Fools (and TV Executives) Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread

Angels are beings sent by God to reveal truth, offer protection, and guide Christians.  Apparently, television angels have a different mission. Their message is that shows about angels have low ratings, little creativity, and fly off the air quickly. Looking at the shows I researched for this week’s blog, only 1 of 8 lasted more than 33 episodes.  Eliminating that one from the line up leaves the shows’ average episodes at 17 each.  I’m not sure why these shows didn’t do better.  Some of them feature well-known celebrities. I will admit before I researched this topic, I not only had never watched any of these shows, I don’t remember ever hearing about any of them before. Angels seem to fare better in movies: The Bishop’s Wife, Heaven Can Wait, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I Married an Angel, It’s a Wonderful Life, Michael, and The Preacher’s Wife. Let’s look at these sitcoms about angels.

Angel – 1961 (33 episodes)

Ok, admittedly this show is about an “Angel” just not an “angelic being.” French born Angel Smith (Annie Farge) is married to John Smith, an architect (Marshall Thompson) in New York City. She tries to cope with her new country and married life. Her bad grasp of the English language causes her a lot of problems. While the show did point out some of the craziness of our English language like when she tries to learn to pronounce words bough, dough, cough, and through and none of them sound the same.  However, it does get a bit tiresome after a while.

She was a French Lucille Ball. The couple even had best friends played by Doris Singleton and Don Keefer who functioned as Fred and Ethel. No surprise because this show was produced by Jessie Oppenheimer. I have mentioned in previous blogs that Oppenheimer had various shows but all with the same formula.

The show opened with a cute animation sequence of Angel walking around the Eiffel Tower and over to the Statue of Liberty.  I think their living room is the same set as The Dick Van Dyke Show which started in 1961, about the same time this one was cancelled.

Eventually Farge went back to France to pursue acting there. I would have not watched this show when it was originally on, because it was on at the same time as Bachelor Father and My Three Sons.

 

Smothers Brothers Show – 1965 (32 episodes)

Created by Aaron Spelling, (Family, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Dynasty, and Beverly Hills 90210), it was also known as My Brother the Angel. Often confused with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, this show has Tommy drowned at sea. He returns to LA as an apprentice angel and lives in his brother Dick’s bachelor pad. His brother is an up and coming executive with a publishing firm. Tommy is supposed to help people in trouble.  He is inept and Dick often has to help him complete his assignments, so he can become a full-fledged angel. One of my favorite things about 60s movies and tv shows were the beginning animation segments.  On this show, the brothers have a dialogue about what the mission is, and then their animation sequence kicks in. This was the last CBS sitcom filmed entirely in black and white. This show was not cancelled per se.  The brothers decided to switch over to the variety format that they would become known for.

Good Heavens – 1975 (13 episodes)

Carl Reiner plays an angel dressed in a business suit. He would come to earth weekly to grant one wish. One episode featured real-life couple Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall; he was a sporting goods salesman who wanted to be a pro ball player. In other shows a woman who was trying to decide between two boyfriends got a new one combining the best traits of both, and in another show, an unsuccessful author got everyone to publish his book.

It was cancelled after only 3 months. Considering it was only on for 13 episodes, it did not lack stars.  A sampling of guest stars include Sid Caesar, Susan Dey, Sandy Duncan, Nancy Dussault, Dick Gautier, Florence Henderson, Dean Jones, Alex Karras, Sue Ane Langdon, Julie Newmar, Loretta Swit, Brenda Vaccaro, and Fred Willard.

 

Out of the Blue – 1979 (12 episodes)

Stand-up comedian Jimmy Brogan plays Random, an angel dispatched to earth to live with a busy Chicago woman Marion Richards (Dixie Carter). She is raising a bunch of nieces and nephews after their parents were killed in a plane crash, including sports lover Chris, 16 (Clark Brandon), TV/movie addict Laura, 13 (Olivia Barash), tomboy Stacey, 10 (Tammy Lauren), and 8-year old twins Jason (Jason Keller) and Shane (Shane Keller). Gladys (Hannah Dean) was their housekeeper. Eileen Heckart played Random’s guardian angel, Boss Angel.

Random moves in as a boarder, and only the kids know he is really an angel. Random loved the Cubs, told jokes, and played the guitar. He had powers to move things and people around. In the premier episode, Robin Williams, as Mork, had a role.

By the 70s, the cute animation openings were over and some of the worst theme songs ever were aired in this decade.  This one could probably compete in that category with its ensemble singing “Out of the Blue” showing all the characters.

