Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bachelor Father (1960)

The synopsis of this series is based on viewing only nine episodes. As of this writing, no plans for DVD release have been announced, but should the series be released to DVD, or if additional episodes are posted online, this synopsis will be updated with the additional information.

Bachelor Father was a situation comedy that ran for five seasons on all three major networks with John Forsythe in the title role as Beverly Hills attorney Bentley Gregg, Noreen Corcoran playing his niece Kelly whose parents were killed in an auto accident, and veteran Chinese-American actor Sammee Tong in the role of Gregg's houseboy Peter Tong. A June 11, 1960 cover story in TV Guide marveled at the show's success despite its clichéd premise--claiming that the show set the clock of progress back to at least My Little Margie--and that apparent staleness no doubt was a factor in the original script being rejected by all three networks. But the producers at G.E. Theater did an about turn when they saw the test film, and the pilot proved surprisingly popular when it appeared on that anthology series on May 26, 1957. American Tobacco bought the series and it took its regular spot on CBS in the fall of 1957, alternating every other week with The Jack Benny Show. Benny at first disapproved of the show, fearing that it would drive away his audience, but when its ratings improved, he had no complaint. Still, the show never cracked the top 30 and in June 1959 it moved to NBC, with old reruns showing that summer and new episodes appearing with the new season in the fall. It continued on NBC for two seasons before moving to ABC for its final season in 1961-62. Even in the summer of 1960, Forsythe and the producers were not anticipating that the show would run much longer because Corcoran, then 17, was reaching an age when the show's premise would begin to fall apart.

That premise was based on the humor of having a dedicated bachelor in the role of a parent, but equally key to the show's success was the character of Peter Tong, in part because of the then-acceptable stereotypical mangling of the English language by a Chinese character (American-born actor Sammee Tong spoke excellent English in real life) and also because Tong refused to be a stereotypically submissive servant. He frequently talks back to Gregg and just as often threatens to quit unless Gregg shapes up. 

Gregg's character is also interesting, not because he is a pseudo-parent out of his element but because he is equally inept at just about everything, a stark contrast to other serious and impossibly competent TV attorneys like Perry Mason. When Gregg tries to rein in the family's finances in "Bentley Cracks the Whip" (November 24, 1960), he unwittingly gets himself in hot water with a waiter at a restaurant and then unleashes Tong's Grandpa Ling, who devises a dubious raffle scheme. When he tries to negotiate an arranged marriage for Peter in "Bentley and the Bartered Bride" (January 21, 1960), he gets taken in by a bait-and-switch hoax run by an old Chinese woman. When Kelly begins writing a successful advice column in her school's newspaper in "Dear Bentley" (December 15, 1960), Gregg deems her advice unsound and begins telling her what to put in the column, with disastrous results. And in "Bentley and the Big Board" (December 1, 1960) Gregg advises Kelly and Peter to invest in the stock of a company he is doing work for only to see that company's stock take an immediate dip. Even his own affairs are bungled: he gets himself in a bind allowing a pretty efficiency expert to overturn his household in "Bentley Meets the Perfect Woman" (April 21, 1960), and when he finds what he believes to be the woman he wants to marry, he drives her into a jealous frenzy trying to juggle her needs with his business responsibilities in "The Very Friendly Witness" (May 5, 1960).

However, to be fair, Gregg does occasionally succeed in his efforts--he solves the mystery of who stole a contested will in "Where There's a Will" (June 2, 1960) and he reunites an estranged couple while fending off advances from their daughter in "A Crush on Bentley" (October 13, 1960). But these successes are far outnumbered by his failures. Still, considering that in the final season Gregg has successfully steered Kelly through adolescence and toward an impending marriage, one could view the entire series as having reached its intended goal. And for Forsythe, according to that TV Guide cover story, the payoff by the end of the series was a cool $1 million, not bad for a clichéd concept that no one wanted initially. And despite the supposed staleness of the show's premise, similar single-fathered sitcoms continued to appear throughout the 1960s, from My Three Sons to Family Affair.

The original instrumental theme song for the series was written by the prolific but often uncredited David Kahn, who also wrote the spritely theme for Leave It to Beaver and provided the arrangement of Charles Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" used as the theme music for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The scores for individual episodes in 1960 were composed by longtime MGM musical composer and arranger Conrad Salinger (Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, Kiss Me Kate, and many more) and Johnny Williams, better known today as multiple Oscar-winning composer John Williams (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, amongst many others). Williams had previously worked with Henry Mancini on Peter Gunn and had provided scores for M Squad. He would also be given his first lead assignment for a TV show when Checkmate debuted in the fall of 1960.

