much he cares about them; unfortunately, it never takes long for him to go back into annoying mode.

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8. Marcus from About a Boy.  If Mr. Wilson had met Marcus, he wouldn’t have complained about Dennis.  Will Freeman (David Walton) is a single man who enjoys the single life.  He’s quite wealthy because he wrote a huge best-selling song.  Then Marcus (Benjamin Stockman) moves in next door.  Marcus wants to be best friends; he lives with his mom and rarely sees his dad. Will thinks being his friend will cramp his style until he realizes girls rate single dads favorably. Of course, after a short amount of time, Will does become Marcus’ best friend and father figure, even though Marcus can make life difficult for him at the worst times.

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7. Chuck Larrabee from Last Man Standing.  Mike and Chuck spend a lot of time trying to come up with put downs for each other, but we know it’s only because as friends, they spend more time lifting each other up. Jonathan Adams plays Chuck, a retired Marine who runs a private security business and later works full time heading security at Outdoor Man, the store Mike co-owns. Although they joke around most of the time, occasionally, they get serious and have some in-depth, soul-revealing discussions.

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6. Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Rhoda knew instinctively how to bring out the best in Mary and encourage her to experience life more fully. Valerie Harper plays Rhoda Morgenstern who lives above Mary Richards in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She becomes Mary’s best friend.  She has little self-esteem, and often makes fun of herself.  She is single and often tells Mary about her bad date stories.  After the fourth season, she moves to New York where she marries and gets her own series, Rhoda. Harper won four Emmys for her portrayal of Rhoda, three for the Mary Tyler Moore Show and one for Rhoda.

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5. Yosemite Sam from The New Looney Tunes. Only Bugs could handle a neighbor like Yosemite Sam. Yosemite has a quick temper, doesn’t like anyone, and insults all his neighbors.  In the New Loony Tunes, Bugs and Daffy are roommates. Porky Pig is one of their good friends.  Sometimes Bug’s girlfriend Lola or Daffy’s girlfriend Tina are part of the plot.  Yosemite admits he is a cheat, a thief, and a liar.  He has a lot of terrific one-liners.

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4. Kramer from Seinfeld.  Who wouldn’t want a wacky neighbor like Kramer to keep life more interesting. Kramer (Michael Richards) is eccentric, but kind-hearted and tries to help others.  Kramer is honest to the point of being rude at times. Kramer has the ability to talk Jerry into making choices against his better judgment.  Jerry forgives his quirks and views him almost like a brother. Most of the time, Jerry is highly entertained by the antics that Kramer gets involved with.

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3. Gladys and Abner Kravitz from Bewitched.  The residents of Morning Glory Lane might not have a lot of privacy, but no criminal could get away with anything with Gladys Kravitz on the watch. Gladys is convinced that something strange is going on at the Stephens.  However, her husband Abner is never around at the right moment to back her up. She gets frustrated because she can never prove anything is out of the ordinary. Gladys was played by Alice Pearce and Abner was played by George Tobias.

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2. Blanche Morton from Burns and Allen. No matter what else is happening, Gracie and Blanche (Bea Benaderet) are never too busy to stop and have coffee together.  They are able to discuss everything and accept each other with all their strengths and weaknesses. Blanche truly loved Gracie and accepted her with all her quirks.  Gracie livened up Blanche’s life. Blanche’s husband Harry thinks Gracie is ridiculous, so Blanche loves her all the more.

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1. Howard Borden from The Bob Newhart Show. My favorite sitcom neighbor has to be Howard Borden.  Howard (Bill Daily) definitely gives Bob and Emily a purpose in life.  He takes as much work as any child, and eventually becomes family when he marries Ellen, Bob’s sister.  Howard is often at their apartment mooching their food or borrowing something again, but we know they wouldn’t have it any other way.  On one episode, Bob and Emily are going on vacation for ten days.  Howard is beside himself. They introduce Howard to a psychologist and when they come home, Howard is responsible and competent, but boring.  When they try to talk to him, they realize he is a carbon copy of the therapist. Bob and Emily bribe him with his favorite foods and, eventually he is borrowing items, being forgetful, and coming over to eat. They are relieved to have the old Howard back.

