One of the Most Under-Rated Comedians of Our Time – Nancy Kulp

kulp5

Today we look at the career of Nancy Kulp.  Nancy Jane Kulp was born this day in 1921; she would have been 96. If you are part of the younger generation, your response is probably “Nancy Who?”  If you are one of us that watched television growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, your response is probably, “Oh, Jane Hathaway.”

Nancy Kulp is one of the most under-rated comedians we have seen in film and television.  She is one of those performers like Don Knotts, Dick Van Dyke, or Jerry Lewis who is so natural in her characterizations and has perfected a stereotype role that we assume that there is not so much acting going on – they are just expressing their true personality.

Nancy was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where she grew up.  Like me, she left Pennsylvania in her early teens, but she moved to Florida instead of Wisconsin. She was an only child.  After high school, she attended Florida State University, which at the time was known as Florida State College for Women. She received a BA in journalism in 1943.

Kulp joined the US Naval Reserve (or WAVES) in 1944, becoming a lieutenant, junior grade. She received several awards in the Navy including the American Campaign Medal.  I learned that this medal was issued by Roosevelt to recognize military members who had performed their service in the American Theater of Operations during World War II.

After the war, she went on to earn masters in both English and French at the University of Miami. After graduation, she began writing profiles of celebrities for the Miami Beach Tropics, a local newspaper.

In 1951, she married Charles Dacus, and they moved to Hollywood.   (They divorced in 1961 and I could not find out anything else about him.)

Three weeks after arriving in Hollywood to work in the publicity department, George Cukor convinced her to try out as an actress.  Her first movie role was in The Model and the Marriage Broker in 1951. She would appear in 32 movies, including Shane (1953), A Star is Born (1954), Anything Goes (1956), and two of my all-time favorite movies, Sabrina (1954) and The Parent Trap (1961). Although most of her movies were comedies, she was cast in four westerns, a science fiction movie, a mystery, and several adventures and dramas. She was also the voice of Frou Frou in The Aristocats.

In 1954, she began her television career.  Although she only starred in one series, she was in many well-respected shows. She was Bob Cumming’s neighbor on Love That Bob and that character, Pamela Livingston, a prim birdwatcher, was to define most of her later characters. On I Love Lucy, she played a maid who taught Lucy and Ethel to curtsy before they met the Queen. She also appeared on Topper, Our Miss Brooks, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, December Bride, Perry Mason, Mr Ed, Pete and Gladys, Jack Benny, My Three Sons, 77 Sunset Strip, and Sanford and Son, 58 different shows in all.

In 1962, she accepted the role of Jane Nancy Hathaway (a play on her real first two names), Milton Drysdale’s efficient secretary. The concept of the show was that a backwoods family, the Clampetts from Tennessee, struck oil, became millionaires, and moved to Beverly Hills.  They never were accepted into the higher society and continued to live in the style they had back home.  Granny made vittles, and they called their pool the cement pond.  Mr. Drysdale was the banker who took care of their money.  Miss Hathaway was devoted to her boss, but if he went too far with a scheme, she would call him out by saying, “Chief!” She had a crush on Jethro Bodine, Jed Clampett’s nephew who lived with them.

The show would continue until 1971 when the network decided to get rid of all the rural comedies, whether they were still garnering high ratings or not. The show was in the top 20 for 8 of its 9 seasons. Kulp was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role in 1967 but lost to Frances Bavier for her role as Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show.

After her role as Jane Hathaway ended, she turned to Broadway.  Her best-known work was in Mornings at Seven from 1980-1981.

kulp23

In 1984, she ran for Congress in the Pennsylvania 9th district.  She was running as a Democrat against incumbent Bud Shuster in a decidedly Republican district. She did take 33% of the vote; however, she never had a chance.  Buddy Ebsen and Nancy had not gotten along during their years on The Beverly Hillbillies.  When he heard she was running for Congress, he contacted Shuster’s campaign and offered to do radio spots claiming Kulp was too liberal and voters should not elect her.  While she admitted they had not been friends, she was surprised he would choose to do something so mean for spite.

She began working at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA as an artist-in-residence and later taught acting.

In the late 1980s, Nancy moved to Palm Springs.  She became involved with a variety of charities including The Humane Society of the Desert, The Desert Theater League, and United Cerebal Palsy. She was also on the board of SAG.

Nicknamed Slim, Nancy was an devoted football fan all her life. She was the first guest on The Arsenio Hall Show and sat with the house band. She also appeared on the Frank Sinatra Show, the Jack Paar Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and several game shows including Password All-Stars, Hollywood Squares, Match Game 73, and Match Game PM.