At this time, nine episodes from 1960 are available on, in addition to several episodes from other years. As expected, the video quality ranges from acceptable to substandard.

The Actors

John Forsythe

Born Jacob Lincoln Freund in Penns Grove, NJ, Forsythe's parents' anniversary was on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, their nickname for him was Link, and he attended Abraham Lincoln high school in Brooklyn. After attending the University of North Carolina, Forsythe was hired at age 18 as the public address announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Unlike many other actors whose parents did not approve of their theatrical ambitions, Forsythe was lukewarm about an acting career but finally succumbed to the encouragement of his father to enter the profession. After some work on Broadway and radio soap operas, he signed a film contract with Warner Brothers and began appearing in movies in 1943, most notably Destination Tokyo. That year he also divorced his first wife Parker McCormick, met and married his second wife Julie Warren, and left Hollywood to join the military. He resumed his acting career in 1948, working on a variety of television drama anthology series but also resumed movie roles in the early 50s, including It Happens Every Thursday, Escape From Fort Bravo, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry in 1955. But unlike his Bachelor Father character, the now-married father Forsythe wanted to settle down in one city and thus moved his family to California and pursued a regular role in a TV series.

After Bachelor Father ended, Forsythe appeared in an occasional film (Ann-Margaret's Kitten With a Whip) until landing his own The John Forsythe Show, which co-starred Elsa Lanchester and Ann B. Davis but lasted only a single season in 1965-66. He appeared in the film In Cold Blood in 1967, then returned to TV for the series To Rome With Love, which ran for two seasons in 1969-71. After a string of TV movies through the first half of the 1970s and serving as host for the nature series The World of Survival, he was cast as the voice of Charles Townsend on Charlie' Angels, which ran from 1976-81. As soon as Charlie's Angels ended, he was cast as devious millionaire Blake Carrington on Dynasty, a role he also played on its spin-off The Colbys. In the early 90s he played the lead role in The Powers That Be, which ran for two seasons in 1992-93. After that, he confined himself primarily to voice-work, including reprising his role as Charles Townsend on the feature-length films Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Having survived quadruple bypass surgery in 1979 and colorectal cancer in 2006, Forsythe finally succumbed to pneumonia and died at the age of 92 on April 1, 2010. Throughout his life Forsythe was actively involved in thoroughbred horse racing, both as an owner of various horses and serving as a board member for the Hollywood Park Racetrack.

Noreen Corcoran

Corcoran came from a large family with show business connections. Her father was the head of maintenance at MGM Studios and several of her siblings also became actors, most notably her brother Kevin co-starred with Tim Considine (who played Mike on My Three Sons) on the Walt Disney show The Adventures of Spin and Marty. Another brother became dean of students at California State University Fresno. She began appearing in films at age 8 in 1951 and had single appearances on TV shows like The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Loretta Young Show, and Circus Boy before being recommended for the part of Kelly on Bachelor Father by Ronald Reagan.

After Bachelor Father ended, Corcoran continued making occasional appearances on shows like Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley and appeared in the films Gidget Goes to Rome and The Girls on the Beach but retired from acting in 1965. She also released a few singles in the manner of Shelley Fabares, most notably "Love Kitten" in 1963, a song originally recorded by April Stevens, though she failed to attain the chart success of Fabares. Instead, she decided to work in the dance world, principally through an 11-year association with the Lewitzky Dance Company. She currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with her brother Hugh and has never married.

Sammee Tong

Born in San Francisco's Chinatown, Tong was first a singer and performed a revue with chorus girls in the early 1930s until discovered by Hollywood director Mervyn LeRoy and cast in the 1934 Dick Powell musical Happiness Ahead. From there, he played many of the usual Chinese roles in films such as Charlie Chan in Shanghai and Think Fast, Mr. Moto but he also played a Bing Crosby imitator in Stowaway and an orchestra leader in Youth on Parole. He then made occasional TV appearances in the 1950s on shows like Sky King, Judge Roy Bean, and Bonanza before landing his career-defining role on Bachelor Father.

