Saturday, December 28, 2013

Five to Remember

What self-respecting showbiz blog could end the year without a post on either 1) the best and worst of 2013; or 2) a tribute to the actors we lost over the past 12 months? Far be it from me to flout tradition, so I've opted for the latter. But since there are already plenty of places online to read about the death of, say, a certain young action movie star, I decided to forego being a completist. Instead, here's a brief tribute to a handful of talented performers who passed away in 2013, and who had a particular impact on classic TV:

Michael Ansara (1922-2013) was not only the distinctive-looking leading man of TV's Broken Arrow, but also the husband (from 1958 to 1973) of Barbara Eden. I Dream of Jeannie fans remember him for his memorable guest appearances on that show, where he played a varied lot of characters, including Hawaii's King Kamehameha, the evil Blue Djinn, and Jeannie's dashing date Biff Jellico.

Jane Connell (1925-2013) may be best known as Agnes Gooch in the Broadway smash Mame (a role she reprised in the 1974 film), but she also brightened Bewitched with her guest appearances as regal and imperious women. In various episodes, she impersonated Queen Victoria, Martha Washington, and even Mother Goose. Remember her as Hepzibah, with her free-floating device on which she tracks Darrin's demerits?

Elliott Reid (1920-2013) was a stage-trained actor who also enjoyed a busy radio career, and played Professor Shelby Ashton in Disney's The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel, Son of Flubber. I always picture him as "Ed Warren" on I Love Lucy, the Murrow-like interviewer who finds himself refereeing a squabble between the Ricardos and the Mertzes when both couples appear on his TV show Face to Face.

Christine White (1926-2013) was the leading lady of CBS' 1961-62 sitcom Ichabod and Me, which was the subject of a chapter in my book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television. Another big credit in the minds of classic TV watchers was her guest appearance in one of The Twilight Zone's best-ever episodes, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

I Love Lucy: Shirley Mitchell (r.), Vivian Vance
Last but in no way least, Shirley Mitchell passed away on November 11, 2013, at the age of 94. It would take at least another full entry to list her many radio and TV credits, but it's a tribute to her talent that she's so well-remembered as Marion Strong on I Love Lucy, despite playing the role in only three episodes. Who could ever forget Lucy Ricardo snapping at her, "Marion, stop cackling! I've been waiting ten years for you to lay that egg!" Ms. Mitchell left a wonderful legacy not only in her peerless performances, but also in her many interviews and convention appearances, where she graciously shared her memories of working with some of the biggest names in comedy.

There are, of course, many other talented performers who left us in 2013. Which one(s) meant the most to you, and why?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Best wishes to all of you for a happy holiday season. Here's what Christmas looked like at Eve Arden's house in 1953, celebrating with husband Brooks West and their family.

Thanks for helping me launch this blog, and please keep reading in 2014!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ab---ner! It's Sandra Gould!

Scoff if you will, Bewitched fans, but to me Sandra Gould was always the "real" Gladys Kravitz. When I first saw the show, in syndicated reruns of the 1970s, the black-and-white episodes were never shown, so it wasn't until much later that I had the chance to appreciate the genius of the late Alice Pearce, who created the role (and was awarded an Emmy for it, posthumously). Because Pearce was so good in the role, it was a challenge for Gould (1916-1999) to win over fans when she assumed the role in Season 3.
Gould as a telephone operator on Gilligan's Island.

I recently read a 1966 interview she did with writer Joan E. Vadeboncoeur, shortly after she joined the show. Gould explained that she originally declined to read for the part. Not only had she been friendly with Pearce, with whom she shared a dressing room when they worked in the film Dear Heart (1964), but Gould was also grieving the loss of her husband, producer Larry Berns, to cancer. "I stayed home and nursed him [for] five years," Gould recalled. "When he died I was like a basket case." She finally agreed to meet Bewitched executive producer Harry Ackerman because "I knew I had to get out of the house. They had already read 60 actresses and I read with 14 or 15. Then they wanted me to test, and I was still reluctant ... [O]ne day they called and said, "Come down and sign your contract." Once cast, Gould chose not to view episodes in which her predecessor appeared. "I can't be Alice," she decided, "so I'll do it the way I am."

Gould had been making people laugh the way she was for years, including a long run as Miss Duffy on radio's Duffy's Tavern. She was also a favorite of the late Joan Davis, and I enjoyed seeing Gould in numerous episodes of I Married Joan, as I researched my forthcoming book on its star. Sandra Gould had a rich, rewarding career as a character actress, not the least of which was giving us a memorable Take Two on Gladys Kravitz.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Case of the Captivating Cast

David White: not just Darrin's boss.
Around my house, we've been watching the classic Perry Mason series on DVD lately. Aside from the main selling point -- this is one of TV's all-time best mystery shows -- it's fun to check out the guest players each week and say to yourself, "Hey, isn't that...?" I enjoy seeing some of my favorite sitcom actors playing roles quite different from the one(s) for which I know them. Unlike the later Murder, She Wrote, the producers of Perry Mason weren't really engaged in stunt casting; many of these actors were little-known at the time. It was just a question of using some of Hollywood's best character actors to make the show the strongest it could be. Little wonder that Mason's real-life creator, author Erle Stanley Gardner, wrote the show's producer after seeing an early episode, saying, "I kept wondering how on earth you ever chose every single actor so they were perfectly cast."