The biggest controversy about this show is whether it was a cross-over or a spin-off, and even if that is agreed upon, then you have to decide which show gets the credit.  Apparently, Random was on an episode of Happy Days where Chachi lost his soul, and Random helps him get it back.  The catch was the show was filmed earlier but did not air until after the first episode of Out of the Blue aired.  On the pilot of Out of the Blue, Robin Williams appeared as Mork, but he wasn’t in the entire show, so it could be a spin-off of Mork and Mindy.  Then, you have to consider that Mork and Mindy was a spinoff of Happy Days.  Confused yet?  Me too.

The Gary Coleman Show – 1982 (13 episodes)

This one was an animated show based on the character Gary played the the movie, The Kid with the Broken Halo.  He is angel Andy LeBeau who is allowed to come to earth to talk to other kids about their problems. It aired Saturday mornings and each 30-minute show had two 15-minute segments.

 

Down to Earth – 1984 (106 episodes)

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This show, which lasted three years, was set in 1925.  Ethel MacDoogan (Carol Mansell) was run over by a trolley. She’s a flapper waiting in heaven for a chance to help a family and earn her wings. Ethel died in 1925 and had to wait 60 years for a family to help.  (Apparently there is a lot of red tape waiting for us in heaven too.) The Preston family is where she is sent. So, now she is on earth but her mind set is still stuck in 1925, and the new inventions and cultural changes are hard for her to adapt to.

The Preston family is played by Steven Johnson, David Kaufman (who dropped out of UCLA to take the role), Kyle Richards, Randy Josselyn, and later Dick Sargent. If you don’t remember this one, it might be because it only aired on TBS. Mr. Preston is a realtor, and his wife has passed away.  His son Jay Jay is the one who prayed for Ethel, and he is the only one who knows she is an angel. Her heavenly bosses are also watching her and criticizing her failures.  Eventually she accomplishes her mission, but loves the Prestons so much she makes an agreement to stay with them and help her heavenly bosses with other earthly missions nearby.

During the show’s run, Steven Johnson left the show and was replaced by Dick Sargent.  Ironically, Dick Sargent replaced Dick York on Bewitched also. If 70s theme songs were bad, the 80s featured songs that insulted your ears.  This one ranks right up there with All in the Family for me.

I’m not sure if David Kaufman ever regretted dropping out of school or ever finished his degree, but he did go on to a long and successful career, as did Carol Mansell.

 

Heavens to Betsy – 1994 (1 episode)

One of the shortest shows ever, this one-episode feature starred Dolly Parton. She played a arrogant diva who died and was trying to earn her wings to get into heaven. This was the first show to be produced by Disney for television. Originally, it was supposed to debut in the fall of 1994, but the executives delayed the airing, wanting better punch lines.  Then it was set to be a mid-season replacement for 1995, but that never materialized either. Some of the script from this pilot made it into a 1996 Dolly Parton TV movie with Roddy McDowell, Unlikely Angel.

Teen Angel – 1997 (17 episodes)

Ok, believe it or not, the synopsis of this one is “after eating a six-month-old hamburger, Marty DePolo (Mike Damus) dies and God’s cousin, Rod, appoints him to be his best friend’s guardian angel.” Steve Beauchamp finds an old burger under his bed and dares his best friend Steve to eat it. After Marty dies, he comes back to earth as Steve’s guardian angel. Maureen McCormick played Steve’s mother but left part way through the series. (Considering the entire show only had 17 episodes, she apparently didn’t stick around too long). Marty talked to the TV audience like George Burns does in the Burns and Allen Show.

The show was part of the TGIF line up ABC had Friday nights.  Sabrina the Teenage Witch returned in 1997, and Teen Angel along with You Wish joined the schedule.  Teen Angel lasted 30% longer than You Wish which only aired 12 episodes.

Included in the cast was Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Pam, Ron Glass as Rod, and Jerry Van Dyke as Steve’s grandpa. It only lasted one year.

If you are an aspiring script writer out there, a television show about an angel is destined to be successful sooner or later.  I would watch a comedy about an angel coming to earth, but I don’t think I would watch any of these shows about an angel coming to earth.  What’s the cliche they always say: ninth time is the charm. I’ll be waiting.