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There are a lot of interesting neighbors in TV Land.  Make a list of your favorite.

Do You Mind If I Ask You a Question?

Hello. Are are you feeling?  Do you have a favorite food? What are your plans for today? What is your favorite vacation destination?  Are you wondering if I lost my mind?  Well, it’s National Ask a Question Day tomorrow.  In honor of that celebration, we have a tv quiz.  I decided to feature my 20 top favorite television shows with a question from each.  So, grab a piece of paper and a pen; answers are at the end of the quiz.  Hint: If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ve seen the answers to many of these questions, but no peeking. Good luck.

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(1) The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – Don DeFore played their neighbor Thorny.  In 1961 he would star in his own show.  What was it?

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(2) The Andy Griffith Show – Who was Aunt Bee’s neighbor and best friend?

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(3) Bachelor Father – Bentley Gregg lived in Beverly Hills and worked with a lot of stars.  Was he:

(a) An attorney          (b) A family doctor          (c) A film writer

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(4) Big Bang Theory – Leslie Winkle, a physicist played by Sara Gilbert, dated two of the main characters.  Who were they?

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(5) The Bob Newhart Show – Bob’s sister Ellen ends up marrying another character on the show. Who was it?                                                                                                                                         (a) Dentist Jerry Robinson     (b) Neighbor Howard Borden      (c) Patient Elliott Carlin
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(6) The Brady Bunch – What was the name of the kids’ dog?
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(7) The Burns and Allen Show – Blanche and Harry Morton lived next door. During the show’s run, Harry was replaced more than once.  They found interesting ways of introducing the new person; e.g., they ended one year with Blanche holding a pan over his head.  The next year, they started the show telling her to get back into place with the pan, but it was a different Harry under it.  How many Harry Mortons were there from 1950-1958?

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(8) The Dick Van Dyke Show – Morey Amsterdam plays Buddy Sorrell, a writer on the show.  He always refers to his wife by a “food” name.  Was it:

(a) Sugar Plum                   (b) Cupcake                  (c) Pickles

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(9) The Donna Reed Show – Donna had two children Mary and Jeff, played by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen.  These two kids had something else in common in real life.  Was it:

(a) There were cousins  (b) They had famous mothers  (c)  They recorded hit songs

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(10) Family – Matthew Broderick, married to Sara Jessica Parker, had a famous relative on this show.  Who was it?

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(11) Green Acres – The Ziffels owned a pig that was smarter than almost everyone in Hooterville.  What was his name?

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(12) Love American Style – This show featured three to four skits each week with television and movie stars. A famous show from the 1970s first appeared as a skit on this show.  What was it?

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(13) M*A*S*H – Here’s a two-parter.  What was Radar O’Reilly’s favorite drink and for a bonus, what was his real first name?

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(14) Modern Family – Both Gloria and Lily were born in other countries. What countries were they?

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(15) My Three Sons – The oldest son, Mike, left the show after 1965.  At the end of that year, he marries his high school sweetheart, moves away to teach at a college, and is only mentioned 4 times during the next 6 years.  What was his girlfriend’s name?

(a Julie          (b) Maureen       (c) Sally

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(16) The Partridge Family – This show was loosely based on a real-life family band?  What was it?

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(17) Petticoat Junction – Kate Bradley had three girls:  Billy __, Bobby ___, and Betty ___.  They had two-part names and they all had the same second name.  Was it:                                                     (a) Ann                                  (b) Jo                                      (c) Kay

 

(18) Rizzoli and Isles – Maura, the ME, is extremely intelligent and a fashion plate, but in high school, the kids called her “Maura-the-Bore-A.”  She has a pet named Bass.  Was it:

(a) a chimpanzee             (b) a tortoise                     (c) A skunk (de-fumed)

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(19) That Girl – Ann Marie moves to New York City from a smaller town in New York.  Was it:                                    (a) Brewster                         (b) Bedford                       (c) Brighton

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(20) thirtysomething – This show about a group of friends was set in a Pennsylvania city.  Was it:

(a) Erie                                  (b) Harrisburg                  (c) Philadelphia

 

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Ok.  Are you ready to check your scores? If you score between 15-20, you are a well-rounded person, at least regarding classic sitcoms.  If you score 10-15, you just need to add some of these shows to your DVD library. If you scored 5-10, you need to go back and re-read all my old blogs.  If you scored less than 5, make up another score, because I don’t want to hear that.