In The Case of the Witless Witness, for example, a highly respected judge faces an embarrassing scandal just as he's nominated to run for Lieutenant Governor. He finds himself on the wrong end of a warrant when the key witness in his corruption case turns up conveniently dead before having a chance to testify. Who could have done the dastardly deed? Could it be the judge's chief rival for the party nomination, played by David White ("Larry Tate" from Bewitched)? Maybe it was the sleazy lobbyist, played by Jackie Coogan (The Addams Family's "Uncle Fester"). Surely no one suspects the judge's loyal, longtime secretary, played by Florida Friebus ("Winnie Gillis" from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis).

I'd like to recommend a book to read about this marvelous series, but unfortunately the best one I know is out of print. However, the authors maintain a website at www.perrymasontvshowbook.com that's chock full of information about the show and its cast. If you haven't experienced this classic series from TV's golden age, by all means give it a trial (so to speak). I think your verdict will be favorable.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Garlen's Guide to Movies

I was taken aback recently when a Netflix search for classics suggested that I try Beetlejuice (1988). If your idea of a classic movie is more likely to star Joan Crawford or Humphrey Bogart than Michael Keaton, then you'll appreciate Jennifer C. Garlen's book Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching (Westview, $18.00). Garlen, who writes regularly about Golden Age cinema for examiner.com, has compiled a smart, readable, and eminently browsable guide to the best of the best.

After a brief introduction covering 10 films so famous that even classic movie novices have likely seen them (It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane), Garlen delves eagerly into her Top 100 list. Many won't surprise anyone who cares enough to pick up this book -- All About Eve, High Noon, North by Northwest -- but there are others you might not so easily guess. Able to appreciate, and assess, a variety of genres, Garlen's good taste ranges across Westerns, comedies, musicals, and even horror films (House of Wax, Horror of Dracula). Most of her choices are American releases from the 1930s through the 1950s; however, silent and foreign films are represented as well. For each film, she offers not only intelligent commentary (being a Georgia boy myself, I was amused by her crack about the cast of Jezebel: "They all go around mouthing that Hollywood version of a Southern accent, but Southerners who watch old movies have grown used to hearing it...") but also tips for further viewing if you liked the cast, genre, or premise.

Veteran old movie watchers will enjoy seeing some of their old favorites through her sharp eyes, and maybe even note a few movies they've overlooked. Those relatively new to classic movies will find this a treasure trove of suggestions that will keep their Netflix queue or their DVD player occupied for weeks, or months, to come. It would make a great stocking stuffer, or a last-minute gift, for someone on your list.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thank You, Classic Images!

Color me flattered. My book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television: Thirty Sitcoms That Faded Off Screen was named one of the Best Books of the Year by Classic Images and its longtime reviewer Laura Wagner. She wrote, "Tucker is blessed with a writing style that is very distinct, informative, clean-cut, to the point, and easy to understand. I learned a lot from this book." To paraphrase the great Groucho Marx, if Classic Images continues to publish such nice things about me, I may be compelled to get a subscription.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Christmas Reading List

I know you've been lying awake nights, tossing and turning, wondering what to get the author of this blog for Christmas. It would be churlish of me to make you guess, especially those of you who don't really know me all that well, so I decided to come right out and publish my list. I love reading thorough, well-researched, and readable biographies of show business figures whose work I admire. Here, alphabetically billed, are three such people whose biographies I would most like to read this holiday season:

Bea Benaderet (1906-1968) may be best-known as good-hearted Kate Bradley, proprietress of the Shady Rest Hotel, on TV's Petticoat Junction. However, before that late-in-life success, she was a prolific and highly respected character actress whose credits include the role of Blanche Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Iris Atterbury, best pal to Liz (Lucille Ball) on radio's My Favorite Husband, and the voices of characters such as Tweety Bird's Granny in Warner Brothers cartoons.

Willie Best (1916-1962) was a comic actor who appeared in more than 100 films between 1930 and 1950, and went on to play regular roles in two early TV sitcoms, My Little Margie and The Trouble with Father. Often saddled with the stereotypical characters assigned to other African American actors in that era, he nonetheless displayed a genuine talent that led Bob Hope, whom he supported in The Ghost Breakers (1940), to call him "the best actor I know."

Martin Kosleck (1904-1994) was a German-born artist and actor who left his native country in the early 1930s, as Nazism was on the rise. Landing in Hollywood a few years later, he built an impressive career as a character actor, ironically often cast as Nazis. Among his better-remembered roles are leads in two cult favorite horror films, House of Horrors (1946, pictured below) and The Flesh Eaters (1964).
If Martin Kosleck (center, sculpting Rondo Hatton) can create an original work of art, why can't you?

