Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thriller (1960)

Thriller was a new suspense-based anthology series for NBC, which had already been running Alfred Hitchcock Presents for five seasons, hosted by long-time horror actor Boris Karloff. The series was produced by former CBS executive Hubbell Robinson, and, as others have noted previously, varied from one episode to the next in style--from murder mystery to classic horror to Untouchables-like gangster story. While others have cited this variety as a fault, Karloff opined in an October 15, 1960 TV Guide interview that it was actually an asset: "a thriller, you see, can go anywhere. It is not tied down to pure mystery, or violence or murder. I'm quite delighted with the whole thing."

The two constants were the host Karloff and his taglines "as sure as my name is Boris Karloff" and "rest assured, my friends, this one is a thriller!" and the jazzy music score by Pete Rugolo, though even by the end of the 15 episodes that aired in 1960, Karloff's taglines were being changed up and other composers, like Jerry Goldsmith, were called on to provide the score for some episodes. The series also brought in its share of big-name guest stars--Leslie Nielsen starred in the initial episode "The Twisted Image" (September 13, 1960) and Mary Astor appeared in a Sunset Boulevard-ish episode "Rose's Last Summer" (October 11, 1960)--as well as guest writers like Robert Bloch and directors like Mitchell Leisen.

Not surprisingly, the best episodes from those aired in 1960 are the ones that are the most tense. "The Twisted Image" revolves around two people, a man and a woman, who are both abnormally fixated on successful business executive Alan Patterson (played by Nielsen). In "The Watcher" (November 1, 1960), Martin Gabel plays a school teacher named Freitag who is a religious zealot driven to murder young people like Bess Pettit (Olive Sturgess) who engage in wanton behavior. And in "The Cheaters" a series of people try on a pair of magical glasses that allow them to see what others really think of them or, if they look in a mirror, the truth about themselves. The less successful episodes are those that use a worn-out formula, such as the aforementioned "The Purple Room" or the gangster story "The Guilty Men" (October 18, 1960).

The show ran for only two seasons. Word has it that Hitchcock was instrumental in its cancelation, as he did not appreciate the competition and had more pull at the network than the Thriller team.

As mentioned above, a major part of the series is the musical score, initially composed by Pete Rugolo. Prior to working in TV and films, Rugolo had risen to fame as a member and arranger in Stan Kenton's orchestra. He continued his adventurous arranging in numerous albums released under his own name during the 50s, a decade in which he also served as head of A&R for Capitol Records. He is the man who convinced Capitol management to reissue on LP the series of Miles Davis-led nonet recordings that Rugolo dubbed The Birth of the Cool. He also served as musical director for a series of Capitol albums by jazz singer June Christy. And before being signed up for Thriller, he had composed the music for the detective drama Richard Diamond, which starred David Janssen in the title role. He would work with Janssen again a couple of years later on The Fugitive. Rugolo died only recently, on October 16, 2011, at the age of 95.

The complete Thriller series has been released on DVD by Image Entertainment.

The Actors

Boris Karloff

As mentioned previously, Karloff was the host of each episode, intruding at the end of the opening sequence to set the stage for the story and introduce the principal actors. He also appeared in five episodes as an actor, including one that aired in 1960--"The Prediction" (November 22, 1960)--in which he played a sham mentalist who suddenly can actually see into the future. He was born William Henry Pratt in Dulwich, England and began his acting career with a Canadian repertory group in 1910. He claims that he was virtually unnoticed, except by his creditors, until being cast as the monster in the 1931 film version of Frankenstein. From that point forward, he became one of the biggest names in horror movies, starring in The Mask of Fu Manchu and The Mummy the next year, The Black Cat and Bride of Frankenstein in 1934, and so on. However, in the 1940s he began branching out beyond horror roles, appearing in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opposite Danny Kaye in 1947, and two years later began a string of guest appearances on TV. He had a regular role as the title character in the British TV series Colonel March of Scotland Yard from 1954-56 before taking the host spot on Thriller. In the later 1960s, besides the occasional horror movie, he had small cameos in teenage films like Bikini Beach and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini as well as providing the voice for The Grinch in the classic Dr. Seuss animated Christmas program How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He died at the age of 81 on February 2, 1969.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 1, "The Twisted Image": Leslie Nielsen (shown on right, played Lt. Frank Drebin on Police Squad and in the Naked Gun movies; also played Vincent Markham on Peyton Place, Lt. Price Adams on The New Breed, and Harry Kleber on Dr. Kildare) plays executive Alan Patterson. Natalie Trundy (starred in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes) plays Lily Hanson, a woman obsessed with Patterson. George Grizzard (starred in Advise & Consent, Comes a Horseman, and Bachelor Party and who played Arthur Gold on Law & Order) plays Merle Jenkins, a man obsessed with Patterson. Constance Ford (Ada "Bubbles" Lucas Davis Downs MacGowan Hobson on Another World) plays Jenkins' sister Louise.

Season 1, Episode 2, "Child's Play": Frank Overton (starred in Desire Under the Elms, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fail-Safe and who played Major Harvey Stovall on 12 O'Clock High)  plays journalist Bart Hattering. Tommy Nolan (Jody O'Connell on Buckskin, Officer Hubbell on Jessie, and Mick on Out of This World) plays his son Hank. Parley Baer (Mayor Roy Stoner on The Andy Griffith Show, Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Mayor Arthur J. Henson on The Addams Family, and Doc Appleby on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays a fisherman Hank threatens.

