Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Window on Main Street (1961)

Given that one of his reasons for wanting out of Father Knows Best was the taxing grind of producing a weekly television series, it may seem odd that Robert Young jumped right back into that fire only a year later with the same producer, Eugene Rodney, principal scriptwriter, Roswell Rogers, and musical supervisor, Irving Friedman, that he had worked with on the series he couldn't wait to be rid of. And the sentimental, moralizing tone of his new series, Window on Main Street, was remarkably similar to the one he'd just finished as well. Only this time, freed from the constraints of a family-themed show to explore any topics they chose, Young, Rodney, and Rogers failed to find an audience.

The premise is that Young plays writer Cameron Garrett Brooks, who returns to his hometown of Millsburg after his wife and child die in a car accident involving icy conditions, which we learn in "Christmas Memory" (December 18, 1961). He takes up residence in the Majestic Hotel with a second-story balcony view of Main Street, allowing him to watch the comings and goings of the town's residents and inspiring him with ideas for his next book. As he tells old friend and newspaper editor Lloyd Ramsey (played by Ford Rainey), his plan is to tell the remarkable stories of the town's ordinary citizens. Ramsey tries to dissuade him from the venture, arguing that much has changed in the town since he left years ago and that what he remembers about the town is gone, but Brooks holds steadfast to his idea. He also discovers a love interest in the first episode, "The Return" (October 2, 1961), which plays out as something of a mystery when he receives half a letter that he wrote before leaving Millsburg to conquer the world. In that letter, written to a young girl who followed him to a secluded spot where he could envision his future, he promised to one day return and reward her with a kiss from a man who by then would be a famous author. The fame and fortune have eluded Brooks, and he fails to recognize that the young girl is now Ramsey's assistant at the newspaper Chris Logan (played by Constance Moore), herself also a widow with a teenage son Arny (Brad Berwick). 

Reconciliation with the past and widow(er)s are recurring plot devices in the series, as shown in the fourth episode, "The Chambermaid" (October 23, 1961) in which Brooks is surprised to learn of the high society past of his hotel chambermaid Vinia Webster (Mary Adams), herself also a widow forced into a menial job after her husband's death when she learned that the lifestyle he lavished on her was not supported by wise financial decisions. But despite coming down in the world and initially hating her job, Vinia eventually comes to cherish it because it makes her feel useful. When her nephew and his wife come to town to spirit her away to a relaxing retirement home, she declines the offer because she feels that she is needed more by the occupants of the hotel where she works. Another resident who must become reconciled with his past is newly minted doctor John "Buzz" Neldrum in "A Doctor Comes to Town" (October 16, 1961). Buzz was a wild child in his youth and has a hard time convincing residents who knew him then that he can be trusted with their health now. When he can secure only a single patient after several weeks, he is about to pack up and accept an offer to work in another doctor's practice in West Virginia until that one patient makes him feel that she would be lost without him. Immediately others in the town begin to see that he is a competent physician.

Things have a way of always working out in Millsburg, where even aspiring criminals wind up solid citizens. In "The Dollar Nineteen Cent Thief" (December 4, 1961) confused young man Elroy Paulsen breaks into Brooks' hotel room intending to steal whatever money he can find after watching his father slave for years but never save enough money to buy the boat he's always wanted. Young Elroy figures it's better to grab what you want now, only he is so inept that he can find only the $1.19 Brooks left on his desk for his dry cleaning, completely missing a $10 bill buried under some papers. After Brooks refuses to be frightened by the young robber, he winds up introducing him to Ramsey's daughter, who stops by to remind Brooks to be on time for her performance in a school operetta, and when Elroy has a chance to talk to her, he decides he would rather go see her sing and find a real job rather than be misled into a life of crime. Brooks' calm demeanor and interest in steering Elroy down the right path is enough to turn the tide in the town where crime doesn't stand a chance against virtue.