 

 

  1. Hazel
  2. Clara
  3. attorney
  4. Leonard and Howard
  5. (b) Neighbor Howard Borden
  6. Tiger
  7. Four
  8. (c) Pickles
  9. (c) They recorded hit songs. Fabares recorded “Johnny Angel” which hit number 1 in 1962. The same year, Petersen’s “My Dad” hit number 6.
  10. James Broderick who played the father Doug Lawrence
  11. Arnold
  12. Happy Days
  13. Grape Nehi; Walter
  14. Colombia and Vietnam
  15. (c) Sally
  16. The Cowsills
  17. (b) Jo
  18. (b) A tortoise
  19. (a) Brewster
  20. (c) Philadelphia

I Don’t Have a Free Toothbrush For You, But . . .

Are you feeling comfortable?  You might want to lean back, put on a pair of plastic glasses, and say Ahhh.  Sorry, I guess I’m getting carried away by our topic today.  March 6 is National Dentists Day.  I thought it might be fun to delve into some shows that featured dentists.  Apparently, the average viewer finds nothing funny about dentists.  They are hard to spot on the small screen.  Perhaps it brings back too many pain-filled memories of the sound of drills and mouths so numb you bite your lip without realizing it. Finding dentists on television was like pulling teeth – sorry I’m getting carried away again. Let’s look at a few of them.

When we think of television dentists, most of us probably conjure up pictures of Jerry Helper (played by Jerry Paris) on The Dick Van Dyke Show or Jerry Robinson (played by Peter Bonerz) on The Bob Newhart Show. These two shows can make anything funny, even dentists.

Jerry and Millie Helper are the Petries’ next-door neighbors and best friends on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Jerry is a dentist, and Millie is a stay-at-home mom with a son the same age as Richie, Rob and Laura’s son.  Jerry is a kidder and his comments often get him in trouble.

One episode, “Punch Thy Neighbor” from the first season, shows Jerry taking his teasing too far.  Jerry and Millie are watching the Alan Brady Show with Rob and Laura, and Jerry makes comments about how bad it is. Rob isn’t happy, but the next day he gets mad when several people, including the Helpers’ son Freddie and the milkman, tell Rob Jerry mentioned how bad the show was. Rob goes to talk to Jerry and ends up punching him accidentally. When he attempts to show Laura how it happened, he hit her as well. Richie tells Millie his dad hit his mom, and she sends Jerry over to get Rob under control.  Jerry walks in seeing Rob yelling, not knowing it’s because he tripped over a toy.  Trying to calm him down, Jerry wrestles him to the floor. Jerry realizes he was out of line with his joking.  You would think he learned his lesson, but at the end of the episode, Jerry starts again, and Rob hits him in the face with a pie. Like all the Dick Van Dyke episodes, this one is true to life, well written, and funny.

I’m sure it was also well directed, although not by Jerry Paris.  However, Paris kept nagging Reiner to let him direct.  Once he did a couple of shows, Reiner realized that “he understood our show more than any of the other directors.” In 1963-64, Paris won an Emmy for directing the show.  He directed 84 of the 158 episodes. After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, he went on to direct many shows including 2 episodes of The Partridge Family, 3 episodes of Love American Style, 3 episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 7 episodes of The New Dick Van Dyke Show, 18 episodes of The Odd Couple, and 237 of the 255 episodes of Happy Days.