In 1989, in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, she admitted she was a lesbian.  When he asked her about that, she said she would answer him but only if she could frame the question.  She said to ask her if she believed opposites attract, and her answer was that “she believed birds of a feather flocked together.”  Perhaps this was an apt reply given that her first recurring role of Pam Livingston, as well as Jane Hathaway, was an avid bird watcher. I read one anecdote that Kulp was afraid of anyone learning her sexual preference, especially Irene Ryan, who played Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies.  Kulp respected Ryan, and they shared a dressing room.  Apparently, Ryan left for the day but came back to the dressing room unexpectedly, walking in on a scene she did not expect; however, she never told anyone and she and Kulp became close friends.

kulp10

At one point, Nancy described herself as a brain symbol, as opposed to a sex symbol.

kulp7

It was hard to learn much about Nancy Kulp; she apparently kept a private life, not surprising given that she was working in an industry where her sexual identity could have damaged her career, especially her work for Disney Studios.

I enjoyed Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, but I never was a fan of The Beverly Hillbillies.  However, I am a fan of Nancy Kulp.  She had a long and fulfilling career, appearing in many respected films and television series. She was a naturally gifted comedian who perfected the proper spinster. It’s too bad she was never given a chance to star in her own series. I also admire her commitment to charities and her interest in pursuing politics.

kulp9

Happy Birthday Nancy Kulp!

Advertisements

From Gidget to Mary Todd Lincoln: The Highly Respected Career of Sally Field

When you mention the name of Sally Field, different generations of women remember her for different roles.  That is because she has continued to find quality movies and television shows to add to her resume. Beginning her career in 1965, 52 years later she is still appearing in respected films.  The woman who started out as Gidget, a typical teenager has become Mary Todd Lincoln. Let’s take a look at her long and admired work.

fieldA

Sally Margaret Field was born in 1946 in California.  Her mother was actress Margaret Field. Margaret is a descendent of a passenger on the Mayflower and William Bradford, governor.  Her parents divorced in 1950 and her mother then married stuntman Jock Mahoney. Sally graduated from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys where she was a cheerleader. Her classmates included Michael Milken and Cindy Williams.

Her first acting job was the role of Frances Elizabeth Lawrence, or Gidget, as she was nick-named in the 1965 series. Field was perfectly matched as the all-American girl Gidget; she lived with her widowed father, a college professor (Don Porter). Her older sister Anne was married, and she and her husband John felt compelled to watch over Gidget. Gidget spent most of her time surfing and hanging out with her best friend Larue played by Lynette Winter. The show was based on the book and Sandra Dee movies which were very popular, but the series was cancelled after only 32 episodes due to low ratings.

In 1967, she accepted the role of Sister Bertrille on The Flying Nun. The show featured a nun who was assigned to a convent in Puerto Rico. Her coronets and small size allowed the trade winds there to lift her up, and she was able to fly. This series was also based on novel, The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios.

She also appeared in her first movie in 1967 – opposite of Kirk Douglas in The Way West.

Sally has been married twice, first to Steven Craig from 1968 to 1975.  The couple had two sons, Peter and Eli. Following that marriage, Sally was involved in a long relationship with Burt Reynolds.  In his book which came out in 2015 he said that she was the love of his life and definitely the one that got away.  Sally then married Alan Greisman from 1984-1993 and they had one son, Samuel.

 

field10

Field appeared in several television series in the 1970s and finally received a role as The Girl with Something Extra in 1973.  For 22 episodes, she starred with John Davidson as her husband who realizes on his wedding night that his wife has ESP. Hopefully she was able to alert him that the show would be cancelled before the end of the season so he could start looking for a new job.

 

After this tv series flopped, Field became a serious movie actress.  She appeared in many critically acclaimed movies during her career, including Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Norma Rae (1979), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), Places in the Heart (1984), Steel Magnolias (1989), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Forest Gump (1994), Legally Blonde 2 (2003), and, most recently, Lincoln (2012).

field15

In the late 1990s, Field added to her resume, directing several shows including the tv film The Christmas Tree in 1996, one episode of From the Earth to the Moon in 1998, and the feature film Beautiful in 2000.

 

field11

In 2000, Field returned to television with a recurring role on ER between 2000 and 2006. She played Abby Lockhart’s mother, Maggie, who has bipolar disorder. She won an Emmy for the role in 2001. She starred in The Court in 2002 which only lasted for six episodes.