Season 1, Episode 3, "Worse Than Murder": Harriet E. MacGibbon (shown on left, played Margaret Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays Myra Walworth, who inherits a fortune dubiously. Constance Ford (see "The Twisted Image" above) plays her daughter-in-law Connie. Christine White (Abigail Adams on Ichabod and Me) plays Myra's daughter Anne. 

Season 1, Episode 5, "Rose's Last Summer": Mary Astor (starred in Beau Brummel, Don Juan, The Great Lie, The Maltese Falcon, and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte) plays former movie star Rose French. 

Season 1, Episode 6, "The Guilty Men": Everett Sloane (starred in Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, and Lust for Life and who provided the voice for Dick Tracy on The Dick Tracy Show) plays syndicate lawyer Lou Adams. Jay C. Flippen (starred in They Live by Night, Winchester '73, Oklahoma!, The Killing, and The Deerslayer and who played Chief Petty Officer Homer Nelson on Ensign O'Toole) plays mobster Harry Gans. Frank Silvera (Don Sebastian Montoya on The High Chaparral) plays kingpin Cesare Romano. John Marley (starred in Cat Ballou, The Godfather, and The Car) plays his physician brother Tony.

Season 1, Episode 7, "The Purple Room": Rip Torn (starred in King of Kings, Sweet Bird of Youth, Tropic of Cancer, and The Cincinnati Kid and who played Arthur on The Larry Sanders Show and Don Geiss on 30 Rock) plays estate inheritor Duncan Corey.  Patricia Barry (Kate Harris on Harris Against the World) plays his cousin Rachel. Richard Anderson (D.A. Glenn Wagner on Bus Stop; Lt. Steve Drumm on Perry Mason; Chief George Untermeyer on Dan August; Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman; and Buck Fallmont on Dynasty) plays her husband Oliver. Alan Napier (shown on right, played Gen. Steele in Don't Call Me Charlie and the butler Alfred on Batman) plays family lawyer Ridgewater. Ray Teal (Jim Teal on Lassie and Sheriff Roy Coffee on Bonanza) plays Sheriff Wiley.

Season 1, Episode 8, "The Watcher": Richard Chamberlain (shown on left, starred in Joy in the Morning, Julius Caesar, The Three Musketeers, and The Swarm and who played Dr. James Kildare on Dr. Kildare and Dr. Daniel Kulani on Island Son) plays young boat worker Larry Carter. Martin Gabel (starred in The Thief, Marnie, and Lady in Cement) plays religious schoolteacher Freitag. Olive Sturgess (Carol Henning on The Bob Cummings Show) plays Larry's girlfriend Bess Pettit. James Westerfield (appeared in The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, and The Love God? and who played John Murrel on The Travels of Jamie McPheeters) plays Sheriff Al Matthews. Claire Carleton (Nell Mulligan on The Mickey Rooney Show and Alice Purdy on Cimarron City) plays Larry's aunt Eunice Appleby. Stuart Erwin (starred in Make Me a Star, Palooka, and Our Town and who played Stu Erwin on The Stu Erwin Show and Otto King on The Greatest Show on Earth) plays Bess' Uncle Florian.

Season 1, Episode 9, "Girl With a Secret": Myrna Fahey (Katherine "Kay" Banks on Father of the Bride) plays Alice Page, the girl with the secret. Rhodes Reason (starred in Man-Eater, Voodoo Island, and King Kong Escapes and who played John A. Hunter on White Hunter and Sheriff Will Mayberry on Bus Stop) plays her husband Tony. Victor Buono (Victor Traymund on 77 Sunset Strip, King Tut on Batman, and Dr. Schubert on Man From Atlantis) plays criminal Carolik. Paul Hartman (Albie Morrison on The Pride of the Family, Charlie on Our Man Higgins, Emmett Clark on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D., and Bert Smedley on Petticoat Junction) plays Tony's Uncle Gregory Stafford. Cloris Leachman (Ruth Martin on Lassie and Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis) plays his wife Beatrice. Ellen Corby (Henrietta Porter on Trackdown and Esther Walton on The Waltons) plays cleaning woman Mrs. Peele. Fay Bainter (starred in Our Town, Dark Waters, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Children's Hour) plays Tony's grandmother Geraldine Redfern.

Season 1, Episode 10, "The Prediction": Boris Karloff (see the section "The Actors" above) plays Mace the Mentalist. 

Season 1, Episode 11, "The Fatal Impulse": Elisha Cook, Jr. (starred in The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Great Gatsby (1949), and The Killing and who played Francis "Ice Pick" Hofstetler on Magnum P.I.) plays bomb-maker Harry Elser. Mary Tyler Moore (shown on 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 glasses-wearing woman Mary Snyder. Conrad Nagel (starred in Little Women (1918), What Every Woman Knows, Lawful Larceny, and Tess of the D'urbervilles) plays mayoral candidate Walker Wylie. Robert Lansing (Det. Steve Carella on 87th Precinct, Gen. Frank Savage on 12 O'Clock High, Peter Murphy/Mark Wainwright on The Man Who Never Was,Lt. Jack Curtis on Automan, Control on The Equalizer, and Paul Blaisdell on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues) plays police Lt. Brian Rome.Whitney Blake (Dorothy Baxter on Hazel) plays artist Jane Kimball. Alice Backes (Vickie on Bachelor Father) plays Wylie's secretary Carolyn.