Don't those sound intriguing? There's just one slight hiccup, and that's why I'm giving you a couple of weeks extra notice before December 25th. Nobody's actually written these books yet. Granted, that does provide an extra bit of complication, but I have faith in you. Get to work, okay? I'm looking forward to a few days off work after Christmas, and it sure would be nice to curl up on the sofa and read your book.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Outtakes #4: Eve Arden

While we may think first and foremost of her sixty-plus movies, and starring role in Our Miss Brooks, Eve Arden had a lifelong love for live theater, and continued to perform onstage as often as possible, even after achieving her Hollywood fame. In 1970, fresh from her two-year run in TV's The Mothers-in-Law, Eve accepted an offer to star in the national touring company of Leonard Gershe's Broadway hit Butterflies Are Free. Eve played Mrs. Baker, overprotective mother of a young man who's been blind from birth, and is falling in love with his new neighbor, aspiring actress Jill. The New York production opened in 1969, starring Eileen Heckart and Keir Dullea, and would run for more than 1100 performances. Heckart reprised her role in the 1972 film, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Interviewed during the Chicago run, Eve said, "It's a very good, interesting, fun play ... It's a comedy, but very touching. I can't remember doing a play so satisfying to an audience." In Los Angeles, the company settled in for a healthy run at the renowned Huntington Hartford Theatre. Ready to long for the good old days? According to this vintage playbill, top ticket prices, for orchestra seats on Friday and Saturday nights, cost $7.50. A nosebleed seat in the upper balcony at a Wednesday matinee could be yours for only $2.00. Of Eve's performance, newspaper critic Joseph H. Firman wrote, "Arden shows herself once again to be the among the best of America's comediennes, but adds serious acting that reveals skill and depth."

It's a shame that Eve's performance in Butterflies Are Free exists only in playgoers' memories. But close your eyes and listen -- can't you just hear that voice responding to Jill, the wannabee actress, with, "Might I have seen you in anything, besides your underwear?"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Mr. Crenna

Happy birthday to Richard Crenna, born November 30, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Some fans might most readily recognize him as Luke from the long-running sitcom The Real McCoys (1957-63), or from his appearances with Sylvester Stallone in three "Rambo" movies, but to me he's first and foremost the nerdy teenager Walter Denton from radio and TV's Our Miss Brooks.

Crenna as another teenager on I Love Lucy.
A busy radio actor throughout his teen years, Crenna was already in his early twenties when he joined the ensemble cast of Eve Arden's radio comedy as the gawky high school student with the squawky voice. When Our Miss Brooks transferred to TV in 1952, Crenna tried to bow out of the role he'd outgrown, but acquiesced when Miss Arden implored him to help get the video version off to a solid start. He would ultimately spend three more years as Walter on TV -- "I had a very delayed puberty," he would later say with a laugh -- before being written out of the series in 1955.

Unlike many child performers, Crenna (who changed his professional name from Dick to Richard as he aged), was equally successful as an adult, enjoying a career notable both for its longevity and its variety. It took time to change his image from gangly teen to leading man, but he managed to do so, and would be in demand for the next several decades. He won an Emmy for his role in the 1985 TV-movie The Rape of Richard Beck, and had a recurring role on CBS' Judging Amy at the time of his death in 2003. Interviewed by syndicated columnist Gene Handsaker in 1967, Crenna gave a clue to his success as a performer when he said, "Everything you do can't be great. But you have to go in feeling you can make a 100 per cent contribution of your talent. An actor just doing a part for the money isn't giving the producer his money's worth."

You can find more information on the history of Our Miss Brooks, both on radio and television, in my book Eve Arden: A Chronicle of All Film, Television, Radio and Stage Performances. Unfortunately, the TV show hasn't had a proper DVD release, but you can catch Walter in all his ear-bruising glory on YouTube.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: Murder, He Wrote

Me and Murder, She Wrote: An Unauthorized Autobiography, by Peter S. Fischer (Grove Point Press, $18.95), is a highly readable, enjoyable memoir by the veteran TV writer-producer who co-created CBS' long-running Sunday night mystery series Murder, She Wrote. Although he worked on shows outside the mystery genre, Fischer is probably best-known for contributing scripts to Columbo, as well as writing and producing for Ellery Queen and The Eddie Capra Mysteries, before striking gold with Jessica Fletcher.

Fans of the long-running hit will enjoy going behind the scenes with Fischer as he recalls his working relationship with star Angela Lansbury, the pressures of devising a new mystery plot each week, and choosing those guest stars that gave the show an extra cachet. He explains why convincing the studio to pony up sizable talent fees not only made the show more fun but was a good investment: "Familiar faces help keep the suspects separated in the viewer's mind. If three of your suspects are the accountant, the lawyer and the banker, most people won't remember which is which. But if Van Johnson is trying to blackmail Troy Donahue into killing Veronica Lake, that they can follow." He reveals the name of the only actor who balked at the alphabetical Guest Stars billing (about which producers were adamant), and preferred to appear unbilled rather than share the glory.

Admirers of Ms. Lansbury's work won't be disillusioned, as Fischer paints a complimentary portrait of her as a professional and colleague. On the other hand, he did acquire a healthy dislike for series star Hal Linden while producing Blacke's Magic, and doesn't hesitate to explain why. I also loved his anecdote blasting the auteur theory, giving credit to directors at the expense of writers and other colleagues -- "Or as one well known writer once said as he handed a particularly obnoxious director a bound sheaf of 120 blank sheets of paper, 'Auteur this!'" Even if you're not a Murder, She Wrote devotee, Fischer's memoir is a great read if you're interested in television production and history.
 