In 2005, Sally was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She created the Rally with Sally for Bone Health campaign which encouraged early diagnosis of the condition using bone-density scans.

 

field12

Her last television role was matriarch Nora Walker in Brothers & Sisters which was on the air from 2006 until 2011. Originally the role of Nora was played by Betty Buckley. The producers decided the character would take a different direction and offered the part to Field. She also won an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for this show in 2007.
In 2014 Sally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located front of the Hollywood Wax Museum.

fieldnytg

2017 found Field in a Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie. She was nominated for a Tony award for best actress in a play for the performance.

field13

In addition to her Emmys listed above, Sally won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie for Sybil in 1977. She won Academy Awards for best actress in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. Her acting performances have been nominated for awards 57 times.

Sally Field is a well-respected and award-winning actress who has continued to find projects as she ages which is not always easy for women in film. At 70, Field appears much younger and energetic than other women her age.  She has continued to fight for causes she is passionate about. Her acting portfolio has definitely been a career to be proud of.

 

 

Why I Love My Three Sons and My 3 Sons

 

Happy Birthday to me! Since it is my birthday today, I decided my gift to myself was to write about my favorite television show, My Three Sons.  The show was on the air from 1960-1972, for a total of 382 episodes. It debuted on ABC, and in 1965 it moved to CBS. The show was based on a widower, Steve Douglas, who is an aeronautical engineer trying to raise three boys after his wife’s death.  Her father, Bub, moves in to take over the housekeeping duties.

mts1

Although Don Fedderson often gets credit for developing My Three Sons, the show was created by George Tibbles and produced by Don Fedderson Productions. When the series moved to CBS in 1965, the latter network assumed full production responsibilities (in association with Fedderson Productions) until the end of the series in 1972. CBS now holds the series’ copyright.

George Tibbles wrote for a variety of shows and penned the Woody Woodpecker Song, recorded by Kay Kyser. Some of the episodes he wrote for My Three Sons include “Chip Off the Old Block” (1960), “Bob in the Ointment” (1960), “Countdown” (1960), “Birds and Bees” (1961), “Tramp the Hero” (1961), “Mike in Charge” (1961), “Bud Gets a Job” (1962), “Stage Door Bub” (1964), “Charley and the Kid” (1965), “Brother Ernie” (1965), “Moving Day” (1967), “Robbie Loves Katie” (1967), “Inspection of the Groom” (1967), “The Great Pregnancy” (1968), and “Instant Co-Worker” (1969).

mts4

Peter Tewksbury directed the first season. These early episodes held to no specific generic type, so that any episode from one week to the next might be either comedic or dramatic. Tewksbury’s episodes are also unusual for their use of cross-talk (a way of having the voices of off-screen characters heard in the background of the soundtrack, just under the voices of the main characters). Using this clever directorial twist, Tewksbury realistically portrayed the chaotic, fast-paced, and ever-changing sequence of events that was the daily routine of living in the Douglas household.

An example of Tewksbury’s use of cross-talk is the fourth episode, “Countdown,” which chronicles the Douglas family’s attempts to wake up, prepare for the day, have breakfast, and get out of the house by a common, agreed-upon time, all carefully synchronized to a televised rocket launch countdown – to comical and often ironic effect. Once the entire family was ready, they realized it was not a week-day and they had been running around like crazy for nothing. Tewksbury returned to directing feature films after concluding the season because the producers could not handle his perfectionist attitude, which was costing thousands of dollars in lost time and reshoots.

mts8

The succeeding director, Richard Whorf, took over the reins for one season and was in turn followed by former actor-turned-director Gene Reynolds from 1962 to 1964. James V. Kern, an experienced Hollywood television director who had previously helmed the “Hollywood” and “Europe” episodes of I Love Lucy, continued in this role for two years until his untimely death in late 1966. Director James Sheldon was also contracted to finish episodes that had been partly completed by Kern to complete that season. Fred De Cordova was the show’s longest and most consistent director of the series (108 episodes) until he left in 1971 to produce The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Earl Bellamy rounded out the series as director of the show’s final year.

When the show was first created, potential writers were told to emphasize the following elements: originality, simplicity, honesty, legitimacy, natural comedy, seriousness of premise, scope and character development.

I love the first episode – it not only established the family relationships, but set the direction the comedy would take. This was a family who might tease each other unmercifully but also knew they could always count on each other no matter what the situation was. The family members were far from perfect but they were realistic.

mts13

One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song. Lawrence Welk’s version of the instrumental theme song, written by Frank De Vol, peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.