Season 1, Episode 12, "The Big Blackout": Jack Carson (starred in Gentleman Jim, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mildred Pierce, Romance on the High Seas, Red Garters, and A Star Is Born) plays charter boat operator Burt Lewis. Jeanne Cooper (Grace Douglas on Bracken's World and Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless) plays hotel operator Ethel Bankstrom. Paul Newlan (Police Capt. Grey on M Squad and Lt. Gen. Pritchard on 12 O'Clock High) plays charter boat client Paul Hawkins. Robert Carricart (Lucky Luciano on The Untouchables and Pepe Cordoza on T.H.E. Cat) plays gangster Fisher. Ron Harper (Det. Bert Kling on 87th Precinct, Jeff Conway on Wendy and Me, Paul Marshall on The Jean Arthur Show, Lt. Craig Garrison on Garrison's Gorillas, Alan Virdon on Planet of the Apes, and Uncle Jack on Land of the Lost) plays a young thug working with Fisher.

Season 1, Episode 13, "Knock Three-One-Two": Joe Maross (Fred Russell on Peyton Place, Capt. Mike Benton on Code Red, and Dr. Blakely on Dallas) plays gambler Ray Kenton. Beverly Garland (shown on left, played Casey Jones on Decoy, Ellis Collins on The Bing Crosby Show, Barbara Harper Douglas on My Three Sons, Dorothy "Dotty" West on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Ellen Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Ginger on 7th Heaven) plays his wife Ruth. Norman Leavitt (Ralph on Trackdown) plays bartender Charlie. Clancy Cooper (Timmo McQueen on Lawman) plays the police captain. 

Season 1, Episode 14, "Man in the Middle": Mort Sahl (stand-up comic who starred in In Love and War, All The Young Men, Johnny Cool, and Don't Make Waves) plays barfly Sam Lynch. Werner Klemperer (shown on right, starred in Five Steps to Danger, Operation Eichmann, and Judgment at Nurenberg and who played Col. Klink on Hogan's Heroes) plays ex-con Mr. Clark. Sue Randall (Miss Alice Landers on Leave It to Beaver) plays socialite Kay Salisbury. Frank Albertson (starred in Alice Adams, Man Made Monster, and It's a Wonderful Life and who played Mr. Cooper on Bringing Up Buddy) plays her father. Bert Remsen (Mr. Pell on Gibbsville, Mario on Making a Living, and Jack Crager on Dynasty) plays a detective hired by Mr. Salisbury. 

Season 1, Episode 15, "The Cheaters": Paul Newlan (see "The Big Blackout" above) plays junk dealer Joe Henshaw. Henry Daniell (appeared in The Philadelphia Story, Jane Eyre, Song of Love, Lust for Life, and Witness for the Prosecution) plays inventor Dirk Van Prinn. Dayton Lummis (Marshal Andy Morrison on Law of the Plainsman) plays Mrs. Alcott's caretaker Clarence. Jack Weston (Wilbur "Wormsey" Wormser on Red Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Chick Adams on My Sister Eileen, Walter Hathaway on The Hathaways, and Danny Zimmer on The Four Seasons) plays Mrs. Alcott's heir Edward Dean.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bonanza (1960)

In the June 25, 1960 issue of TV Guide, the new western series Bonanza is described as an antidote to emasculating situation comedies like Make Room for Daddy in which the husband typically gets himself in a pickle and has to be rescued by his wife. Bonanza producer David Dortort describes his show thusly: "We do not have any Moms built into our show--or, for that matter, any women. We are, as it were, anti-Momism." This anti-feminist agenda wouldn't play well in today's world, but when the show began its run of 14 seasons, from 1959-73, it quickly became very popular, reaching #17 by its second season and #2 by its third. Still, TV Guide speculates that the show's success is due to its emphasis on family, though certainly not the traditional model thereof--Ben Cartwright's three sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon) all come from different mothers, all deceased. However, they are a family with deep roots in their 100,000 acre kingdom the Ponderosa, whereas the majority of other westerns at the time were centered on loners and drifters.

The Ponderosa almost functions as a fifth major character, a land that must be defended at all costs, protected against environmental damage by mining entrepeneurs like Len Keith in "Bitter Water" (April 9, 1960), and that offers the promise of healing to ostracized Indian Matsou in "Day of Reckoning" (October 22, 1960), abused and isolated Norwegian immigrant Ruth Halverson in "The Savage" (December 3, 1960), and revenge-thirsty orphan Todd Grayson in" The Blood Line" (December 31, 1960). Ironically, though, none of these outsiders find that healing at the Ponderosa because it seems to be a land to which only the Cartwrights belong: numerous episodes revolve around one of the sons falling in love with a woman from another culture or place who ultimately cannot or will not fit in, as with Adam's romance with Amish-like religious devotee Regina Darrien in "The Hopefuls" (October 8, 1960), or the aforementioned Ruth Halverson, or Little Joe's infatuation with gypsy outcast Tirza in "Dark Star" (April 23, 1960).

