Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Betty Hutton Show (1960)

The Betty Hutton Show was a last-ditch effort by one of the most popular movie stars of the early 1950s to revive a career she had herself torpedoed and then continued to sabotage by a combination of poor choices, arrogant attitude, and substance abuse. Though the show was co-produced by Desilu Productions, Hutton had to put up her own money to actually get the show made. The basic premise of the show is set up in the pilot "Goldie Crosses the Tracks," which aired October 1, 1959. Goldie Appleby is a down-to-earth manicurist and former showgirl living with two roommates, Lorna and Rosemary. Like Hutton, Goldie is no intellectual and lacks social refinement, but she has common sense and isn't afraid to take the bull by the horns, a trait that impresses one of her regular clients, Mr. Strickland, a wealthy widower businessman with three children Nicky, Pat, and Roy. When Strickland has trouble managing his entitled children, Goldie makes some suggestions on how to be firm with them, which he appreciates and follows. He is so impressed that he later makes her the sole executor of his estate after conferring with family lawyer Howard Seaton. Then he suddenly and inexplicably dies in his office, and Goldie learns from Seaton that she has been made executor and controller of his estate and is to live with the three children at his lavish mansion. The pilot then mines the usual ironic humor when low-brow meets high-brow, with Goldie showing up in a garish outfit and showing a complete lack of manners, which instantly turns off the two elder children, Nicky and Pat. But the youngest, Roy, immediately accepts her, and in subsequent episodes Goldie is able to win over the other two children as well. Still, the show continues to mine its singular comic refrain of the gullible and unsophisticated Goldie trying to fit in and match wits with wilier adversaries and then ultimately prevailing. 

In "Love Comes to Goldie" (January 7, 1960) she decides to cut off Strickland's do-nothing relatives from their regular allowances, only to be smitten by the charms of one of them, Sebastian Strickland, who is chosen by the other relatives to woo and marry Goldie to regain control of the estate. She remains under his spell up until the point of his proposal, when she serendipitously discovers an unflattering portrait he had sketched of her that reveals what he truly thinks of her. Likewise, in "Gullible Goldie" (March 31, 1960) she is hoodwinked by a couple of con artists who are pretending to be running a home for orphans and even raises $20,000 for them until Seaton does a background check into their criminal history, allowing Goldie to confront them and force them to open and run a real orphanage in order to receive the money. Only this time the ending of the story is left a bit ambiguous as the couple agrees to her terms but then give a kind of wink at the camera before the credits roll. 

While the theme of the uneducated rube taking the more sophisticated to school has been employed to good effect in many films and TV series, including Hutton's contemporary The Andy Griffith Show and later series such as The Beverly Hillbillies and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., it fails horribly on The Betty Hutton Show because of a lack of good scripts and poor direction. The plots of the above-mentioned episodes and the others reviewed for this post are completely formulaic--there are no surprises, every supposed twist is telegraphed miles ahead. But even worse is the way the lines and characters are played--actors stare into space or mug to the camera while delivering their lines rather than interacting with each other, further exaggerating the artificiality of the narrative. This style of acting presentation may have worked in the kind of musical comedies that made Hutton a star in the 1940s and '50s, but by 1960 audiences favored a more naturalistic approach seen in shows such as The Andy Griffith Show

And the stories on Betty Hutton are ripe with sentimentality: in "Roy Runs Away" (January 21, 1960), Goldie punishes Roy for getting into a fight at school by withholding three weeks' allowance. Taking the advice of his friend Steve, Roy threatens to run away, which upsets Goldie until the family butler Hollister assures her that Roy is bluffing. When Goldie refuses to bend to Roy's threat, he is forced to carry it out, eventually taking a taxi to a hotel and trying to register for a room. He finally gives up and tries to return home but sees Goldie gathering his belongings in the front room after agreeing with his Aunt Louise that perhaps Roy doesn't like Goldie and would be better off with his aunt in Boston. Roy then believes that Goldie doesn't like him. When Roy breaks down in tears to Aunt Louise and Goldie overhears his confession, the two suddenly realizes it was all a big misunderstanding and lock each other in a tearful embrace. Such tear-jerking narratives were obviously popular at the time, since several other shows used them as well, but they weren't enough to save The Betty Hutton Show from an early demise after only 30 episodes, since the show had little else going for it and had a tough time-slot competitor in The Donna Reed Show, then airing on ABC. 