After the series ended, he appeared in the films It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and For Those Who Think Young before landing another regular role as Sammy Ling on his friend Mickey Rooney's mid-60s show Mickey. However, Tong was reputedly a heavy gambler and deeply in debt when the show was canceled in 1965. With no income and in dire straits, he committed suicide by drug overdose at the age of 63 on October 27, 1964.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 3, Episode 19, "Bentley and the Bartered Bride": Whitney Blake (Dorothy Baxter on Hazel) plays Gregg's girlfriend Iris Schuster. Nora Marlowe (Martha Commager on Law of the Plainsman, Sara Andrews on The Governor and J.J., and Mrs. Flossie Brimmer on The Waltons) plays her mother.
Season 3, Episode 30, "Bentley Meets the Perfect Woman": Patricia Barry (shown on the right, played Kate Harris on Harris Against the World) plays efficiency expert Melissa Trent. Sue Ann Langdon (Lillian Nuvo on Arnie, Rosie on Grandpa Goes to Washington, and Darlene on When the Whistle Blows) plays Gregg's secretary Kitty. Lester Matthews (Sir Dennis Nayland Smith on The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu and Fleming Pendleton on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays businessman Mr. Harcourt.
Season 3, Episode 32, "The Very Friendly Witness": Addison Richards (shown on the left, starred in Boys Town, They Made Her a Spy, Flying Tigers, and The Deerslayer and played Doc Calhoun on Trackdown and Doc Landy on The Deputy) plays Gregg's client Mr. Granger. Patricia Huston (Addy Olson on Days of Our Lives and Hilda Brunschwager on L.A. Law) plays Gregg's girlfriend Elena del Castillo.
Season 3, Episode 36, "Where There's a Will": Kelton Garwood (Beauregard O'Hanlon on Bourbon Street Beat and Percy Crump on Gunsmoke) plays potential will beneficiary Simon Bacula. Kip King (Ronald Sandler on Charlie & Co.) plays potential will beneficiary Ansel Crabtree.
Season 4, Episode 5, "A Crush on Bentley": Linda Evans (credited as Linda Evenstad, shown on the right, played Audra Barkley on The Big Valley, Marty Shaw on Hunter, and Krystle Carrington on Dynasty) plays precocious teen Liz McGavin. Frank Wilcox (Mr. Brewster on The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction and Beecher Asbury on The Untouchables) plays her father Ben. Angela Greene (Tess Trueheart on Dick Tracy(1950)) plays her mother Phyllis.
Season 4, Episode 9, "How to Catch a Man": Milton Frome (starred in Pardners, The Delicate Delinquent, and The Swinger and played Lawrence Chapman on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays Gregg's golfing buddy Phil Demling. Jimmy Hawkins (Tagg Oakley on Annie Oakley, Jonathon Baylor on Ichabod and Me, Jimmy on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Scotty on The Donna Reed Show) plays Kelly's suitor Dennis. Cheryl Holdridge (Julie Foster on Leave It to Beaver) plays Kelly's classmate Lila Meredith.
Season 4, Episode 11, "Bentley Cracks the Whip": Sid Melton (shown on the left, played Ichabod Mudd on Captain Midnight, Uncle Charley Halper on The Danny Thomas Show and Make Room for Granddaddy, Alf Monroe on Green Acres, and Salvadore Petrillo on The Golden Girls) plays grocery delivery man Harry. Peter Leeds (Tenner Smith on Trackdown) plays an unnamed waiter.

Season 4, Episode 12, "Bentley and the Big Board": Mary Tyler Moore (shown on the right, played Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary Brenner on Mary, and Annie McGuire on Annie McGuire) plays Gregg's girlfriend Joanne Sutton. Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on Batman) plays her father Ronald. Cheryl Holdridge (see "How to Catch a Man" above) reappears as Kelly's classmate Lila Meredith.
Season 4, Episode 13, "Dear Bentley ": Joan O'Brien (starred in The Alamo and It'$ Only Money) plays Kelly's algebra teacher Janice McCleery. Del Moore (starred in The Nutty Professor, The Patsy, and The Big Mouth and played Alvin on Life With Elizabeth) plays Gregg's golfing buddy Cal Mitchell. Francis de Sales (Lt. Bill Weigand on Mr. & Mrs. North, Sheriff Maddox on Two Faces West, and Rusty Lincoln on Days of Our Lives) plays Mitchell's friend Ollie. Barbara Heller (Christine Clam on Jackie Gleason: American Scene Magazine) plays Ollie's sister-in-law Judy Morrison.

1 comment:

  1. This movie is available on DVD I found the listings below they look ok. Thanks