The Cartwrights' wealth is another point of contention. Dortort maintains that the show does not "believe in the philosophy that life favors the underdog," and many episodes feature characters who begrudge the Cartwrights' affluence or respect in the community. But these characters invariably prove to be either criminal or misguided, as in the case of Dianne Jordan in "The Blood Line," who claims that Ben has gotten away with killing her lover only because he is a Cartwright, when in fact the dead man shot at Ben first. However, one thing is indisputable, other characters become horrible shots whenever they point a gun at a Cartwright.

Despite the show's foundational conservatism, it also tackled some rather progressive themes for its era. "A House Divided" (January 16, 1960), as the title implies, deals with the Civil War without ever directly mentioning its root cause--slavery. The episode takes place in the days leading up to the war when Abraham Lincoln is still a candidate for president and plays out the division that would eventually tear the country in two not only in the townspeople in Virginia City, stirred up by Confederate fund-raiser Frederick Kyle, but also in the Cartwright household, where Yankee-bred Adam (his mother was the daughter of a New England sea captain) squares off against Little Joe (whose mother was from New Orleans), when the latter comes under Kyle's spell. Though the show leans heavily to the side of preserving the status quo union, it comes down against the more liberty-driven southerners.

In "The Fear Merchants" (January 30, 1960), the show deals with racial prejudice and the politics of xenophobia when self-proclaimed lawyer Andy Fulmer decides to run for mayor on a platform of driving out immigrants like the Cartwright's Chinese cook Hop-Sing and his friends and relatives. Fulmer's rhetoric sounds exactly like that employed today by the anti-illegal immigration cadre, but unlike in real life, he is shown to be a coward and subsequently abandoned by the Virginia City citizenry.

Where the show is less successful is in its rare attempts at comedy, as in the heavily Mexican-stereotyped episode "El Toro Grande" (January 2, 1960) and the mistaken-identity farce "The Gunmen" (January 23, 1960), in which Hoss and Little Joe are mistaken for two vicious killers. Both episodes are extremely corny and painful to watch, but to the writers' credit "El Toro Grande" ends with Ben looking over a prized stud and saying, "That's a lot of bull."

The music for the series was composed by David Rose, whom we profiled in our post for Men Into Space, though the Bonanza theme song, as viewers were reminded in the credits of each episode, was composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

The first five complete seasons have been released on DVD by CBS Home Entertainment.



The Actors

Lorne Greene

Greene was born as Lyon Himan Green to Russian Jewish immigrants in Ottawa, Canada in 1915. He began acting while attending Queen' s University and was hired as a radio announcer after college, eventually becoming the head newsreader for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. During World War II he was given the nickname The Voice of Doom for his sonorous voice and the usually dreary news he had to deliver. In the 1950s he pursued an acting career in Hollywood and appeared in numerous TV live drama series and in major films such as The Silver Chalice (1954) and Peyton Place (1957). He had a regular role as Captain Grant "Mitch" Mitchell on the Canadian TV series Sailor of Fortune from 1955-58 before being cast as patriarch Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. During his years on Bonanza he also released a number of spoken word albums and singles, with the ballad "Ringo" reaching #1 on the charts in 1964. After Bonanza he played the title character in the short-lived series Griff in 1973-75 before being cast as Commander Adama on Battlestar Galactica and Galactica 1980. He also starred in the 1981-82 TV series Code Red. He died from complications from prostate cancer on September 11, 1987 at the age of 72.

Pernell Roberts

Born in Waycross, Georgia in 1928, Roberts began his career as a performer during high school, where he acted and sang in USO shows. After flunking out of Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland, he moved to New York to try his hand at acting while supporting himself with a series of odd jobs such as a butcher and forest ranger. He won a Best Actor Drama Desk award for an off-Broadway production of Macbeth in 1955 and a few years later relocated to Hollywood, where he mostly appeared in TV guest spots but also had a major role in the Anthony Perkins-Sophia Loren production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms. While playing Adam Cartwright on Bonanza Roberts had frequent disagreements with the show's producer David Dortort (some of them documented in the above-mentioned TV Guide article) that eventually led to his leaving the show after the 1964-65 season. However, his acting career did not exactly thrive after the departure, though he did land some major roles in doing musicals on Broadway. He was also active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including the march on Selma, Alabama. It wasn't until 1979 that he scored another major role on TV when he was cast for the lead on Trapper John, M.D., which ran for 7 seasons. He also served as host of FBI: The Untold Stories from 1991-93. He died from pancreatic cancer January 24, 2010 at the age of 81.