 

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Just What the Doctor Ordered: The Career of Bernie Kopell

Throughout the past year, I have been researching actors and actresses who have had long-standing careers.  We continue that trend this week looking at the career of Bernie Kopell. Kopell is best known for his role as Dr. Adam Bricker on The Love Boat; ironically, he has played a doctor in 13 series, a coroner in 2, and an apothecary in 1. Kopell’s career is still going strong this year.  Let’s look at his varied and full career.

Bernie Kopell, his real name, was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY in 1933 He told People magazine in an interview that when he was 13, he was drawn to acting because “It was a tremendous opportunity not to be me.” He graduated from New York University in 1955, majoring in Dramatic Art.

From 1955-1957, Kopell was in the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Iowa. Part of the time, the boat was stationed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.  Bernie was a librarian and made the comment that “I don’t like to talk about my heroism, but what the hell; I was a librarian.  I kept America safe from overdue books.” When his Navy service was fulfilled, Kopell moved to Los Angeles.  He worked several odd jobs including vacuum salesman and cab driver.  One night he talked about his wish to be an actor to a passenger, Dick Einfeld who was producing The Oregon Trail starring Fred MacMurray.  Einfeld gave him a small part as President Polk’s Secretary.

Bernie was marred to Celia Whitney, an actress, but they divorced in 1962. He married another actress, Yoland Veloz in 1974; this marriage also ended in divorce in 1995. At age 64 in 1997, he married for a third time—this time to Catrina Honadle and had a son Adam in 1998 and a son Joshua in 2003.

During his career, Kopell has been in 96 different television series, 10 made-for-tv movies, and 18 feature movies.

His first television role was in Whispering Smith in 1961. During the 1960s, he appeared in many of the most popular shows including McHale’s Navy, Jack Benny, Petticoat Junction, Ben Casey, Green Acres, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Flying Nun.

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From 1966-1969 he appeared as Siegfried, a KAOS agent in Get Smart.  (He would also have a cameo role the movie version of Get Smart in 2008). At the same time, he played on Get Smart, he played Jerry Bauman, Don’s coworker who marries Ann’s neighbor Ruthie on That Girl from 1966-1971.

Throughout the 1970s, he continued appearing in series including Love American Style, The Odd Couple, The Bob Newhart Show, The Doris Day Show, MacMillan and Wife, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Kojak.

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He starred in two different series during this time. He was in Needles and Pins where he played a salesman and in When Things Were Rotten as Alan-a-Dale. This show was about Robin Hood and his men.

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On Bewitched, he appeared on nine episodes playing a variety of characters including an apothecary and a hippy.

He only appeared in a handful of shows during the 1980s.  Most of this decade was devoted to his role of Dr. Adam Bricker on The Love Boat.  The show was on the air from 1977-1987, and Kopell appeared on all 250 episodes. The show was seen in 98 countries around the world.  During an interview, Bernie was asked about his life working on the show.  He shared the following memories:

Oh yeah, it was exhausting. Such exhausting work on Love Boat.  In fact, to be for real, my frame of reference for acting was this: Okay, I do The Doris Day Show, and it’d be three or four days on a Hollywood soundstage. Then you come out, and you’re in Hollywood, and that’s lovely and fine. On The Love Boat, you’re on a ship. It goes out beyond the 12-mile limit. You’re going out into the world of London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Athens, Cairo, Tel Aviv, The People’s Republic of China, Japan. It was such a treat. And I’d been in the Navy. So, in the Navy, I was the lowest of the low. I was just a seaman apprentice. I remember being late one day coming in from Istanbul, and I had to spend the whole next day scrubbing out bread pans. That was less fun than being treated royally on The Love Boat.

Pacific Princess, Island Princess . . . all of these beautiful, sleek, luxurious ships. Some days, you didn’t even have to work. My background was this:  I drove a taxi in L.A. I tried to sell Kirby vacuums in L.A. It was quite a while before I got going. And I’m just thinking about his professor I had at NYU. He would smoke Berings and Coronas, these marvelous cigars, and every once in a while, he would smoke a stink-a-roo. I said, “Professor, why are you smoking that awful cigar?” And he said, “For the balance. So, you know the difference between a stink-a-roo and a really good cigar.” I’m not advocating anybody start smoking cigars, but it’s a life lesson. You can’t eat filet mignon every day, because it gets to be meaningless after a while. You have a cheap hamburger every once in a while just to get the difference.