Nor do doubt and depression stand a chance in Millsburg. In "A Day in the Life of an Editor" (November 27, 1961) Ramsey struggles with how to reply in print to a young boy's letter asking where God came from. After much thought and research at the library, Ramsey has to go to the boy's house and tell him he doesn't have an answer but in so doing the boy provides him with the elusive answer by saying that "God just is." And when Brooks himself sinks into despair when remembering a past Christmas he spent with his now dead wife, he is brought back to the sunny side of the street when he remembers the words of janitor and department-store Santa Ludwig that Christmas isn't just the week leading up to December 25th but the entire year, words that he has to remind Ludwig to follow when the Santa gets down because his time playing St. Nick has passed for another year.
Of course the great irony in all of this positivity is that Young himself, as delineated in the biography section of the 1960 post on Father Knows Best, was a nearly lifelong alcoholic and clinically depressed, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1966 and attempting suicide in 1991, at which point he explained that he felt like a phony all those years portraying characters who always had their lives together while he did not. Perhaps doing shows like Father Knows Best, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Window on Main Street were his escape from what he felt was a hypocritical life, but in the case of Window on Main Street viewers weren't buying it.

The music for the series was provided by Irving Friedman, who was profiled in the 1960 post on Father Knows Best.

At this time, 9 of the series' 32 episodes are available as bonus material scattered across the DVD releases for the 6 seasons of Father Knows Best issued by Shout!Factory. A tenth episode, "Christmas Memory," is available on a Christmas-themed single DVD titled "Merry Sitcom!," also issued by Shout! Factory. Four of the above-mentioned episodes are also available on youtube.com.




The Actors

Robert Young

See the biography section for the 1960 post on Father Knows Best.









Constance Moore

Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Moore grew up in Dallas, Texas from the age of 6 months and early on wanted to become a singer. She succeeded in landing a singing job with CBS Radio at which point she was noticed by a scout for Universal Studios and signed to a contract. She made her first appearances on film at age 17 in 1937 and by the following year had starring roles in B-grade fare such as Border Wolves, State Police, and Swing That Cheer. In 1939 she played the only female role in the Buck Rogers serial opposite Buster Crabbe and played W.C. Fields' daughter in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man. She was a prolific film actress through much of the 1940s, using her vocal talents in films such as Atlantic City and Show Business in 1944 but retired from film acting in 1947 after the birth of her second child with Hollywood agent John Maschino. However, in the mid 1950s she returned to limited acting roles, this time on television, starting with theatre anthology programs. By 1960 she was making occasional guest appearances on shows such as The Donna Reed Show, Laramie, and Markham before landing the recurring roles as Robert Young's love interest Chris Logan on Window on Main Street.

After the series' one-year run, she made only two more appearances on TV--in a 1965 episode of The Young Marrieds and a 1967 episode of My Three Sons. In her post-acting life she took up painting still lifes and in the mid-70s served as the chairperson of the Beverly Hills auxiliary of the Braille Institute. She died of heart failure on September 16, 2005 at the age of 85.

Ford Rainey

The son of a school teacher and a jack-of-all-trades father who was a champion in dance contests, Rainey was born in Mountain Home, Idaho but grew up mainly in the northwest. He was a shy youth but was encouraged to try acting by his high school drama teacher. He attended Centralia Junior College in Washington state, followed by the Cornish Drama School in Seattle, after which he moved to Connecticut to study under Michael Chekhov. His Broadway debut came in a Chekhov production of Dostoevski's The Possessed in 1939. During World War II he served in the U.S. Coast Guard and settled in Ojai, California after the war, helping to form the Ojai Valley Players with other Chekhov alumni. Rainey remained active in the theatre into his 90s but made his first film appearance in an uncredited role in James Cagney's 1949 masterpiece White Heat. Two years later he made his first television appearance in a bit part on an episode of The Adventures of Kit Carson. In the late 1950s and early 60s he landed roles in films such as 3:10 to Yuma, The Last Mile, and Two Rode Together as well as occasional TV guest spots mostly on drama anthology shows such as Studio One in Hollywood, Kraft Theatre, and Robert Montgomery Presents. He played Sheriff John Brady in two early episode of The Tall Man in 1960 before landing his recurring role as newspaper editor Lloyd Ramsey on Window on Main Street.