Dan Blocker

Born in DeKalb, Texas in 1928, Blocker's family soon relocated to O'Donnell, Texas where his father ran a grocery store after losing the family farm during The Depression. Blocker attended and played football at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, then moved on to Sul Ross State Teacher's College in Alpine, Texas, where he met his future wife Dolphia. He became an English and drama teacher in Sonora, Texas, taught 6th grade in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and also taught in California before embarking on his acting career. He also was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. Reportedly he was discovered by an acting agent while standing in a phone booth dressed in western garb after driving his family from Sonora to Hollywood for a family vacation. He appeared in a Three Stooges short Outer Space Jitters and several TV westerns, including four appearances on The Restless Gun produced by future Bonanza producer David Dortort, before landing a recurring role as Tiny Budinger on Cimarron City in 1958-59. During the Bonanza years he occasionally appeared in films, such as Frank Sinatra's Lady in Cement, and was considered for the role of Major T.J. "King" Kong in Stanley Kubrick's Doctor Strangelove before his agent rejected it for being "too pinko." Ironically, he was himself a staunch liberal so opposed to the Vietnam war that he moved his family to Switzerland in protest. He died May 13, 1972 at age 43 after gall bladder surgery while Bonanza was still on the air. The show continued only one more season after his death. At the time he was also cast to play Roger Wade in Robert Altman's film The Long Goodbye. Altman, who had directed several early episodes of Bonanza, was a good friend of Blocker's and dedicated the film to him.

Michael Landon

Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz in Queens, New York in 1936, the son of a Jewish actor and a Catholic dancer and comedienne. In high school he was a star javelin thrower, which earned him a scholarship to USC, but an arm injury ended his athletic career, at which point he turned to acting. He appeared in a number of TV shows beginning in 1956 before landing the lead role in the feature film I Was a Teenage Werewolf the following year. The TV appearances continued, as did lesser roles in films like High School Confidential! and God's Little Acre before he landed the role of Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza. More than any of the other actors on the show, Landon had a long and successful career after the show ended, as he moved into directing, screenwriting, and producing, as well as acting, on his next series Little House on the Prairie, which ran for 9 seasons from 1974-83. He followed that with Highway to Heaven for 5 seasons from 1984-89 as well as three Little House on the Prairie TV movies. After he was let go by NBC, he moved to CBS and starred in, directed, and wrote a 2-hour pilot called Us, which was intended to be a full-fledged series, but Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April, 1991 and died July 1 at the age of 54.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 17, "The Outcast": Jack Lord (shown on left, played Stoney Burke on Stoney Burke and Det. Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O) plays outlaw Clay Renton. Susan Oliver (Ann Howard on Peyton Place) plays his girlfriend Leta Malvet. Roy Engel (the Police Chief on My Favorite Martian and Pres. Ulysses S. Grant on The Wild, Wild West) plays Dr. Paul Martin.

Season 1, Episode 18, "A House Divided": Cameron Mitchell (starred in Death of a Salesman, Les Miserables, How to Marry a Millionaire, and Carousel and who played John Lackland on The Beachcomber, Buck Cannon on The High Chaparral, and Jeremiah Worth on Swiss Family Robinson)  plays Confederate fund-raiser Frederick Kyle. Kenneth MacDonald (played the judge 32 times on Perry Mason, played Col. Parker on Colt .45, and appeared in several Three Stooges shorts) plays the sheriff. Stafford Repp (Chief O'Hara on Batman) plays a silver mine owner.

Season 1, Episode 19, "The Gunmen": Henry Hull (starred in Little Women, Werewolf in London, Great Expectations, High Sierra, and The Fountainhead) plays Sheriff B. Banneman Brown. Ellen Corby (Henrietta Porter on Trackdown and Esther Walton on The Waltons) plays townswomen leader Lorna Doone Mayberry. 

Season 1, Episode 21, "The Spanish Grant": Paul Picerni (Agent Lee Hobson on The Untouchables) plays Spanish thug Sanchez. Sebastian Cabot (shown on right, played Dr. Carl Hyatt on Checkmate, Commissioner Andrew Crippen on The Beachcomber, Mr. Giles French on A Family Affair, and Winston Essex on Circle of Fear) plays avaricious Spaniard Don Antonio Luga. Patricia Medina (Margarita Cortazar on Zorro) plays supposed Spanish heir Isabella Maria de la Cuesta. 

Season 1, Episode 23, "Desert Justice": Wesley Lau (Lt. Andy Anderson on Perry Mason and Master Sgt. Jiggs on The Time Tunnel) plays accused murderer David Walker. Claude Akins (Sonny Pruett on Movin' On and Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo on B.J and the Bear and on Lobo) plays U.S. Marshal Emmitt Dowd. Ron Hayes (Wyatt Earp on Bat Masterson, Lincoln Vail on Everglades, Ben Jones on The Rounders, and Hank Johnson on Dallas) plays Walker accomplice Hurd Cutler. Will Wright (Mr. Merrivale on Dennis the Menace and Ben Weaver on The Andy Griffith Show) plays station master Micah Bailey.

Season 1, Episode 26, "The Avenger": Vic Morrow (Sgt. Saunders on Combat! and Capt. Eugene Nathan on B.A.D. Cats) Lassiter, a drifter looking for the man who hanged his father. 