Anyway, so much for that. It was heaven. It was absolutely heaven, and they pay your more money every year. It went on for 10 years, and I got away with murder. My character could say to any woman he found attractive, “Take your clothes off, I’ll be right in.” I got to have love scenes with some of the most beautiful ladies. Jill St. John, Juliet Prowse. . . lovely, lovely people.  We had stars.  We had Academy Award winners. Ray Milland, Eva Marie Saint, Ernie Borgnine, Shelly Winters. . . I mean on and on and on. And Greer Garson; I was so awed. Of course, with my age, I saw Mrs. Miniver and I saw that Forsythe Woman with Greer Garson, this gorgeous red-headed lady in a green velvet gown. I approache her, and I said, “Excuse me, Miss Garson?’ and she said, “Yes, dear, what would you like?” and I said, “Why are you doing this?” And she laughed and she said, “I thought it would be a lovely way to say hello to old friends.” And, of course, it was, and it was a great privilege to have her.  We had Ethel Merman, we had Cab Calloway, we had Dick Shawn.

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Bernie was also credited as a writer for four Love Boat episodes.  In addition to The Love Boat, he played Dr. Adam Bricker on Charlie’s Angels, Martin, and The Love Boat: The Next Wave.

Kopell continued his television and movie work during the 1990s and the 2000s. He was featured in Diagnosis Murder, Beverly Hills 90210, Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Monk, Arrested Development, and Raising Hope. He continues his active career, appearing in several shows in 2017 including Hawaii Five-O and Superstore.  He has also been in several movies the past three years.

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Bernie has also appeared in his share of game shows (Hollywood Squares, Pyramid, Tattletales, and Family Feud), talk shows (Mike Douglas, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Letterman), award shows, and documentaries (The Love Boat for Entertainment Tonight, Bewitched for E’s biography of Elizabeth Montgomery, and The Love Boat and That Girl for A&E specials).

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On Letterman, he was in the audience when David did his Top Ten List.  One of the entries poked fun at Dr. Bricker on The Love Boat, and when the camera cut to Kopell, he stormed out of the theater.  He was then shown being reseated only to have another entry make fun of him again, when he raised his fists and stormed out again.

Kopell has also been involved in theater the past few decades.  He starred in Neil Simon’s Rumors and played in Viagara Falls in Toronto for two years before making is New York Off-Broadway debut. He also hosted a show on the Travel Channel, Railway Adventures Across Europe.

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He participates in a lot of celebrity tennis tournaments for charities all over the world.  He has also hosted his own tennis and golf tournaments in Florida for the Alzheimer’s Association. He also swims regularly.

Happy Birthday Bernie Kopell!

 

 

 

 

Fashions Fade, Style is Eternal – Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion trends tend to come and go, but series about the world of models and clothing designers come and go even quicker. Let’s look at a few of the series that centered around the fashion industry.

Love That Jill (1958).  While Love That Bob was about a photographer who did take models’ photos from time to time, Love That Jill was about the heads of two rival Manhattan model agencies (played by real life married couple Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling). The show only lasted three months. Jill Johnson runs a top modeling agency, putting her in direct competition with one headed by Jack Gibson. Jack is not above trying to steal her clients, but Jill, with the help of her secretary Richard (Jimmy Lydon), holds her own.  Jack also tries to steal her heart, and when they are not fighting about business, Jack and Jill find time for romancing each other. Some of the models on the show were Betty Lynn as Pearl, Polly Rose as Myrtle, Barbara Nichols as Ginger, Nancy Hadley as Melody, and Kay Elhardt as Peaches.

 

 

Diana (1973). Diana Rigg (previously Emma Peel on The Avengers) was a divorced woman seeking new life in America.  She was a fashion coordinator at Butley’s, a fashionable Fifth Avenue department store, where she was in charge of merchandising and advertising. Her brother has rented an apartment for her, but numerous other people seem to have keys to it as well which leads to some interesting situations. Some of the other characters included commercial model Holly Green (Carol Androsky), Butley’s president Norman Brodnik (David Sheiner), Brodnik’s wife Norma (Barbara Barrie), copywriter and office mate Howard Tolbrook (Richard B . Shull), and window dresser Marshall Tyler (Robert Moore). After four months, Diana switched jobs when her series was cancelled.