His love for the theatre led him to join Richard Boone's repertory company for the single-season drama anthology The Richard Boone Show in 1963-64, on which Rainey appeared 23 times. Through the remainder of the 1960s he made many guest appearances on shows such as Bonanza, The Virginian, and Perry Mason and had occasional film roles such as in Steve McQueen's 1966 feature The Sand Pebbles. In the 1970s he played the role of Jim Elgin, the adoptive father of The Six Million Dollar Man and foster father of The Bionic Woman and played Frank Evans on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. In the 1980s he played the part of Will Milford on the miniseries Amerika and appeared in Halloween II. In the 1990s he played the role of Nate on Ned and Stacey and from 1999-2003 played the character Mickey on The King of Queens. Rainey was also a nature lover who raised bees on his home farm in Malibu and took up breeding budgerigars, a species of bird similar to the parakeet, for which he won many trophies and ribbons. He built his own solar heater and was dubbed by the neighborhood children "The Wizard." His son James became a writer and editor for the Los Angeles Times, and his other son Robert became a chiropractor  who was murdered in his Los Angeles office in 2012. Rainey himself died after a series of strokes at the age of 96 on July 25, 2005.

Brad Berwick

Virtually nothing has been published about child actor Brad Berwick, who played Arny Logan, son of Chris Logan, on Window on Main Street. His only other acting credit is a single appearance on a 1963 episode of Leave It to Beaver. However, he probably achieved his greatest notoriety by recording the campy song "I'm Better Than the Beatles" for newly founded Clinton Records in 1965.


Warner Jones

Jones played hotel clerk Harry McGill on Window on Main Street. See the biography section for the 1960 post on The Blue Angels.






Mary Adams

June Mary Adams was born in Georgia in 1910. Other than her filmography, nothing much is known about her other than her year of birth and date of death. She broke into feature films in 1948, appearing in Hazard, For the Love of Mary, and Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Her biggest role was in 1954's Executive Suite but she also had supporting roles in exploitation fare such as Rebel in Town, Blood of Dracula, and Diary of a Madman. Her television credits began in 1951 and included appearances on shows such as Craig Kennedy, Criminologist, Father Knows Best, M Squad, and My Three Sons. Her roles as chambermaid Vinia Webster on Window on Main Street was her only recurring role. She died November 30, 1973 at the age of 70 and is buried in Westchester County, New York.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 1, "The Return": Erin O'Brien-Moore (Miss Choate on Peyton Place) plays English teacher Miss Kelly. Charles Thompson (Tommy Magnuson on Peyton Place) plays a school janitor.
Season 1, Episode 3, "A Doctor Comes to Town": John Lupton (shown on the left, played Tom Jeffords on Broken Arrow and Frank on Never Too Young) plays new Millsburg doctor John "Buzz" Neldrum. Bob Hastings (Lt. Elroy Carpenter on McHale's Navy and Tommy Kelsey on All in the Family) plays his old friend Warren. Nelson Olmsted (Capt. Masters on The Phil Silvers Show) plays hospital representative Dr. Blake.
Season 1, Episode 4, "The Chambermaid": Lauren Gilbert (appeared in X-15, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and The Fortune Cookie and played Harry Noll on Hazel) plays chambermaid Vinia Webster's husband Miles.
Season 1, Episode 9, "A Day in the Life of an Editor," aka "The Letter": Harriet MacGibbon (shown on the right, played Margaret Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays garden club president Mrs. Londelius.

Season 1, Episode 10, "The Dollar Nineteen Cent Thief": David Macklin (Billy Harris on Harris Against the World) plays confused young thief Elroy Paulsen. Brenda Scott (Midge Pride on The Road West) plays Lloyd Ramsey's daughter Evelyn.

Season 1, Episode 12, "Christmas Memory": Ludwig Stossel (shown on the left, appeared in Casablanca, Kings Row, and Pride of the Yankees and played Peter Van Dyne on Ramar of the Jungle and Anton Kovac on Man With a Camera) plays hotel janitor Ludwig. Claire Wilcox (Deedee Harris on Harris Against the World and Bootsie Cabot on Ben Casey) plays a little girl visiting a department-store Santa.

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