In 1960, Fred MacMurray was one of the most respected and highest-paid actors in Hollywood.  It was almost inconceivable that he would star in a television show. The role was originally offered to Eddie Albert who turned down not only this role, but Wilbur Post on Mr. Ed as well. MacMurray took on the role when he was guaranteed that he would only have to spend 65 days a year filming the show. What was referred to as the MacMurray Method was 65 days of consecutive taping with the rest of the cast having to film around these scenes later. He was also given a 50% ownership in Don Fedderson Productions.

mts14

MacMurray was a very down-to-earth guy.  His grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was born in Illinois in 1908 and grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He worked in a canning factory and for an American Legion band, went to Carroll College, and earned money playing in a band there. After his first wife, Lillian Lamont died, he married June Haver, a former actress who left a convent to marry him.  They adopted twin daughters. They had a 200-acre ranch on the Russian River and his interests included his workshop, building picture frames, painting water colors, golfing, watching some television, and cooking. Hedda Hopper’s description of him was, “He’s as down to earth as applesauce or the boy next door.”

When Barry Livingston was asked about him, he said, “He was basically a guy from the Midwest, Midwest sensibilities, and even though he was super, super wealthy, just really had modest taste and just really wanted to be accepted as your average Joe.  I mean, he drove a Pontiac station wagon that happened to be our sponsor. . . his wife would pack a brown-paper-bag lunch.”

Steve Douglas was known for his cardigan sweaters. Steve was always ready with guidance, gentle words, and loving wisdom.

bub

William Frawley, best known as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, accepted the role of Bub. He was an expert on barbershop quartets. In 1958, he made an album, “Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones.” He was 68 in 1961 and had spent 28 years in Hollywood, 46 as a performer.  He grew up in Burlington, IA where his father sold real estate.  At 21 he landed a job in a musical chorus in Chicago. He married in 1916, divorcing Louise in 1927 and never married again. In 1933, he moved to Hollywood with a long-term Paramount contract. His old friends include Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Gallaudet.

mike

Timothy Considine played Mike, the oldest son on the show. He was a former child actor and young adult actor of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He later became a writer, photographer, and automotive historian. Considine’s most noted acting roles were in the 1955–1957 Disney TV serials Spin and Marty (he played Spin) and The Hardy Boys (he played older brother Frank opposite Tommy Kirk as Joe), both of which appeared in 15-minute segments on the Mickey Mouse Club; and in the Disney motion picture The Shaggy Dog. Considine is an automobile historian, photographer, and writer who specializes in motor sports. He is the author of The Photographic Dictionary of Soccer, The Language of Sport, and American Grand Prix Racing: A Century of Drivers and Cars. He has also filled in for the late William Safire as writer of the “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Considine quit the show after arguing with Don Fedderson.

rob

Don Grady, who played middle son Robbie and was the brother of actress Lani O’Grady, got 8 times the fan-mail the other boys did, mostly from young girls. Grady was born Don Louis Agrati in San Diego, California, the son of Mary B. (née Castellino), a talent agent, and Lou Anthony Agrati, a sausage maker. He grew up in Lafayette, California before being signed by Walt Disney and leaving the area. He graduated from Burbank High School in 1962.

Grady appeared on 20 different tv series before 1972, including two episodes of Love American Style. During production of My Three Sons, Grady appeared with his own band The Greefs on the series, writing two original songs for the show.

After My Three Sons ended in 1972, Grady pursued a musical career. His works included music for the Blake Edwards comedy film Switch, the theme song for The Phil Donahue Show and for EFX, a Las Vegas multimedia stage show which starred Michael Crawford, David Cassidy, Tommy Tune, and Rick Springfield. As a stage performer, he starred in the national tour of Pippin and had roles in Godspell and Damn Yankees.

He passed away in 2012 from cancer.

chip

Stanley Livingston took on the role of Chip (Richard), originally the youngest son. He was named for the scientist Stanley Livingston. His parents moved from Baltimore to LA to open a furniture store. He was one of the kids riding trikes and fire engines on “You Asked for It.” In 1957, he was recommended as a double for Jon Provost on Lassie by Mrs. Loven, who taught him to swim. Tina Hill was his first agent, and Lois Auer was his first drama coach. He and Barry were neighbor kids on Ozzie and Harriet.