 

 

Needles and Pins (1973). This show was set in New York’s garment district. Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) owned the Lorelei Fashion House which created women’s clothing. His brother and partner was Harry (Louis Nye) and their designer was Wendy (Deidre Lenihan) who came from Nebraska. Other characters included Sonia the bookkeeper (Sandra Deel), Charlie, a salesman (Bernie Kopell), Max a fabric cutter (Larry Gelman), Myron the patternmaker (Alex Henteloff), and Julius Singer (Milton Selzer) who was their competition in the industry. Apparently, the cast had a right to be on needles and pins because the show only lasted half a season.

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Veronica’s Closet (1997-2000).  Veronica is the best romance expert around. Unfortunately, her expertise only works for others. If the details about this show and its characters seem confusing to you, you are not alone.

Veronica Chase (Kirstie Alley) owns a lingerie company called Veronica’s Closet. After divorcing her husband of many years (after discovering that he has been cheating on her), she throws herself into her work. She is aided by her best friend, Olive (Kathy Najimy); Josh (Wallace Langham), her secretary whom everybody says is gay but he says he is not; and Leo (Daryl Mitchell) and Perry (Dan Cortese), two other employees.

Ok, get ready to pay attention. At the end of the first season, she took in a partner who died and the dead woman’s inept son took control of the company, wrecking it. In the next season, Alec Bilson, her previous partner’s ex-husband, bought the company from his stepson and decided to work with Veronica, or Ronnie as she is called. And while she didn’t like the arrangement, she liked him. In the third season, after Ronnie and Alec had a fight, he left abruptly and died in an accident, but before he did he married a girl named June who inherited his fortune which included Veronica’s Closet, and she drove Ronnie up the wall.

Apparently, the network felt there were too many fatal accidents and cut the show before another character was killed. While this show lasted three seasons, it actually was almost like three different series.

 

 

Just Shoot Me (1997-2003). Hot-tempered journalist Maya Gallo (Laura San Giancomo) got herself fired from yet another job when she made an anchorwoman cry on the air with some gag copy on the teleprompter. Unable to find a job anywhere else and facing eviction, she is forced to go work for Blush, her father’s (Jack Gallo played by George Segal) fashion magazine. Maya’s father was a workaholic while she was growing up and has been divorced four times.  Their time working together provides them the opportunity to heal their relationship, and Jack eventually turns over the company to his daughter. Personality conflicts quickly ensue with high-strung ex-model who can’t accept the fact that she has aged and her fans have forgotten her, Nina van Horn (Wendie Malick), philandering photographer Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni), and wise-guy secretary Dennis Finch (David Spade).

This show won its time slot most seasons which is amazing because the network moved it around quite often.  The first six episodes were shown in one month.  The next season it was given a great schedule on Thursday night between Friends and Seinfeld.  When Seinfeld ended its show, Just Shoot Me was moved to Tuesday. For the fifth season, it was moved back to Thursdays between Will & Grace and ER where it remained for two years, getting high ratings. However, for the seventh season, several characters left the show, and it once again aired on Tuesdays. The ratings never recovered and it was cancelled.

 

 

Ugly Betty (2006-2010). This show was based on a Colombian telenovela, “Yo soy Betty, la fea” published in 1999. A young and wise woman named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), from Queens, goes on a journey to find her inner beauty. The only problem is that it’s hard for an unattractive woman to find her beauty surrounded by tall skinny models at a fashion magazine, but Betty doesn’t let this stop her or her positive attitude towards her work.

When publishing mogul Bradford Meade puts his son Daniel (Eric Mabius) in charge of his Mode magazine, he hires Betty to be Daniel’s new assistant — mostly because he knows that she may be the only woman in Manhattan with whom the younger man won’t sleep. Betty’s hard work and determination earn Daniel’s respect, as she helps him find his way through hurdles of the fashion industry. Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Becki Newton, Michael Urie, Mark Indelicato, Vanessa Williams, and Judith Light also play characters on the show.

This is the other fashion show that made it more than three years, and it was also moved around the schedule.  The first three years it had its highest ratings on Thursday nights. When ratings dropped after season 3, it was moved to Fridays.  Fans protested and the show moved to Wednesdays airing with Modern Family and Cougar Town, but it never recovered its previous high ratings and was cancelled. In the finale, Betty accepts a job in London, and Daniel leaves the magazine.

 

 

Lipstick Jungle (2008).  A look at the lives of Nico Reilly, the editor-in-chief of Bonfire magazine (Kim Raver), Wendy Healy, former president of Parador Pictures (Brooke Shields), and Victory Ford, a fashion designer (Lindsay Price) — three of “New York’s 50 Most Powerful Women,” according to The New York Post.  I’m not saying they are shallow, but apparently there was not much to look at because the show only lasted 20 episodes. Andrew McCarthy, Paul Blackthorne, and Robert Buckley also were part of the regular cast.