But regardless of which shows it was stacked up against, it's unlikely The Betty Hutton Show would have lasted any longer than it did, done in by a combination of unoriginal scripts, bad acting direction, and a star who had peaked almost a decade earlier. Hutton would have only a few more TV appearances before being driven to Las Vegas and then the beneficence of a Rhode Island Catholic priest, as detailed in her biography below. Her quick exit from the 1960 TV landscape was perhaps another example of the changing times, a rejection of styles and stars from the old days that also swept away shows featuring Ann Sothern, Tom Ewell, and Barbara Stanwyck by the spring of 1961.

The theme and several episode scores for The Betty Hutton Show were composed by Jerry Fielding, born Joshua Itzhak Feldman in Pittsburgh. He played clarinet in his school band and was offered a scholarship to attend the Carnegie Institute for Instrumentalists but was forced to withdraw due to ill health. Once recovered, he landed a spot in the house band for the Stanley Theater under the tutelage of Max Adkins, known as a developer of prodigious talent that included the likes of Henry Mancini, Billy Strayhorn, and Neal Hefti. Fielding finally left Pittsburgh with the Alvino Rey band and never returned. From there he landed arranging jobs with many of the big band superstars, including Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, Charlie Barnet, and Jimmie Lunceford. Eventually he moved to the west coast when he was hired by Kay Kyser for his radio program, which led to work on other radio shows as well. He was forced to change his name to Fielding when he was hired for The Jack Paar Program because Feldman was considered too Jewish. In 1948 he replaced fellow Pittsburgher Billy May on Groucho Marx's radio version of You Bet Your Life and remained with the program when it made the move to television in 1951. He also had his own all-music program The Jerry Fielding Show in 1952 but soon thereafter was blacklisted after refusing to name fellow members of the Hollywood Writers Mobilization organization when brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Through the remainder of the 1950s his only work in Hollywood was a handful of episodes of the William Bendix comedy The Life of Riley until he was hired for The Betty Hutton Show. He made do during these lean years by playing in Las Vegas and recording several now collectible record albums. The blacklist on Fielding was finally lifted in 1961 and he returned to prolific TV work on Peter Loves Mary and The Tom Ewell Show. In 1962 he was given his first feature film scoring assignments, most memorably for Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent. From that point forward until his death in 1980, he worked steadily, writing the scores for well-known TV shows such as McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes, and The Bionic Woman, as well as the memorable Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles." His work on feature films began to really take off in the late 1960s, beginning with Sam Peckinpaugh's The Wild Bunch, for which he received an Oscar nomination. In the 1970s he would receive Oscar nominations for his work on Straw Dogs and The Outlaw Josey Wales, and in 1980 he received an Emmy for his work on High Midnight. He died at age 57 from congestive heart failure on February 17, 1980 while working in Toronto on the film Funeral Home.

Presently only four episodes of The Betty Hutton Show (one from 1959, the other three from 1960) have been released on a single DVD by Alpha Video. These four and a few more are currently also available on The video quality for all of these episodes is poor.