By age 11, he earned $20,000 a year. He shared that, “The food on My Three Sons is lousy. The prop man cooks it. The eggs are sticky and the potatoes are lumpy.  It’s so bad we try to get eating scenes on the first take.”

John Stevens was a production/coordinator in 1961. In TV Guide in 1962, he was quoted, “Because of the way we shoot around MacMurray, filming My Three Sons is a jigsaw puzzle for an adult. We once shot all the scenes in the upstairs hall and bedroom from 21 scripts, one after the other. In one, Stanley would have to be happy over something in a comedy, and five minutes later, said in a melodrama. I never once saw him rattled, confused or upset.”

In 1965, the fourth season, Frawley retired due to poor health, dying a year later. Wm Demarest, Bub’s brother, the boys’ uncle and a former sailor took his place. To explain Considine’s absence, Mike married his long-time girlfriend and accepted a job as a college professor. Ernie entered the family and was officially adopted.

charley

William Demarest started in show business at age 9. He was involved with vaudeville, Broadway, movies (150) and television. In 1899, he and his brothers were musicians. He played the cello, wearing velvet suits, Rubinstein played the piano, and George the violin. He was born in St. Paul in February 1892 and then moved to New Jersey where his parents separated. Later in life he went to LA and entered the army during WWI, eventually becoming a sergeant. In 1927, he was a Warner’s New Comedy Find. In his first picture, Finger Prints, a silent, he was a gangster. He appeared in 24 movies in two years. He appeared in The Jazz Singer and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Jolson Story. In 1930, he headlined a bill with an orchestra, the CA Collegians who had a sax player named Fred MacMurray. In 1933, he went back to Hollywood and stayed. He was a talent agent before appearing in Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. He can’t remember how many movies he did, but his 100th was Pardon My Past with MacMurray. They were also in Hands Across the Table. His retirement plans were to move to a home he and his wife Lucille had on the 12th fairway at Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs.

mts19

Barry Livingston debuted on the show as Chip’s friend Ernie, an orphan. Barry began his career as a child actor in the late 1950s. He considers his film debut a role he won as one of the sons of Paul Newman in the film Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) with his older brother Stanley who by this time was already working as a child actor. He was let go from the film when he was told that he needed to get glasses to successfully correct his astigmatism. His first professional onscreen appearance was in a small, uncredited role in the 1961 film The Errand Boy, followed by roles in The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, on The Dick Van Dyke Show and (as “Arnold Mooney,” son of banker Theodore J. Mooney portrayed by Gale Gordon) on The Lucy Show. In 1965, he joined the cast of the ABC sitcom My Three Sons as next door neighbor Ernie Thompson.

His older brother, Stanley Livingston, was already a series regular as Chip Douglas. Livingston joined the cast permanently (his character was adopted into the family, keeping the show’s title intact) and remained with the series until its end in 1972.

After the series run of My Three Sons ended in 1972, Livingston continued his acting career with 142 acting credits.  Most recently he appeared as a jury member in Trial and Error.

In October 2011, Barry Livingston released his anecdote-filled autobiography, The Importance of Being Ernie (Citadel Press) — detailing his career from My Three Sons to Mad Men and beyond.

mts23

To boost ratings, the family moved to Hollywood, CA in 1967. The family’s home in California was previously featured as the farm in Gene Autry’s 1940 musical Melody Ranch. Located on the Republic Pictures backlot, the barn was given a suburban facade in the 1950s. It wasn’t that far from Gilligan’s lagoon, which was also on the lot.

mts5

Robbie meets his future wife in California, and they eventually marry and have triplets. The triplets posed some issues.  They had to find two sets of twins so three could be on camera and one on reserve.  They had to be born between June 17 and 24, have light hair, blue eyes, and be California residents.  They could only be on the set for 2 hours a day, in front of the camera only 20 min and each exposure could not last more than 30 seconds due to the bright lights.

mts18

Tina Cole played Katie but she was not a rookie on the show. She previously appeared on three other episodes as three different characters before taking the role of Katie Miller Douglas. She was also a member of the Four King Cousins, a subgroup of the King Family Singers. In 1963 she played the minor (uncredited) role of Ruth Stewart in Palm Springs Weekend, a spring break party film set in Palm Springs, California. After leaving television, Cole was the director of the Sacramento Children’s Theatre. She was an acting coach at the John Robert Powers acting schools in Roseville and Elk Grove, California and in 2013 returned to on screen acting. She has several movies coming out in 2017.