This was another series based on a novel, Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Although the show debuted during the year a major writer’s strike was taking place, it never picked up any substantial ratings and was cancelled.

 

 

That Girl (1966-1971). While That Girl was not technically about on the fashion industry, Anne Marie is known for her incredible wardrobe. In a blog about fashion series, I felt it had to be included.

A young girl who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress may not sound like revolutionary television, but this was 1966, and Marlo Thomas was an “unlikely pioneer in a flip coif and a Technicolor minidress.” She said this was the first show where a single, perky career gal learned to navigate the big city. She based the concept on her life about a girl who graduated from college, whose parents wanted her to get married while she wants to be an actress. Fans watched the show to see how Ann Marie would fare in the big city, but they also tuned in to see what she was wearing. Thomas personally chose her entire wardrobe for the show and wore many  current designers’ creations. One of the designers she chose was Marilyn Lewis.

Six years before the show debuted, Lewis and her husband Harry ran a restaurant chain called Hamburger Hamlet. She decided to launch a ready-to-wear line of clothing. She could not sew but wanted to design quality apparel. She named her collection Cardinali, and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman couldn’t get enough of her designs. Marlo Thomas, along with other celebrities such as Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale, and Dyan Cannon also bought her outfits. A feature on Marilyn Lewis provided the following details about the designer in 2007:

As a girl growing up in Cleveland, Lewis invented the name Cardinali in homage to her absent father. She was told that he was living in Italy, and at 5 she rechristened herself Cardinali. In her first year of designing, Lewis created a 35-piece collection of suits, dresses and gowns. Her clothes, which Cameron Silver, who owns the Los Angeles vintage boutique Decades, will be showcasing in early June, are a mix of hard and soft: a tweed maxi skirt paired with a floral chiffon blouse, a wool jersey turtleneck halter gown with a plunging back. And Cardinali loved accouterment — a wool bouclé winter coat has a bag and hat to match; a floaty summer day dress comes with its own attached scarf. There is a metallic jumpsuit that Dyan Cannon wore on her first date with Cary Grant, and there is a demure silk gown with ruffles that Nancy Reagan ordered in red. Perhaps Lewis’s most famous designs were worn by Marlo Thomas in the TV show “That Girl.” The chiffon floral dress with its matching frilly umbrella that Thomas twirls during the opening credits says everything about being young and enthralled by Manhattan.

The Cardinali archive is currently stored in the Lewises’ condominium near Century City. Marilyn and Harry rent out their home in Beverly Hills and live in the 5,000-square-foot penthouse, with its breathtaking views of Los Angeles. The condo is decorated with Hamlet memorabilia, modern art and posters from Marilyn’s third career, as a movie producer. Her documentary, “Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol,” was critically acclaimed, and “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” which starred Helen Mirren, was on Showtime in 1998; Mirren won an Emmy for her performance. “As usual, when I became a producer, my husband thought I was crazy,” Lewis said in her apartment, as she presented each piece of Cardinali. “As usual, I never had doubt, but Harry always has the doubt for me. Luckily he trusts me. I could never have done any of this alone. Harry was always my producer.” She paused. “And I still can’t figure him out after all these years.”

 

With the fashion industry such an influence in our pop culture, it’s hard to believe that there have been only a few sitcoms about the design and modeling business. Although, I must admit that while I’m writing this, I realize that the only one of these shows I watched before I researched this blog was That Girl. Maybe the fashion business is too cut-throat to be funny, or maybe the fashion trends would date the show too much.  While That Girl was one of my favorite shows, I will also admit that one of the reasons I watch today is to watch all those adorable outfits Anne Marie wears.

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The Full and Amazing Career of Fred Willard, Part 1

During my short history as a blogger, I have looked at great actors, comedians, writers, voice actors, and humanitarians, but rarely do I encounter someone who fits all the above categories.  Today we look at the career of Fred Willard — actor, singer, comedian, writer, voice actor, and humanitarian.

Fred was born September 18, 1939 in Ohio.  His father worked in a bank. He sounds like he was a great dad; unfortunately he died when Fred was only 11.   He played baseball and dreamed of a career in the major leagues. He attended the Kentucky Military Institute playing baseball and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute with an English degree.  After graduation, he joined the army.  He moved to New York after his army stint and enrolled in the Showcase Theater, an acting school. He is a Second City alumnus. In 1968, he married his current spouse, Mary Lovell; they have one daughter and one grandson.