Season 1, Episode 27, "The Last Trophy": Hazel Court (starred in Devil Girl From Mars, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Raven, and The Masque of the Red Death and who played Jane Starrett on Dick and the Duchess, Liz Woodruff on 12 O'Clock High, and Norma Hobart on Dr. Kildare) plays Lady Beatrice Dunsford. Edward Ashley (starred in Pride and Prejudice and Macao) plays her husband Lord Marion Dunsford. Bert Freed (Police Sgt. Joe Gillen on Johnny Staccato and Rufe Ryker on Shane) plays renegade Solomon Belcher. Naomi Stevens (Juanita on The Doris Day Show, Mama Rossini on My Three Sons, Rose Montefusco on The Montefuscos, and Sgt. Bella Archer on Vega$) plays old squaw Touma.

Season 1, Episode 28, "San Francisco": David White (Larry Tate on Bewitched) plays saloon owner Alexander Pendleton. Richard Deacon (shown on left, played Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Roger Buell on The Mothers-in-Law) plays ship Captain Shark. Kathleen Crowley (Terry Van Buren on Waterfront and Sophia Starr on Batman) plays barmaid Kathleen. James Hong (Barry Chan on The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Frank Chen on Jigsaw John, and Doctor Chen Ling on Dynasty) plays Hop-Sing's cousin #3. Tor Johnson (starred in Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls, and Plan 9 From Outer Space) plays wrestler Busthead Brannigan.

Season 1, Episode 29, "Bitter Water": Merry Anders (Joyce Erwin on The Stu Erwin Show, Val Marlowe on It's Always Jan, Mike McCall on How to Marry a Millionaire, and Policewoman Dorothy Miller on Dragnet 1967) plays mining heiress Virginia Keith. Rhys Williams (Doc Burrage on The Rifleman) plays rancher Andy McCarren. 

Season 2, Episode 2, "The Mission": Henry Hull (see "The Gunmen" above) plays alcoholic old scout Charlie Trent. John Dehner (Duke Williams on The Roaring '20's, Commodore Cecil Wyntoon on The Baileys of Balboa, Morgan Starr on The Virginian, Cyril Bennett on The Doris Day Show, Dr. Charles Cleveland Claver on The New Temperatures Rising Show, Barrett Fears on Big Hawaii, Marshal Edge Troy on Young Maverick, Lt. Joseph Broggi on Enos, Hadden Marshall on Bare Essence, and Billy Joe Erskine on The Colbys) plays army Captain Pender. Peter Whitney (Sergeant Buck Sinclair on The Rough Riders and Lafe Crick on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays disreputable scout Cutter.

Season 2, Episode 3, "Badge Without Honor": Dan Duryea (starred in The Little Foxes, The Pride of the Yankees, Scarlet Street, and Winchester '73 and who played China Smith in China Smith and The New Adventures of China Smith and Eddie Jacks on Peyton Place) plays U.S. Deputy Marshal Gerald Eskith. Christine White (Abigail Adams on Ichabod and Me) plays Mariette Blaine, wife of the man sought by Eskith. James Hong (see "San Francisco" above) returns as cousin #3.

Season 2, Episode 4, "The Mill": Claude Akins (shown on right; see "Desert Justice" above) plays hired hand Ezekiel. Dianne Foster (starred in Night Passage, The Last Hurrah, and The Deep Six) plays Joyce Edwards, wife of a paraplegic. 

Season 2, Episode 5, "The Hopefuls": Hank Patterson (Fred Ziffel on Green Acres and Hank on Gunsmoke) plays an unnamed blacksmith. Charles Maxwell (Special Agent Joe Carey on I Led 3 Lives and who was the voice of the radio announcer on Gilligan's Island) plays outlaw Shenendoah. Larry Gates (starred in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Some Came Running, and The Young Savages and who played H.B. Lewis on Guiding Light) plays Jacob Darien, leader of an Amish-like religious group. Patricia Donahue (Hazel on The Thin Man and Lucy Hamilton on Michael Shayne) plays his daughter Regina. 

Season 2, Episode 6, "Denver McKee": Franchot Tone (starred in Moulin Rouge (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty, Fast and Furious, Dark Waters, and I Love Trouble and who played Dr. Daniel Niles Freeland on Ben Casey) plays retired sheriff Denver McKee. Natalie Trundy (starred in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes) plays his daughter Connie. Bob Barker (shown on left, host of The Price Is Right) plays suitor Mort. 

Season 2, Episode 7, "Day of Reckoning": Ricardo Montalban (shown on right, starred in The Kissing Bandit, On an Island With You, The Singing Nun, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and who played David Valerio on Executive Suite, Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island, and Zach Powers on The Colbys) plays Indian-turned-famer Matsou. Madlyn Rhue (Marjorie Grant on Bracken's World, Angela Schwartz on Fame, and Hilary Mason/Madison on Executive Suite) plays his wife Hatoya. Karl Swenson (Lars Hanson on Little House on the Prairie) plays racist rancher Ike Taggert. Roy Engel (see "The Outcast" above) returns as Dr. Martin.

Season 2, Episode 9, "Breed of Violence": John Ericson (starred in Bad Day at Black Rock, Pretty Boy Floyd, The Bamboo Saucer, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks and how played Sam Bolt on Burke's Law and Honey West) plays outlaw Vince Dagen. Myrna Fahey (Katherine "Kay" Banks on Father of the Bride) plays his girlfriend Dolly Kincaid. 