The Actors

Betty Hutton

Elizabeth June Thornburg was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, the daughter of a railroad worker and his wife. Betty's father abandoned the family when she was only 2 and committed suicide 16 years later. Her mother supported the family by selling bootleg liquor at a speakeasy during Prohibition. It was there that Betty and her older sister June began their singing careers to entertain customers. June would go on to become the female vocalist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1938 to 1942. Always on the run from the law, Betty and her family eventually relocated to Detroit, where her mother found work in an auto assembly factory. Determined to break into show business, Betty moved to New York at age 15 but was told she would never make it and returned home, where she was discovered by orchestra leader Vincent Lopez a year later singing in a nightclub. She was able to work her role as a singer into appearances in a few of musical shorts from 1938-1940, which brought her to the attention of Broadway producer and co-founder of Capitol Records Buddy DeSylva. DeSylva cast her in his production Two for the Show and then as the second female lead in Panama Hattie beneath Ethel Merman, whom, according to Hutton's autobiography, insisted on cutting some of Hutton's songs from the production. DeSylva consoled Hutton by taking her with him when he took over production at Paramount Studios, casting her in The Fleet's In and Star Spangled Rhythm in 1942. From there her star rose rapidly in films like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, The Perils of Pauline, and her best-remembered role in the lead of Annie Get Your Gun. But despite being named Best Actress in a 1950 reader's poll for Photoplay magazine and being ranked the top box office attraction by Variety two years later, Hutton developed a reputation as being difficult to work with, and in 1952 while working on The Greatest Show on Earth she began taking Dexamil to deal with the stress of making the movie, her weight, and the failure of her first marriage to camera maker Ted Briskin. Later that year, after making Somebody Loves Me and marrying choreographer Charles O'Curran, Hutton walked out of her contract with Paramount when they refused to let O'Curran direct her next film, essentially ending her film career. She had an opportunity to revive it when offered the part of Ado Annie for the film version of Oklahoma, but she turned it down for NBC's 1954 nationally broadcast color production, Satins and Spurs, developed specifically for her but which proved to be a flop. She appeared in only one more film, Spring Reunion, in 1957 before Desilu offered her a chance at her own TV show, which lasted only 30 episodes, ending in 1960.

That same year she married for the fourth and final time to jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli, but the marriage lasted only two years, though the couple had a daughter Carolyn. She had a few TV guest spots in the 1960s on The Greatest Show on Earth, Burke's Law, and Gunsmoke and had signed a new contract with Paramount for two westerns in 1967 but was fired before either was produced. She had occasional appearances in Las Vegas, filled in for Carol Burnett and Alice Ghostley in a couple of Broadway productions, then wound up in Rhode Island in the 1970s, where she was allowed to live in a Catholic rectory by Father Peter Maguire. Despite never finishing the 9th grade, Hutton returned to school and eventually earned a Master's Degree from Salve Regina University and taught acting at Boston-based Emerson College. According to Carl Bruno, who with Michael Mayer "finished" Hutton's autobiography when she gave up on it, Maguire at times found Hutton too much to handle and would send her to California to live with Bruno and his partner Lutheran minister Gene Arnaiz. From 1974 till 1996 Hutton would be shuttled back and forth between Rhode Island and California. In 1999 she finally settled in Palm Springs, California, where she lived until her death from colon cancer at the age of 86 on March 11, 2007.

Gigi Perreau

Ghislaine Elizabeth Marie Perreau-Saussine was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of a French father and American mother. She broke into acting at the age of 2 when her mother brought her along to an audition for her older brother, Peter Miles, for the film Madame Curie. When director Mervyn LeRoy learned that she could speak both French and English at such a young age, he cast her as Greer Garson's daughter. She was thereafter signed to MGM and eventually moved over to Universal, appearing in several movies per year throughout the 1940s and '50s, such as God Is My Co-Pilot, Green Dolphin Street, My Foolish Heart, Bonzo Goes to College, and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Her work in television began in the early '50s, first on drama anthologies and then on series such as Mayor of the Town, The Donna Reed Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Her role as Pat Strickland on The Betty Hutton Show was her first regular TV role, but a year after the show ended she landed another recurring spot as secretary Kathy Richards on Follow the Sun, which also lasted a single season. Still, she found plenty of work guest starring on shows such as Perry Mason, Rawhide, The Rifleman, and Lassie, with her last role coming in a 1974 episode of Adam-12. These days she teaches acting at Immaculate Heart High School, is Vice-President of the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California, and serves on the boards of both The Donna Reed Foundation and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. She says she is also working on an autobiography but won't be able to finish it until she is no longer working full time.