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In 1962, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show doing a comedy act with Vic Greco and his career took off from there.

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He was part of the Ace Trucking Company in the 1960s and early 1970s. Ace consisted of George Memmoli, Michael Mislove, Bill Saluga, Patti Deutsch, and Fred Willard.  They did innovative sketch comedy long before Saturday Night Live. Anyone who watched LaughIn or Match Game in the 70s will remember Patti Deutsch.  The rest of the company had successful acting careers, but no one could touch Willard’s filmography.

During his career, Willard has appeared in 148 television shows, 45 television movies, and 75 big-screen movies. He has raised money for Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Actors and Others for Animals; and the City of Hope, the John Wayne Cancer Society, among many others. He has hosted Market Warriors on PBS. Fred Willard has three Emmy nominations for his role of Hank MacDougal, Robert’s father-in-law on Everybody Loves Raymond and another Emmy nomination for his role of Frank Dunphy on Modern Family. He has also won a variety of entertainment awards. Fred has also appeared in commercials, being the voice of Kelloggs Cereal, Sierra Mist, Old Navy, and LaQuinta Inns.

In addition to his acting and comedic career, Willard has appeared as himself in 157 different shows including documentaries, Fox NFL Sunday, $100,000 Pyramid, Hollywood Game Night, Celebrity Family Feud with his family, Ellen, Siskel and Ebert, Rachel Ray, and every late-night talk show you can think of:  Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Conan O’Brien, and Craig Kilborn.

Unfortunately, much of the news about Willard the past couple of years has stemmed from his arrest in Hollywood.  Because that was a major news story about him, I’ll address the incident briefly. In 2012, he was at the Tiki Theater, a porn theater.  The management said they had never seen him there before that night. An anti-prostitution law enforcement group monitors three theaters in the area. When they entered the theater, they spotted Willard in the back row. He was handcuffed and taken out of the theater. Another policeman went back into the theater, apparently to look for evidence. He was arrested for suspicion of engaging in a misdemeanor lewd act. He was never charged with the offense.  He referred to this time as very painful and embarrassing for him. He was forced to complete a sex education diversion program. While I don’t condone his choice of theaters that evening, I think it is extremely hypocritical and unrealistic of the Hollywood law enforcement to allow these theaters to operate but not expect certain behaviors to take place. It’s like an organization building a stadium and bringing in a professional team, but then telling the fans not to cheer. We all have made questionable choices and bad decisions, and I hate to see a poor decision made at age 72 define a man or tarnish his career so I prefer to concentrate on his long and amazing career.

Willard began his acting career in the 1960s, appearing in four shows including Get Smart.  In the 1970s, was in many sitcoms including Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne and Shirley, and Sirota’s Court, but the show that made him a household name was Fernwood Tonight.  He appeared in 37 episodes of Fernwood Tonight, one in Forever Fernwood, and 65 in American 2-Night. In 1976, a new show, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, debuted. This show aired daily, racking up 325 episodes the year it was on. Mary was a strange housewife living in Fernwood, Ohio.  During the first episodes, she experienced mass murder, adultery, venereal disease, religious cults, and UFO sightings. She broke down on a national television talk show, Fernwood Tonight. Barth Gimble played by Martin Mull, was the host and his sidekick Jerry Hubbard was played by Fred Willard. Fernwood Tonight began as a spin-off and  was a parody of talk shows.  When famous people appeared, they had to have a reason for being in Fernwood. One example was when Tom Waite’s bus broke down there. Dabney Coleman appeared as the mayor of Fernwood.  The second season the show became American 2-Night when the talk show moved to California.

Willard continued his television work in the1980s appearing in Mama’s Family, Trapper John MD, The Love Boat, and Fame, among others. During the 1990s, he appeared in 34 shows. He was in Golden Girls, Murder She Wrote, Married with Children, Murphy Brown, Friends, Roseanne, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Just Shoot Me, and Mad About You.

He has not slowed down in this new century.  He has appeared in 82 shows, some of them animated series. He has been on Drew Carey, Hot in Cleveland, Community, and Modern Family. From 2007-2008, he had a recurring role on Back to You. I’m not sure why this show didn’t make it, considering the cast. Kelsey Grammer plays a news anchor who is forced to leave LA and take a job at the Pittsburgh station he left for the big time. He works with his ex-wife played by Patricia Heaton, his co-anchor; Ty Burrell as an inept field reporter; and Fred Willard, an overconfident and, often inaccurate, sportscaster. A few years later Willard would again work with Burrell, playing his father on Modern Family.