Season 2, Episode 10, "The Last Viking": Neville Brand (starred in D.O.A., The Mob, Stalag 17, Riot in Cell Block 11, and The Three Outlaws and who played Al Capone on The Untouchables and Reese Bennett on Laredo) plays Hoss' uncle Gunnar Borgstrom. Al Ruscio (Paul Locatelli on Shannon, Sal Giordano on Life Goes On, and Frank Ruscio on Joe's Life) plays comanchero Vaca. Herbert Lytton (Admiral Reynolds on McHale's Navy) plays rancher Abe McClane.

Season 2, Episode 11, "The Trail Gang": Edgar Buchanan (shown above, played Uncle Joe Carson on The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction, Red Connors on Hopalong Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean on Judge Roy Bean, and J.J. Jackson on Cade's County) plays trail cook Hallelujah Hicks. Linda Lawson (shown on right, recording artist who played Renee on Adventures in Paradise, Pat Perry on Don't Call Me Charlie, and Laura Fremont on Ben Casey) plays saloon girl Melinda Bowers. James Westerfield (starred in On the Waterfront, The Absent Minded Professor, and The Love God?) plays Sheriff John Logan.

Season 2, Episode 13, "Silent Thunder": Stella Stevens (shown on left, starred in Girls! Girls! Girls!, The Nutty Professor, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Silencers, Where Angels Go Trouble Follows, and The Poseidon Adventure and who played Lute-Mae Sanders on Flamingo Road) plays deaf mute Annie Croft. Albert Sami (Yadkin on Daniel Boone and Pete Ritter on Petrocelli) plays lascivious trapper Albie. 

Season 2, Episode 14, "The Ape": Leonard Nimoy (shown on right, played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, Paris on Mission: Impossible!, and Dr. William Bell on Fringe) plays saloon owner Freddy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Flintstones (1960)

The Flintstones has the distinction of being the first animated situation comedy to air in prime time, shown at 8:30 ET on ABC starting September 30, 1960, an idea considered so novel that Dwight Whitney in the December 31 edition of TV Guide claimed that the show was the exception to the "year's dearth of new entertainment series with anything resembling a new idea." But the show owed a great deal to Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners, as readily admitted by co-producer William Hanna and just as eagerly denied by his partner Joseph Barbera. Gleason himself noted in a 1986 interview that at the time he had thought about suing Hanna-Barbera for copyright infringement and his lawyers had told him he could probably have the show pulled off the air, but the move would make him very unpopular and he decided not to proceed.

But while the characters Fred and Barney (and to a lesser degree Wilma and Betty) bear more than a passing resemblance to those on The Honeymooners, the show was quite original in its clever depiction of modern technology in stone-age terms. Everything from record players to garbage disposals are recreated using wood, stone, and animals. The irony in these deliberate anachronisms is that the conveniences of the dawning space age are shown as if they had been around for millenia, as if to say that the advances and progress of modern times were in fact reinventions of the wheel. The show also parodied contemporary show-biz personalities, with Cary Grant sound-a-like character Gary Granite in "The Monster of the Tar Pits" (November 4, 1960) and Wilma casually referring to Perry Masonry in another episode.

The humor obviously made the show a hit, ranking 18th overall in the Nielsen ratings for 1960-61, and leading to a 6-year run, a record not equaled by an animated series until The Simpsons decades later. Subsequent attempts by Hanna-Barbera to replicate this success with Top Cat in 1961 and The Jetsons in 1962 lasted only a single season each.

What is most striking in viewing the 14 episodes from 1960 is how thoroughly unlikeable the character of Fred Flintstone is. He is almost always rude and mean to his friend Barney, who is almost always a devoted and true friend (with the possible exception of the few times that he tells Fred bluntly that he is fat). He treats Wilma like a slave, though this is probably typical for the era (the 1960's, that is). He has an over-inflated belief in his own importance and abilities. And he is not above cheating, lying, or causing physical harm to get what he wants. For example, in "The Flintstone Flyer" (September 30, 1960), he attempts to usurp Barney's invention of a flying machine by merely stating that he will be the company president when he made no contribution to the invention nor did Barney ask his help in selling it. In "Hollyrock Here I Come" (December 2, 1960), he tries to use a two-headed coin to cheat Barney and Betty out of a trip to Hollyrock, though Barney is keen to his trickery. The show even acknowledges Fred's boorish character in "The Split Personality" (October 28, 1960), in which Fred is hit on the head with a bottle and is instantly transformed into the perfect husband and the model of refinement as his alter-ego Frederick. To use a more modern comparison, Fred Flintstone is like Homer Simpson with a mean streak and without Homer's endearing cluelessness.

When brainstorming the series, Hanna-Barbera tried other names, The Flagstones and the Gladstones, before settling on The Flintstones, and tried out the characters in other historical and cultural milieu before settling on the stone age as the ideal setting. The DVD release for the first season includes a short excerpt from The Flagstones using differently drawn characters and different voice actors than those in the final production. This pilot or concept short includes a sequence of scenes that would be included, redrawn and re-voiced, in the episode "The Swimming Pool," which was the second episode ever aired, though it was likely completed before the debut episode, "The Flintstone Flyer."