Since retiring from the television industry, Fischer has not only written this memoir but also continued his lifelong love for the mystery genre with a series of "Hollywood Murder Mysteries" in book form. You can learn more about those here.

NOTE: Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A "Margie" Memento

A 45-page script for My Little Margie.
Here's a fun little collectible I acquired in researching my book The Women Who Made Television Funny -- a crew member's copy of an original My Little Margie script. Dated January 14, 1953, it's for an episode called "The Homely Margie," first aired March 5, 1953 on CBS. In this script by Frank Fox and G. Carleton Brown, Margie poses as Cousin Carolyn from Philadelphia, with a "goony voice," to resolve one of those crises only Margie and Vern Albright could find themselves in. Page One lists not only the cast regulars who will appear (and the phone numbers of stars Gale Storm and Charles Farrell -- imagine that today!) but also the guest players needed for the episode -- Joe Sparks ("handsome, Southern, 25"), Bill Houseman ("homely"), and Mr. Michaels ("bewildered"), the latter amended by hand to "Miss Michaels."

This particular copy of the script belonged to crew member Hazel W. Hall, who enjoyed a long career as a script supervisor on shows like Perry Mason and The Andy Griffith Show. Maintaining continuity was the major function of her job, and conscientious Ms. Hall has scribbled notes all over the script, noting exactly how actors made their entrances, what costumes they wore, and other details. Without careful attention to these, it might be difficult for multiple takes of the same scene, from different angles, to be successfully pieced together in the editing room. For one scene, she writes, "Open on Vern, seated reading. Margie enters from dir[ection] of b'room [bedroom], Xes [crosses] to Vern & kisses him. Leans elbows in divan as Vern turns to her." When dialogue is changed during a take, Ms. Hall writes a stern reminder -- "Margie's line 'Nite, Dad' is changed to 'Goodnight Uncle Vern' in closer three. This line must be used! in corrected 3-shot."

Would you think it took this much careful work to make one lighthearted episode of My Little Margie?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confessions of a Cord-Cutter

Did you know there's a name for people like me? (Be nice!) I am what trend-watchers call a "cord-cutter." To put it another way, mine is what the Nielsen company calls a "Zero TV" household. That means that, although, there is a television set in our house (more than one, in fact), we currently don't subscribe to any cable TV service, and watch nothing in real time on broadcast TV. You can read more about the phenomenon in a USA Today article from earlier this year.

Remember "rabbit ears"?
Like many Baby Boomers, television has been a constant in my life since sometime in the 1960s. However, I've lived through a lot of changes in the way we watch TV. I remember rabbit ears atop the set, renting videocassettes from the local video store (R.I.P. Blockbuster), and the excitement that went through our neighborhood when it was wired for cable TV sometime in the 1970s. But nowadays, my TV viewing is pretty much confined to Netflix rentals, library checkouts, and DVD boxed sets, with an occasional online foray. We dropped our subscription to cable TV about a year ago, and I can't honestly say I miss it.

Although I could wax nostalgic about the old days when you eagerly awaited the prime time broadcast of your favorite show on NBC, CBS, or ABC, I'm still watching plenty of TV -- and, in many cases, the same shows I've always liked. In the last week or two, my viewing lineup has included episodes of Hazel, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and The Lucy Show. Writing books about the stars and shows of yesteryear, after all, makes a terrific excuse for that tube time. It's research, you see?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Book Review: What's So Funny?

Since The Carol Burnett Show is a fondly remembered favorite of many Baby Boomers, it's no surprise that memoirs, reunions, reminiscences, and tributes have become a virtual cottage industry since the original series left the airwaves in 1978. Now one of its best-loved players, Tim Conway, weighs in with What's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life (Howard Books, $25.99), co-written with Jane Scovell. Conway, who turns 80 next month, has written a warm, likable, and wacky memoir that will hit the spot with his many fans.

With credit undoubtedly due to co-author Scovell, the book nicely captures the veteran funnyman's voice, and the impish sense of humor that has served him well over a long career. He reminisces fondly about his four-year run as bumbling Ensign Charles Parker on TV's McHale's Navy (1962-66), and, of course, his long and happy association with Burnett's classic variety show. Although Vicki Lawrence and Burnett herself beat him to this particular punch, Conway offers a few tidbits you may not have heard before (including the real origin of Mr. Tudball's unusual speech patterns), and pays a warm tribute to his friend, the mad genius Harvey Korman, with whom he was so memorably teamed in countless skits.

Any readers searching for the gossip, backbiting, and raunchy confessions that seem to be all the rage in celebrity autobiographies will troll in vain for dirt here. If there's a harsh story to be told about Conway's divorce from his first wife, who bore him six children in the course of their 16-year marriage, you won't find it in these pages. On the other hand, you'll enjoy some genuine laughs (recalling his military service, he cracks, "Why is it when I tell people I was in the Army, they always ask, 'Ours?'"), and you'll be either relieved or disappointed that you weren't the department store customer who failed to recognize Tim Conway and asked him, "Pardon me, where is your underwear?"