I’m getting tired just writing about everything he’s done, and we haven’t even discussed his movie career.  Among the 75 movies, the ones that stand out to me are Silver Streak, Fun with Dick and Jane, This is Spinal Tap, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Wedding Planner, Anchorman, Anchorman 2, Wall-E, and Roxanne.

In an interview written not long ago, Fred shared that he still writes a sketch a week and has boxes full. At 78 he is still going strong and doesn’t appear to be slowing down, so watch for Part 2 of the career of Fred Willard in ten years or so.

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Fred remains humble, often giving others credit and talking about their talents.  Here is what he had to say about working with Johnny Carson:  I remember Johnny Carson laughing effusively when I made my “Tonight” show debut in the early 1970’s as part of a sketch comedy group called the Ace Trucking Company. We didn’t even have a name when we first did the show, but one of my favorite moments was looking over to see him laughing, falling off his chair. This was topped only by another kind of tribute often paid by Johnny: imitation. We did a sketch about tough motorcyclists stopping into a shop and demanding shoes and coming away with handbags and ruffled blouses and stuff, and after it was over, Johnny kept saying, “I want some shoes,” like one of the characters, and that was just a kind of salute. To have him pick up a catchphrase and repeat it was just amazing.

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So how do you end a blog about someone who has such a zest for life.  Let’s end with some life lessons directly from Fred Willard:

You think you want to be famous. Then you see twenty or thirty people with cameras running after somebody coming out of a restaurant. And you say, “That might be fun for a night.” The idea is to be just famous enough that when you walk into a restaurant, the maître d’ says, “Oh, I have a nice table.”

Ballet I love for about five minutes. Then I want to see a comic come out.

When I was a kid, I remember one aunt drinking on Thanksgiving and falling asleep at the dinner table. Her husband said, “Betty, wake up and finish your drink.”

Opera has made me consider suicide.

Flying into Bora Bora makes you feel like you’re in The Wizard of Oz and suddenly it’s Technicolor.

There was ABC, CBS, and NBC when I was a kid. That was it. How difficult it must’ve been to be successful back then. Now I look up and notice I’m watching Channel 504. Everyone is a star of some show.

The remote has saved my sanity.

If you’re going to take a risk as a comic, make sure it’s surrounded by other things that you’re certain are funny.

When I was a kid, hearing something from the president was like hearing something from God. Now I hear the president and think, What is he, crazy?

My daughter thinks I’m a little more on the straight and narrow than I actually am.

If you like Albert Brooks, you’ll like anything he does.

Comedy relieves you. A lot of times we think we’re the only people bothered by certain things. Then you hear a comic say, “Don’t you hate it when . . .” And it’s “Oh, my God! Of course!”

Animated voice-over guys have it good.

A great director is someone who makes you feel like you’re moving forward.

I’ll tell you what does bother me: English actors doing American accents. I wouldn’t want to see five Americans doing Monty Python.

Another thing that annoys me: They do the inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York. The museum is in Cleveland.

I remember hearing that when James Dean finished East of Eden, he sat in his dressing room and cried because the filming was ending. When they say, “That’s a wrap for Mr. Willard,” I say, “Oh, boy, thank you.”

It seems to me you’re always retired in this business. You know, after your last job.

When you get to a certain age, it’s kind of the same thing. There’s no new school to go to, no new teachers. There’s some comfort in that.

My father died when I was young. He was out delivering Christmas packages like he did every year. My mom said that after he delivered the packages, people looked down at him from the buildings and he always turned around and waved, but he didn’t that day. He got in his car, had a heart attack or something, and died. He was buried on Christmas Eve. I had no brothers and sisters, so I was all by myself. It really changes you. For the rest of your life you’re always expecting something bad to happen.

I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich last night. It was the best sandwich I ever had. Just wonderful. White bread, American cheese, ham, tomato, mustard. Mary made it. Mary says I’ll tell you virtually every meal I eat is the best I’ve ever had. She’s right.

I’ve heard a lot of comedians were young when their parents divorced, or when a parent died or was killed. It forces you to have a sense of humor.

One of the great things about kids is, they haven’t heard a lot of the old jokes. You can get away with the corny ones.

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