The first season did not include the iconic theme song "The Flintstones" but was introduced with a generic instrumental titled "Rise and Shine," which sounds a lot like the theme song for The Bugs Bunny Show. However, the musical score for many episodes, composed by long-time Hanna-Barbera music director Hoyt Curtin, often contains the melody, subtly rendered, that would later become "The Flintstones" theme song. The opening sequence, accompanied by the "Rise and Shine" theme music, shows Fred driving home from work and parking the car in the garage, then going inside and turning on the TV, obviously the inspiration for the opening sequence of The Simpsons. Starting in Season 3 with the addition of "The Flintstones" theme song, this sequence was changed to show Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty going to a drive-in restaurant. Also in the Season 1 opening sequence, when Fred enters the house, Wilma is waiting for him with a plate stacked with food. He grabs the plate while walking past her on his way to the TV, then stops, returns to give her a kiss, before proceeding on to the TV. This little double-take is very reminiscent of the opening sequence for The Donna Reed Show in which Donna gives each family member a sack lunch on their way out the front door, with her husband Alex having to return to give her a peck on the cheek before leaving.

All six seasons have been released on DVD, as well as a complete series package that includes them all.

The Actors

Alan Reed

Born in New York, Reed studied journalism at Columbia University, then found success as a radio announcer and voice actor as well as appearing on Broadway. He began appearing in films in the 40s and had starring roles in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Viva Zapata! (in which he played Pancho Villa), and I, the Jury. In the 50s he also had recurring TV roles as Finnegan on Duffy's Tavern and J.B. Hafter on Mr. Adams and Eve. He also provided the voice for the character Boris in Disney's Lady and the Tramp in 1955. His casting as the voice of Fred Flintstone was no doubt owed to his vocal similarity to Jackie Gleason and his physical resemblance to Flintstone. He came up with the phrase "Yabba Dabba Do," which Fred first utters in the very first episode, "The Flintstone Flyer," but uses sparingly thereafter in the first season. During The Flintstones run and continuing in the later 60s he made occasional appearances on other shows like Batman, Dr. Kildare, and The Addams Family. He died June 14, 1977 at the age of 69.

Jean Van Der Pyl

Born in Philadelphia to Dutch immigrants, Van der Pyl got her start in voice acting with Hanna-Barbera on The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1959 and appeared in two episodes of Quick Draw McGraw before landing the role of Wilma Flintstone. She had a long, prolific tenure with Hanna-Barbera, providing the voice for Pebbles on The Flintstones, Rosie the Robot on The Jetsons, Ma Rugg and Floral Rugg on the Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel shows as well as The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, and Marge Huddles on Where's Huddles?, amongst many others. She also made on-camera appearances on Leave It to Beaver, Petticoat Junction, and The Donna Reed Show. She died April 10, 1999 at age 79.

Mel Blanc

The most famous and prolific cartoon voice actor ever, Portland, Oregon native Blanc not only provided the voice for Barney Rubble but also Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester and Tweety, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Yosemite Sam, and many more. He was in a near-fatal car accident in January 1961, which put him in a coma. Doctors were able to lead him out of the coma by getting him to respond as some of his cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny. When he regained consciousness the production team recorded several episodes of The Flintstones from his hospital room and at his home after he was discharged. However,  he had to be replaced by Daws Butler for five episodes in Season 2. He also developed the voice and laugh of Woody Woodpecker, though he appeared in only the first four Woodpecker films before being signed to an exclusive contract by Looney Tunes' Leon Schlesinger. He later sued Woodpecker creator Walter Lantz for continuing to use his laugh in later films without compensation. His rare on-screen appearances included numerous characters on The Jack Benny Show and as Dr. Sheldrake in Billy Wilder's 1964 feature Kiss Me, Stupid. He also provided the voice for various birds on non-animated TV shows, including The Raven on The Munsters and various parrots and mynah birds on Perry Mason, Burke's Law, and Gilligan's Island. He died July 10, 1989 at age 81. His tombstone reads, "That's all, folks!"

Bea Benaderet

Born in New York and raised in San Francisco, Benaderet began doing voice work on radio at age 12 and was given a regular role on Campbell's Playhouse by Orson Welles. She continued doing radio voice work as well as a number of film shorts, including Looney Tunes cartoons, throughout the 40s and into the 50s. In 1950, she transitioned to television when she was cast as Blanche Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. She was offered the role of Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy but had to turn it down because of her contract with the Burns and Allen show. She provided the voice for Mother Magoo on the Mister Magoo TV show before being cast as the voice of Betty Rubble on The Flintstones, which she continued for the first four seasons, thereafter replaced by Gerry Johnson. After appearing in 290 episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, she appeared as the character Wilma on Peter Loves Mary in 1960-61 and Cousin Pearl Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies before appearing as Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. She died October 13, 1968 at age 62, while Petticoat Junction was still on the air.

Notable Guest Stars

Because it was an animated series, The Flintstones did not have many guest stars known from other shows, except those listed below.

Season 1, Episode 5, "The Split Personality": Howard McNear (Floyd Lawson on The Andy Griffith Show and Jansen the Plumber on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) plays a doctor called in to examine Fred after he is hit on the head with a bottle.

Season 1, Episode 13, "The Drive-In": Hal Smith (Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show and Engineer Taurus on Space Angel) plays a butcher and the M.C. at the Rockadero nightclub.