NOTE:  Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Where TV History Meets Real-Life History

I'm not what you'd call a history buff -- unless it's TV, movie, or radio history. But I was intrigued by the congruence of real and reel drama that you can see in this YouTube video, when one of the most famous tragedies in American history interrupts the November 22, 1963 live broadcast of As the World Turns on CBS.

Any of the many 50th-anniversary observances will remind you that President Kennedy was shot at approximately 12:30 p.m. Central Time in Dallas, just as CBS' most popular daytime soap opera was beginning its daily half-hour broadcast. How long would it take today for that news to hit TV? In 1963, it's about ten minutes before a "CBS News Bulletin" breaks into the soap opera to announce that the leader of the free world has been shot, with wounds that could be fatal. The bulletin lasts for only about a minute, before going to a commercial break. After a second update, CBS then returns to let another scene from As the World Turns play while awaiting further details. Did the actors performing in the live broadcast know what was going on in the world around them as they enacted the domestic drama of Oakdale?

As for the program that was interrupted, it's interesting to see what a typical episode of this long-running show (finally canceled in 2010) was like. Note that the opening scene, between Bob Hughes (played by Don Hastings) and his mother Nancy (Helen Wagner) runs for about four minutes -- imagine that today! -- and is a far cry from the grab-'em-by-the-throat approach needed to maintain the attention of a later video generation. After a leisurely discussion of the homemade Christmas gift Nancy is making, mother and son gradually ease into the slightly more exciting topic that is at the heart of the scene -- whether or not Bob's ex-wife Lisa and young son Tom will be attending the Hughes family's Thanksgiving dinner. It's amazing, in today's fast-paced entertainment world, that actors Wagner and Hastings would spend another forty-odd years inhabiting these characters; he was still the show's top-billed player when it left the airwaves, while she passed away only a few months earlier, having continued to appear as Nancy into her early nineties.

Although I was around in 1963, I was too young to remember "where I was," as so many people would be asked, when the news of Kennedy's assassination broke. It's a little poignant to see, all these years later, that millions of viewers were happily ensconced in Oakdale, U.S.A., worrying about nothing more pressing than how Lisa Hughes would behave at Thanksgiving dinner, when the bullets fired in Dallas changed American history.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New Book on Joan Davis in 2014


I'm excited to announce the forthcoming release of my fifth book, Joan Davis: America's Queen of Film, Radio and Television Comedy, to be published by McFarland & Company in spring 2014. Here's the publisher's description:

"The Emmy-nominated star of the classic 1950s sitcom I Married Joan, Joan Davis (1912-1961) was also radio’s highest paid comedienne in the 1940s--and she displayed her unique brand of knockabout comedy in more than forty films. This book provides a complete account of her career, including a filmography with critical commentary, and the most detailed episode logs ever compiled for her radio and television programs. A biographical chapter offers never-before-published information about her family background, marriage to vaudeville comedian Si Wills and relationships with other men, and her tragic early death."

I hope the book will not only help Joan's longtime fans learn more about this brilliant comedienne, but also introduce her work to those who have not yet discovered her. In the meantime, check out The Joan Davis Channel on YouTube to see her timeless comedy as preserved by one of her most devoted fans.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Review: Remembering the Perfect Fool

As a longtime aficionado of classic TV and radio, I certainly knew the name of Ed Wynn (1886-1966), but not much more than the barest outline of his lengthy career. That's been corrected now that I've read Garry Berman's Perfect Fool: The Life and Career of Ed Wynn (BearManor Media, $19.95). A slim volume at just over 200 pages, Berman's book is nonetheless a well-written, thoroughly researched account that restores Wynn to his proper place as one of the biggest funnymen of his era. 

Berman's book covers Wynn's beginnings in vaudeville, his radio stardom as Texaco's Fire Chief, and his popular Broadway revues such as Hooray for What! A clown in the classic tradition, Wynn's comedy was aimed at the masses, yet even highbrow New York critics were helpless to resist its pure fun. (For a taste of Wynn's comedy style, here's a YouTube clip).

Unlike many radio comedians, Wynn wasn't unnerved by the emerging medium of television; in fact, he was eager for it to arrive, and had been so since the early 1930s. He recognized TV's capacity to showcase his visual comedy, and undertook his first regular series, CBS' The Ed Wynn Show, in 1949, a year or so before even video pioneers such as Groucho Marx, Burns and Allen, or Jack Benny. He won an Emmy for his television efforts, and also gave a number of Hollywood stars some of their first exposure to the new medium, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz prior to I Love Lucy. In the mid-1950s, with his comedy style seemingly falling out of favor, Wynn took the advice of his son Keenan and launched a second career as a dramatic actor in film and television, giving impressive performances in Requiem for a Heavyweight and The Diary of Anne Frank. 

Author Garry Berman is extremely well-versed in not only show business history, but also the inner workings of radio and television in the 1930s through the 1960s, and this informs his writing throughout this fine book. You can visit the author's website at www.garryberman.com.

(No need for the usual disclaimer today - bought my own copy at full price, OK?)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Everyone's Favorite Martian

Happy birthday to Ray Walston, born November 2, 1914 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and beloved to Baby Boomers as the out-of-this-world star of CBS' My Favorite Martian. The fantasy sitcom, which cast Walston as a professor from Mars whose spaceship crashes and strands him on Earth, was a Top Ten hit in its first season (1963-64), and enjoyed a three-year run on network TV. An established stage actor, Walston hoped the series would overcome the typecasting he'd experienced since playing devilish Mr. Applegate in the Broadway hit Damn Yankees (a role he reprised for the 1958 film version).