From 1972-1978, Jerry Robinson was Bob Hartley’s best friend on The Bob Newhart Show.  Bob realizes his friends and family are not any more emotionally stable than his patients; they just get his advice for free. Jerry is an orthodontist, and he shares a receptionist with Bob. When interviewed about his character, Bonerz said “Jerry Robinson was written by 25 guys. It was my job to make those 25 different versions of Jerry the dentist credible.” Robinson was a swinging single, slow to trust others, and easily angered. Yet, his character was likeable, and he credited that to a well-balanced cast who all made each other better.  They were like a close family; you don’t always approve of your family members, but you love them.  Bonerz’s theory was that Bob Newhart was the psychologist/listener of the family, and that role made everything else fall into place. If you needed a root canal, Dr. Helper might be more proficient, but you would enjoy the conversation during the procedure more with Dr. Robinson.

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One dentist who was a critical component of a show, although most people don’t remember him, was Dr. Barry Farber.  Dr. Farber is the man Rachel Green was supposed to marry on Friends, but she left him at the altar, ending up living with Monica and meeting a new group of friends.

Several other shows, not as well-known as these three, also featured a dentist in their cast.

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Doc Corkle was on the air in 1952.  Doc, played by Eddie Mayehoff, was a neighborhood dentist.  He lived with his father (Chester Conklin) and his daughter (Connie Marshall). Poor Doc has some money problems.  The biggest financial setback was the fact that the network cancelled the show after only three episodes.

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I’m a Big Girl Now featured Diana Canova who played a divorced woman, Diana Cassidy, who goes home to live with her father Benjamin Douglass, a dentist (Danny Thomas).  His partner and his wife have run off to Spain.  Diana also has a daughter Rebecca and a neurotic brother named Walter. The show was cancelled mid-season.

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Charley Shanowski, played by Ted McGinley, is a dentist on Hope & Faith.  His wife Hope (Faith Ford) is a stay-at-home mom with three children.  Her sister Faith (Kelly Ripa) was a soap opera star whose character was killed off on the show.  She moves in with her sister but expects to be treated like the star she used to be.  Charlie does not like Faith and spends a lot of his time trying to get her to leave.  We can understand why.  It seems like every time a dentist has a show where a family member moves in, the network cancels the show.  At least this show made it three seasons instead of three episodes before it got pulled.

Probably my favorite show with a dentist was an episode of The Carol Burnett Show. Like so many of the funniest episodes, this one featured Tim Conway (the dentist) and Harvey Korman (the patient). When interviewed about the skit, Conway said that memorable sketches often create themselves.  “The novocaine portion of the dentist sketch wasn’t planned—it just happened. That’s the magic of comedy; you never know when it is going to sneak up on you and make you laugh.” The dentist skit was based on Conway’s real-life dentist who stuck the needle of novocaine into his own thumb while working on a patient. Korman didn’t know Conway was going to put that in the sketch.

Last, but not least, I wanted to mention Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe in Petticoat Junction.  Buchanan earned a DDS degree from North Pacific College of Dentistry in Oregon. His father was also a dentist. During the time he was a pre-med student, Edgar took acting classes at the University of Oregon and eventually left dental school to take a position in their drama department. His father convinced him to finish his dental degree first.  When he returned to North Pacific he met Mildred Spence, another dental student.  They graduated in 1928. After marrying, the couple moved back to Eugene, Oregon where they opened a private practice. From 1930-1937, Edgar was chief of oral surgery at the Eugene Hospital Clinic but also worked as an assistant director in the University of Oregon drama department. In 1939, the couple moved to Pasadena. When Edgar appeared in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse, he received his first film offer.  So, at the age of 36, he turned over the practice to his wife and became an actor.  He appeared in more than 100 films between 1941 and 1974. He was the only cast member of Petticoat Junction to appear in all 222 episodes.

Apparently dentists are not too popular.  There are a handful of shows about them while there are tons of shows about attorneys.  But dentists are our friends, so to celebrate their day today, take a moment and watch the following:

www.liftable.com/edwardtofil/tim-conway-made-harvey-korman-wet.

Tim Conway talks about The Dentist episode to Conan O’Brien and they play a clip from it. If you watch it enough times, you might not actually look forward to going to the dentist, but you might not dread it as much. And if you’re a hopeful television creator, write a show about dentists.  They’re due for a big hit.