mts22

In 1970, another change occurred in the family. Steve goes to school to talk with the substitute teacher about Ernie.  After being gone hours, with Ernie extremely worried, Steve comes home only to realize they never even brought up Ernie’s behavior and they had another date scheduled. They ended up marrying, and Barbara’s daughter Dodie moves into the house.

mts20

Beverly Garland had a long acting resume when she accepted the part of Barbara. Her hobbies were flower beading and crewel work. She starred in her first show Decoy in 1958 in New York where she played a tough police woman. Born Beverly Fessenden in Santa Cruz, CA in 1930, she was an only child. She took violin lessons. At 18 she married Bob Campbell, 20 in Vegas. They divorced 4 months later. She worked odd jobs, summer stock, and commercials. She married Richard Garland but they divorced in 1953. In that same year, she won an Emmy for Medic. She appeared in a variety of shows – Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Dr. Kildare, and The Farmer’s Daughter. She married Fillmore Pajeau Crank, a widower with two kids in 1960, and the couple had two more children.

mts21

Dodie was played by Dawn Lyn, the real-life sister of 80s pop idol Leif Garrett. Dawn Lyn made her acting debut at the age of four. She was the original Prudence in the pilot for Nanny and the Professor. By the time the pilot sold, Dawn had been released from her contract and cast as Dodie in My Three Sons. The Nanny producers sued unsuccessfully to get her back. She worked steadily to financially support her family until her mid-teens. She says at that time her petite stature began to work against her.

Dawn decided to branch out of acting and has done many things over the years, including owning a boutique on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Though she has not actively pursued acting, she has not totally closed the door on the idea either.

Later in the season, Chip elopes with his girlfriend Polly Williams.

mts17

In 1964, Ronne Troup, who played Polly, was working as a television background extra appearing (uncredited) in some fourth season black-and-white episodes of My Three Sons in classroom scenes featuring co-star Don Grady. She also worked as an uncredited extra in classroom scenes on Gidget. She appeared, uncredited, as a teen party guest in the Bob Hope film I’ll Take Sweden in 1965. In 1966, she made her film debut as part of the all-girl ensemble in Columbia Films’ The Trouble with Angels, where she is prominent in the graduation scene. In December 1966 (at age 21), she was cast as Sister Bertrille and had begun filming the pilot for Columbia/Screen Gems’ The Flying Nun when she was dropped after the studio’s first choice Sally Field finally agreed to accept the role.

In 1968, she played the role of Leslie Hayden in Danger Island, the cliffhanger serial that was featured on the Banana Splits Adventure Hour children’s program on Saturday mornings.

She appeared on Family Affair in 1970 in the episode “Desert Isle: Manhattan Style.” She was subsequently offered the role of Polly Williams Douglas, wife of Chip Douglas on My Three Sons, a role she played for two years (1970–72). In the Season 4 episode of The Partridge Family entitled “Hate Thy Neighbor” (1973), she appeared as Donna Stevens, the daughter of the new family who move in next door to the Partridges.

She continued acting through the 1990s.

mts7

I have always felt that My Three Sons doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It consistently focused on character development. Problems do occur in the Douglas household – the boys fight and call each other names.  Real problems come up. The show ran for 12 seasons. The issues were the ones we all faced growing up – not often major but important to young people.

The show survived cast and location changes without sacrificing quality. Bub left and Charley came on board. Mike got married and moved away so Ernie took his place. The family moved from New York to California.  Robbie met Katie, went to college, and had a family of his own. Chip married and moved out of the house. Steve eventually remarried also, gaining a daughter.

mts16

I grew up with the Douglas family and appreciated what I learned from the show.  Many critics of the show complain about it, along with many of the 1960s sitcoms, being too warm and fuzzy. I do understand that some kids in the 1960s and 1970s were exposed to awful home situations with abuse or addiction, but that was not reality for most kids.  I too experienced living with alcoholism and the strain it caused on my parents’ marriage, but most of the issues I had to deal with were the same ones as the kids on the show:  why the boy I liked didn’t know I existed, that I told a white lie to get out of doing something I didn’t want to do, or that a friend had said something to hurt my feelings.  That was reality for me and my siblings.