TV's funniest spaceman.
Ironically, the popularity of My Favorite Martian only made the problem worse, as his memorable interpretation of "Uncle Martin" made some producers hesitant to cast him in other roles. Walston did, however, go on to play the frustrated high school history teacher Mr. Hand in the popular movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and enjoyed late-in-life success as Judge Henry Bone on TV's Picket Fences prior to his death in 2001.

Walston's working relationship with My Favorite Martian producer Jack Chertok wasn't always amiable. In 1964, he grumbled to columnist Dick Kleiner, "I think that I was in a large measure responsible for the success of My Favorite Martian. I know that in at least 19 of the shows last season I had to use my acting experience to overcome bad scripts." Still, kids and adults alike loved the show, and made Walston a television star.

For a fun 50th anniversary tribute to Walston's show, direct your antenna here. You can also hear the catchy theme music, courtesy of YouTube.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Outtakes #3: Eve Arden


If you could add up the combined hours these six people spent in front of a TV camera, you'd have...well, a whole lotta TV to watch. In this 1978 photo, another I acquired for my collection while doing a book on Eve Arden, she's at far right. Joining her are (l-r) her Our Miss Brooks featured player Richard Crenna, along with Bonnie Franklin (One Day at a Time), Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.), Linda Lavin (Alice), and Bert Convy (Tattletales). The occasion was a 50th anniversary special for the Eye Network, called CBS: On the Air.

Another 35 years have slipped by since then (yikes!), and with the recent passing of Bonnie Franklin, only Nabors and Lavin are still with us. The former singing waitress at Mel's Diner starred in an off-Broadway show in 2012, while the scourge of Sergeant Carter's existence made headlines earlier this year with his marriage to longtime partner Stan Canwallader. There's a surprising amount of musical chops among this sextet, so their song-and-dance number probably sounded pretty good. Would you believe me if I told you I was too young to stay up and watch this show in 1978? Nah, didn't think so.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When TV Was Simpler

If you're interested enough to read this blog, maybe you'll understand why I enjoy acquiring a vintage TV Guide occasionally on eBay. It's fun to revisit those simpler days when there were only three or four TV channels to choose from in your city, they generally shut down broadcasting shortly after midnight, and they more than likely did a significant amount of local programming. I also enjoy seeing the original listings and ads for shows I've never seen, and likely never will.

Here are a few of the shows being offered Atlanta viewers in the January 21, 1961 edition. Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal, by then in daily reruns, was a syndicated medical drama produced from 1955 to 1957, while Westinghouse Playhouse, starring Nanette Fabray, was a short-lived NBC sitcom casting the star as a Broadway performer newly married to a widower (Wendell Corey). It would last only 13 weeks. Instead of "Don't Miss Them," maybe the slogan should have been, "Hurry Up and Watch!"

But here's the one that really caught my eye. It's a local kids' show that originated daily from a station in Chattanooga. "Fun & laughter for all"? I can believe that. "Cartoons and comedy films"? Makes sense. But "many nationally famous stars appearing in person"? Really? I wasn't around to see the show, so I can't swear to anything. If any of Alex and Elmer's little pals are reading this, 52 years later, drop us a note care of this blog and let us know exactly what (or who) we missed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: The Films of Agnes Moorehead

Having enjoyed Axel Nissen’s two previous books about character actresses of Golden Age Hollywood, I was eager to read his newest effort, The Films of Agnes Moorehead (Scarecrow, $75). Happily, it's a book worthy of both the author and his much-admired subject. Though he provides the basics one expects in a "Films of" book (credits, synopsis, reviews, etc.), his sixty-three mini-essays are as varied as the films themselves, reflecting his wide-reaching appreciation for classic cinema and its players. Several entries are enriched by interviews with Moorehead colleagues like Olivia de Havilland, Dean Jones, and Michael Pate, and the use of her personal papers held at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Each film is represented with a cleanly reproduced production still.

Unlike too many film writers besotted with their subjects, Nissen doesn’t try to convince us that every performance Moorehead gave was flawless. (Of her role as "the Leona Helmsley of retail" in Who’s Minding the Store? he writes, “Though it is almost impossible to imagine an actor being over the top in a Jerry Lewis film, Moorehead comes close.”) But he clearly appreciates the best of her work, and writes about it in a style that’s approachable, informed, and often very funny. "Her every scene as Emily is a joy to behold," he says of Since You Went Away, "as she brandishes her steel-edged, rapier tongue as a weapon to inflict wounds large and small but always under the flimsy cover of the best intentions..." Though Citizen Kane and All That Heaven Allows receive more attention than, say, Dear Dead Delilah, the lesser films are not neglected – if you want to know more about Agnes’ 1972 ax murder saga, Nissen delivers; he even interviewed a crew member for behind-the-scenes information.  