Peter Miles

Gerald Richard Perreau-Saussine, older brother of Gigi Perreau, was born in Tokyo but grew up in Los Angeles. As mentioned in his sister's biography above, Miles tried out for a part in the 1943 film Madame Curie at the age of 5 but was not chosen for the part. His film debut would come a year later playing Humphrey Bogart's son in Passage to Marseille. Like his sister, he was signed to MGM and had a steady career through the 1940s and into the 1950s in such films as Family Honeymoon, The Red Pony, Roseanna McCoy, and Quo Vadis, sometimes billed as Gerald Perreau in his early years.TV appearances followed, starting in the mid-1950s on shows such as Father Knows Best, Dragnet, Perry Mason, and Maverick before being cast as Nicky Strickland on The Betty Hutton Show. But once the show ended he gave up his acting career to pursue a career in writing. Two of his novels were made into movies--They Saved Hitler's Brain and That Cold Day in the Park, which was directed by Robert Altman. He and his sister ran a successful art gallery in Los Angeles, and he authored several catalogs of work by Japanese wood block artists. He also taught school and served as the President of the Burbank Teachers Association. He died from cancer at the age of 64 on August 3, 2002.

Dennis Olivieri

Virtually no biographical information is available for Dennis Joel Olivieri, not even a birth date. His first credited role, as Dennis Joel, was playing Roy Strickland on The Betty Hutton Show. In 1960 he also appeared in the Disney feature film Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With a Circus, an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, as well as episodes of The Deputy and The DuPont Show With June Allyson. After The Betty Hutton Show ended, he continued to get a few guest spots on TV shows for the duration of the 1960s, including Bachelor Father, Leave It to Beaver, and Family Affair.  In 1968 he released a music album titled Come to the Party on the tiny VMC label and produced by Tandyn Almer, who wrote the Association's first hit "Along Comes Mary." In 1969 he scored a regular role as Stanley Gabriel on the Aaron Spelling college-age kids starting over on an island series The New People, which lasted only one season. He continued working sporadically through the 1970s with occasional appearances on TV shows such as Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law and Love Story as well as off-beat feature films such as The Naked Ape, The Centerfold Girls, and the rock opera Phantom of the Paradise. His last credit was the 1980 camp musical Forbidden Zone, which also included Danny Elfman playing Satan.

Tom Conway

Thomas Charles Sanders was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of a wealthy rope-maker, though his family was forced to flee back to England during the Russian Revolution. After completing college, Conway moved to Northern Rhodesia and worked in the mining and ranching businesses until he became frustrated by his lack of success and returned to England to work as an engineer in a carburetor factory and selling safety glass. He was encouraged to join a small theatre repertory group and eventually joined the Manchester Repertory Company and found work on BBC radio. His brother, actor George Sanders, persuaded him to come to Hollywood, though to avoid confusion between them, Conway was forced to change his last name. He became a contract player for MGM, appearing in such films as Tarzan's Secret Treasure, Mr. and Mrs. North, and Mrs. Miniver before getting his big break thanks to his brother. George Sanders had grown tired of playing The Falcon for RKO and thus had it arranged in The Falcon's Brother to have his character killed off by Nazis and the torch handed off to his brother playing the character Tom Lawrence. Conway continued in the role for another 10 films while also appearing in horror movies such as Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, and The Seventh Victim. In the 1950s he continued appearing in B-grade features like Bride of the Gorilla, Tarzan and the She-Devil, The She-Creature, and Voodoo Woman, but he also was cast in the title role as TV detective Mark Saber, which ran from 1951-53. In the late 1950s he began picking up guest spots on TV shows such as Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Cheyenne before landing his role as lawyer Howard Seaton on The Betty Hutton Show. After a few more roles, voicework on 101 Dalmations, and appearances on Have Gun -- Will Travel and Perry Mason, Conway's alcoholism and a degenerative eye condition ruined his career. His second wife Queenie Leonard divorced him in 1963 and his brother broke off contact with him over his drinking. In 1965 he was discovered living in a flophouse and 2 years later after former sister-in-law Zsa Zsa Gabor gave him $200 to tip his nurses in the hospital, he checked out and took the money but expired at his girlfriend's house the next day due to cirrhosis of the liver at age 62 on April 22, 1967. Ironically, though Conway was forced to change his given name when he first landed in Hollywood to avoid confusion with his brother, his adopted name forced comedian Tim Conway to change his first name when he was getting started in show business.