The characters were fully developed and became friends and people we chose to spend time with every week. This show was on when I was born and continued on the air until I was in 7th grade – that covers a lot of nurturing lessons during those needy years. The writers did a lot of fun quirks I don’t see on other shows.  On one show I remember, Charley playing Solitaire and almost every time someone walked in the room, they pointed out a move.  It was not addressed, but continued to happen just like in real life.  In one episode, Ernie was trying to do something in the background; I forget what the actual detail was, but he was struggling to accomplish it as the other characters interacted.  His issue was never referred to; it was just there. I also appreciate in this era of shows where it isn’t unusual to spend thousands and thousands of dollars each episode on costumes, My Three Sons was more realistic.  The cast got a wardrobe for the season.  You would see them wearing the same clothing over and over just like we did.

mts2

After I grew up, the show continued to resonate with me, although I later identified more with Katie and Robbie and later with Steve. Steve Douglas was always a father figure in my life. On our first date, Dan and I went back to my place and watched My Three Sons which TV Land aired later at night. When I became pregnant with our first child, I gave him a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce the event. I began to collect My Three Sons memorabilia, including a radio that sat in the Douglas kitchen, even though we only had two boys.  Nine years after our first son was born, we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant, and I did end up with three sons.  Our youngest was named Seth, for a variety of reasons:  Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, but also because Seth Bryant was the founder of Bryant Park where the Douglas boys grew up. My Three Sons will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s one of the shows I can watch episodes over and over and find something new each time.

mts3

 

 

 

 

Elinor Donahue Through the Decades

donahue23

Elinor Donahue always displays a warmth and comes across as a genuinely nice person. Her first sitcom became her most famous role.  She played Betty in the iconic Father Knows Best. Although none of her later sitcoms reached the same popularity, she has had a long and full career.

She was born in April of 1937 in Tacoma, Washington. She began tap dancing at 16 months old. As a toddler, she did some acting and received a contract with Universal at the ripe old age of 5. From 1955-1961 she was married to Robert Smith. She was married her second husband, Harry Ackerman, from 1962-1991. Ackerman was a producer for shows including Leave It to Beaver, Gidget, and Bewitched.  She married her third husband Louis Genevrino in 1992.

Donahue appeared in 18 movies between 1942 and 1952 including Tea for Two with Doris Day and My Blue Heaven. She made the transition to television in 1952 appearing in 8 shows in the 1950s. One of the shows I remember her in although I only saw it in reruns was one of my favorite shows, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. She was typically cast as the girl-next-door type. Her most famous role came in 1954 when she was cast in a new sitcom, Father Knows Best.

Father Knows Best – 1954-1960

This was one of the typical family shows of the 1950s. The Andersons lived in Springfield with three children: Betty, called Princess (Elinor Donahue), James Jr., or Bud (Billy Gray) and Kathy, usually called  Kitten (Lauren Chapin). The show debuted in the fall of 1954 on CBS. The show was cancelled in 1955 and the public was furious. Letters came pouring in, so it was reinstated. NBC took over the next year until 1958 when it went back to CBS.  In 1960, Robert Young decided he was done. These were warm and inviting parents, providing guidance and object lessons galore. Critics panned it later because it was not reality.  We have reality shows today, and please, give me fiction. We did learn life lessons on the show – following through on promises, working for what you want, being yourself, and taking responsibility for your mistakes.

Shortly after Father Knows Best left the airwaves, Donahue accepted the role of Elly Walker in The Andy Griffith Show.

The Andy Griffith Show – 1960-1961

Most of us are very familiar with The Andy Griffith Show and many of the characters who inhabit Mayberry:  Widower Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his son Opie (Ron Howard) live with Andy’s Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) who takes care of them;  Barney (Don Knotts) is the inept deputy but also Andy’s best friend;  Helen Crump (Anita Corsaut), the school teacher and Andy’s girlfriend later in the series; Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn), Barney’s girl; Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), town drunk but nice guy; Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), who runs the gas station; and his cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey). Andy had several romances early in the show.  He dated the county nurse Mary Simpson (played by several actresses), spent a limited amount of time with Daphne (Jean Carson) who had a crush on him; and in the first two seasons, he was sweet on Ellie Walker (Donahue), who ran the local drug store. Ellie cared about Andy, but she always stood up for herself and women’s rights.  Andy and Ellie never had the chemistry they were hoping for but they respected each other and like each other. Elinor raved about the cast and her opportunity to be on the show. She said Andy was in charge and expected quality but was fair and a nice man. She described Ron Howard as the best child actor she ever worked with.  She liked Frances Bavier and got along well with her.  She had a huge respect for Don Knott’s comedic ability. She is still friends with Betty Lynn.

She appeared on a variety of shows in the mid-1960s including 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, The Virginian, Dennis the MenaceStar Trek, and The Flying Nun. She tried her luck with one other sitcom in the 1960s.