The book’s price tag, which may understandably be a barrier for some readers, reflects its issuance from an academic publisher that primarily serves libraries. Unfortunately, mainstream publishers seem to have little interest these days in publishing much more than the latest helping of scandal about Marilyn Monroe, or (Lord help us all) Shirley Jones’ TMI memoir (Google it if you really gotta know). But if you’re a Moorehead fan, this is well worth your time, and pairs nicely with Charles Tranberg’s biography of her.

NOTE: I was provided a review copy in exchange for an honest and fair review.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Here Comes Hazel!

Ted Key's Hazel likes her TV counterpart.
More than fifty years later, it's hard to picture anyone but Shirley Booth (1898-1992) playing the starring role in television's Hazel. Here, in a vintage magazine ad taken out by the show's sponsor to promote its NBC debut in 1961, you can see how Shirley shaped up to Ted Key's cartoon character familiar to readers of the Saturday Evening Post. When Screen Gems acquired the TV rights to the character, executives considered Thelma Ritter and Agnes Moorehead, but thought Miss Booth was the ideal choice. Other studios bidding for the rights had wanted to cast The Honeymooners' Audrey Meadows, or Ann B. Davis (Schultzy on The Bob Cummings Show) as Hazel.

Already an Oscar and Tony winner, Miss Booth was considered by some an unlikely candidate to want a sitcom job, and indeed she'd told her agent she wasn't available for television series work. But she liked the pilot script, and thought the character was one she'd enjoy playing. Soon enough the Ford Motor Company signed on to sponsor her new series, describing her in ads like this one as "the most improbable maid you've ever seen." After her first season in the role, Miss Booth found herself not only the star of a hit series, but also the possessor of an Emmy for Best Actress to add to her award shelf.

For the complete story of Miss Booth's illustrious career onstage, in radio and film, and as TV's most beloved maid, check out my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record, which also features a detailed episode guide to Hazel.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Spring Byington: The Original Golden Girl

Spring Byington
Happy birthday to Spring Byington, born October 17, 1886 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although she had a long and successful career as a movie character actress, she's best known to TV buffs for her starring role in Desilu's popular sitcom December Bride.

The show, which aired from 1954 to 1959 on CBS-TV, after first being heard on radio, cast Miss Byington as Lily Ruskin, a sixtyish widow living with her daughter and son-in-law. The antithesis of a typical mother-in-law joke, Lily was a charming, fun-loving woman who showed audiences there were plenty of good times still to be had later in life, and even the chance for romance (hence the title). Originally seen on Monday nights after I Love Lucy, December Bride quickly became a hit with viewers, and even led to a spinoff show for featured player Harry Morgan, Pete and Gladys.

After Bride concluded its network run, Miss Byington spent two years playing a co-starring role in the Western series Laramie, and did TV guest appearances in everything from I Dream of Jeannie to Batman (remember J. Pauline Spaghetti?) before her death in 1971. Of her late-in-life fame as a sitcom star, she told syndicated columnist Margaret McManus, "We television people are the most privileged people in the world. We're doing work we love, for very rewarding pay. And wherever we go, we have instant recognition ... I enjoy this so much, such a wonderful expression of cordiality and interest, from everybody, wherever I am."

To learn more about Spring Byington, and her classic series, check out my book The Women Who Made Television Funny, as well as my friend (no relation) Fredrick Tucker's book Verna Felton, an excellent biography of the actress who played Lily's pal Hilda.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vivian Vance: "It's More An Expression of Me"

As most Lucy fans know, Vivian Vance was ambivalent about the prospect of playing opposite Lucille Ball in a second weekly series, when she was approached about making a comeback in The Lucy Show (CBS, 1962-68). Despite a generous salary, flattering wardrobe, co-star billing and the promise that her character would not be named Ethel, she was hesitant about taking the role, and in fact would remain a series regular for only three seasons. But when interviewed by syndicated columnist Cynthia Lowry in the fall of 1962, only a few months after joining the cast, Vivian was sounding upbeat about her new assignment. Here are some excerpts from that rarely-republished interview:

Opening titles for season 1 of The Lucy Show.
"I like being a woman with a son," Vivian said. "I think it's more an expression of me. Before we started the new show, I kept talking with the writers, begging them to keep the part feminine -- I didn't mean that I didn't want to be funny, but I wanted to get away from those tough, hard-bitten, masculine-sounding jokes." After shooting several episodes of The Lucy Show, Vivian pronounced herself pleased with the results. "I've read a lot of scripts and I think I can tell good comedy when I see it. I think that one of the things that makes our show good is that it is warm, and that basically we like each other ... Lucille has such a great talent -- she is a great clown.

 "Of course, when I Love Lucy finished, we never dreamed we'd be back doing this. But now, here we are -- and I couldn't be happier."

Friday, October 11, 2013

You Loved the Movie...

If there's anything network TV programmers can't seem to resist, it's a sitcom based on a hit movie (which in turn was often adapted from a book, or a Broadway play). Although the idea of buying a tried-and-true concept, and a pre-sold title, sounds good in theory, in practice the track record of such shows is dubious at best. With rare exceptions, the actors who starred in the movie don't reprise their roles in the series, and often the basic concept that made a good movie doesn't translate well to weekly half-hour episodes. 
Paper Moon -- the movie (top), with Tatum and Ryan O'Neal, and (below) the sitcom, with Jodie Foster and Christopher Connelly.
Consequently, despite the occasional success story (M*A*S*H, or Alice -- the latter based on the film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), the video graveyard is littered with the corpses of movie adaptations that failed to meet expectations. How many of these do you remember? 