Gavin Muir

Born in Chicago, Gavin Muir was educated in England, which helped him affect the British accent that made him perfectly suited for various villainous roles as well as the butler Hollister on The Betty Hutton Show. He began his acting career in regional theater but by 1920 had moved to Broadway and had his first role there in 1922's Enter Madame. Thereafter he had a prolific stage career at least through 1933, though he continued appearing in productions until 1939. After a brief uncredited appearance in a 1932 short, his Hollywood career began in earnest in 1936, most notably in John Ford's Mary of Scotland. He found steady work throughout the remainder of the 1930s and the 1940s, mostly in exploitation fare such as Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Hitler's Children, The Son of Dr. Jekyll, and several Sherlock Holmes features. In the early 1950s he began getting TV roles on series such as Dangerous Assignment, Biff Baker, U.S.A., and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His stint on The Betty Hutton Show was his lone regular TV role and came at the end of his career. Afterward he appeared only in the eerie Dennis Hopper mermaid feature Night Tide and one episode of The Rogues in 1965. He died on May 24, 1972 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the age of 71.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 14, "Love Comes to Goldie": Maxwell Reed (shown on the right, appeared in Night Beat, Shadow of Fear, and Helen of Troy and played Capt. David Grief on Captain David Grief) plays Strickland family deadbeat Sebastian Strickland. 

Season 1, Episode 16, "Roy Runs Away": Norma Varden (shown on the left, appeared in National Velvet, Strangers on a Train, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Witness for the Prosecution, and Doctor Doolittle and played Harriet Johnson on Hazel) plays Strickland relative Aunt Louise. Don Grady (Robbie Douglas on My Three Sons) plays Roy's antagonist Joey Simpson. Darryl Richard (Smitty on The Donna Reed Show) plays Roy's friend Steve.
Season 1, Episode 18, "Goldie and the Tycoon": Mary Anderson (appeared in Gone With the Wind, The Song of Bernadette, and Lifeboat and played Catherine Harrington on Peyton Place) plays Strickland Enterprises chairman Miss Kingston.
Season 1, Episode 23, "The Seaton Story": Joyce Jameson (appeared in The Apartment, Tales of Terror, and The Comedy of Terrors) plays showgirl Beverly Bell. Antony Carbone (appeared in A Bucket of Blood, Last Woman on Earth, The Pit and the Pendulum, and Creature From the Haunted Sea) plays her boyfriend Al. Natalie Masters (Wilma Clemson on Date With the Angels and Mrs. Bergen on My Three Sons) plays Seaton's secretary.
Season 1, Episode 26, "Gullible Goldie": Robert Emhardt (shown on the right, played Sgt. Vinton on The Kids From C.A.P.E.R.) plays con artist Mr. Bleeker. Ellen Corby (shown on the left, played Henrietta Porter on Trackdown and Esther Walton on The Waltons) plays his wife.

1 comment:

  1. Gigi Perreau also guest starred on an episode of THE BRADY BUNCH, as a math teacher whom Greg developed a crush upon...