Many Happy Returns – 1964-1965

This sitcom was also about a widower.  Walter Burnley (John McGiver) ran the Complaint Department at a LA department store. The show also featured his daughter (Donahue) and a coworker Lynn Hall (Elena Verdugo). His boss (Jerome Cowan) did not want him to take in any returns, so he had to resolve complaints without making his boss mad. Apparently Burnley couldn’t solve the complaints that came in from viewers because the show was cancelled after 24 episodes.

donahue18

Father Knows Best came out with two television movies in 1977: The Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best – Home for Christmas, and Elinor was in both. While still showing up in random shows during the 1970s such as The Rookies, Police Woman, and Diff’rent Strokes, Donahue found time to appear in two 70s shows on a regular basis.

donahue12

The Odd Couple – 1972-1975

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple came to Friday nights in 1970. Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), two divorced men who are complete opposites but best friends, try to live together without killing each other. The show had a great supporting cast including Donohue as Miriam Welby from 1972-1974, Felix’s girlfriend.

donahue7mulligan

Mulligan’s Stew – 1977

This show from 1977 starred Elinor Donahue as Jane Mulligan.   She and her husband Michael (Lawrence Pressman) are trying to raise three kids on his teacher’s salary when they suddenly add four orphaned nieces and nephews to their family. One of the kids was played by Suzanne Crough, Tracy from The Partridge Family, one of the few shows she was in. The series only lasted for seven episodes.

donahue13

The 1980s found Donahue still working regularly.  She was in Barnaby Jones, Mork & Mindy, One Day at a Time, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Golden Girls. One sitcom in the 1980s captured her attention about Beans Baxter.

donahue17beans

The New Adventures of Beans Baxter – 1987

Here is the plot for this one: Beans Baxter’s (Jonathan Ward) father who he thought was a mailman disappears one day.  Teenage Bean discovers that his dad worked for a secret government agency.  He is then drawn into becoming a spy for the government. The show features his adventures as he tries to find the enemy agents who are holding his father hostage while his mother played by Donahue is completely oblivious that anything strange is happening. Viewers also didn’t realize anything was happening because the show was cancelled after 17 episodes.

Entering her 60s, Elinor joined the cast of three sitcoms in the 1990s. She also made several movies including Pretty Woman in 1990 and The Princess Diaries 2 in 2004.

donahue8getlife

Get a Life – 1990-1992

Shows don’t get much weirder than this one. Comedian Chris Elliot plays a 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson who lives with wacky parents (Donahue and Bob Elliott, Chris’s real father).  Some of the strange things that happen during the 36 episodes include eating a space alien, beheadings, and a robot paperboy. In this bizarre series, Chris actually dies in a third of the episodes. During the run of the show, he died from old age, tonsillitis, a stab wound, a gunshot wound, was strangled, got run over by a car, choked on his cereal, was crushed by a giant boulder, and actually exploded.

 

donahue26

Eek!stravaganza – 1992-1993

Donahue plays “The Mom” in this animated show about Eek, a purple cat who always finds himself in dangerous situations. The series was on the air for five seasons.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman – 1993-1997

During the six years the show was on the air, Donahue reprised her role as Rebecca Quinn ten times. The show followed the ups and downs experienced by a female doctor practicing in a wild western town.

Interestingly, Donahue appeared in three different soap operas toward the end of her career: Santa Barbara, Days of Our Lives, and The Young and the Restless.  Elinor also appeared on a variety of documentaries and award shows. She was in the Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour. In 1998, she wrote her memoirs titled, In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue. The book included about 150 of her favorite recipes. Elinor’s career has been long and she appeared in many shows and movies over the years. She hasn’t appeared in a movie or television show since 2010, although she did do some theater.  In September of 2015, she appeared in one of my favorite plays, “Harvey” in North Carolina.

donahue25

Donahue’s career reminds me of many of the actors we have gotten to know in this blog including William Christopher, Betty White, Ken Berry, and Shelly Fabares.  These actors and actresses all appear to be very nice, talented people who have careers they should be proud of.  In a day when bad decisions and selfish actions are splattered across our television screens and newspapers, perhaps one of the best compliments we can give someone is that they had a long and fulfilling career and didn’t step all over other people to achieve it.

donahue9

When a rainy day shows up this summer, take a moment to watch some of Elinor’s sitcom episodes. Thank you Elinor Donahue for the entertainment and memories you gave us.

donahue4harvey