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (ABC, 1973)
Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Fox, 1987)
Father of the Bride (CBS, 1961-62)
Freebie and the Bean (CBS, 1980-81)
Margie (ABC, 1961-62)
Mister Roberts (NBC, 1965-66)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (ABC, 1969-70)
No Time for Sergeants (ABC, 1964-65)
Nothing in Common (NBC, 1987)
Paper Moon (ABC, 1974)
Popi (CBS, 1976)
Uncle Buck (CBS, 1990-91)
The Wackiest Ship in the Army (NBC, 1965-66)
Working Girl (NBC, 1990)

Nonetheless, it's a safe bet that, as you read this, someone in Hollywood is busy negotiating for the TV rights to a hit movie. And, certainly, turnabout is fair play -- witness the movie versions of The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, or Car 54, Where Are You? Hey, movie execs, just leave I Love Lucy alone, please? Seriously.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Still Dead -- And Loving It! -- After 60 Years

Topper (Leo G. Carroll) sees dead people.
Happy 60th anniversary to one of TV's first, and best-loved, fantasy sitcoms, Topper, which premiered Friday, October 9, 1953, on CBS. Husband-and-wife stars Anne Jeffreys (1923-  ) and Robert Sterling (1917-2006) were mischievous ghosts Marion and George Kerby -- described by the announcer as "the ghostess with the mostest" and "that most sporting spirit," respectively.* Leo G. Carroll (1892-1972) played their reluctant host, mild-mannered banker Cosmo Topper, and one of my favorite character actresses, Lee Patrick (1901-1982) was featured as his befuddled wife Henrietta. Also on hand was the Kerbys' late dog Neil, a Saint Bernard who could slurp down a martini with the best of them.

Author Thorne Smith (1892-1934) created fun-loving spooks George and Marion for a novel published in 1926; he followed that with a sequel, Topper Takes a Trip, in 1932. After being adapted for the movies and even radio (ghosts on radio?!), Topper enjoyed a two-year run on CBS, another full season of reruns on ABC, and a long afterlife (so to speak) in syndication. If you've never seen the show, head to YouTube for a sample episode, complete with vintage commercials for the sponsor's cigarettes. You can learn more about author Thorne Smith here, or check out the chapter on Anne Jeffreys in my book The Women Who Made Television Funny.

So pour yourself a drink in honor of a TV classic's anniversary -- and don't forget to save some for Neil.

*Or is that "sportive" spirit, or "sporty" spirit? Sources differ. Sounds like "sporting" to me. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Outtakes #2: Eve Arden

Sometimes it seems as if Eve Arden played the smart, funny, loyal best pal of every Golden Age movie actress. Aside from her Oscar-nominated turn as Ida Corwin in Mildred Pierce, supporting Joan Crawford, Eve also befriended Barbara Stanwyck (My Reputation), Doris Day (Tea for Two), and Jane Wyman (The Lady Takes a Sailor), to name a few. "When they throw Shirley Temple at me," she once joked, "I'm going to quit."

In the photo above, though (another outtake from my book on Eve), she's doing the honors for a leading lady you might not so easily recognize. Can you name the lovely lady at left in this 1930s still? Post the answer -- or your best guess -- in the comments below. I'll solve the mystery on Monday, if no one beats me to it. Happy old movie watching!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Four Degrees of Gale Storm

You know the concept -- Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Supposedly, any entertainer can be connected within six links to the dancin' star of Footloose.
All well and good for Mr. Bacon's contemporaries, but what about someone at the height of her TV fame right around the time he was born? I decided to test the theory with none other than Gale Storm (1922-2009), the beloved star of the Golden Age sitcoms My Little Margie (1952-55) and The Gale Storm Show: Oh Susanna! (1956-60) -- and one of the subjects of my first book, The Women Who Made Television Funny.

Here's what I came up with:

     1. Gale Storm's second TV sitcom featured Roy Roberts as her boss, Captain Huxley.

     2. Roy Roberts went on to play bank president Mr. Cheever on The Lucy Show, which starred Lucille Ball.

     3. Lucille Ball made the 1968 hit movie Yours, Mine, and Ours, which featured Tim Matheson as her stepson, Mike. (Bonus point: Matheson also made a guest appearance on Here's Lucy.)

     4. Tim Matheson later starred in the wildly popular comedy National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), which gave young Kevin Bacon his film debut, as hapless fraternity pledge Chip Diller.
"Thank you, sir, may I have another?"

See, that wasn't too difficult. Anyone want to try Gracie Allen?

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Fall Shows -- From 50 Years Ago

Once again, we're in the midst of the annual hoopla over a new prime time television season. As a kid, I spent hours flipping through TV Guide's "Fall Preview" issue, drinking in (and practically memorizing) all the information on new shows, stars, and schedule changes. Today, I couldn't tell you for a $500 prize the names of more than two shows premiering on the networks' 2013 schedule. (Well, yeah, I could, if you give me a minute -- I'm a librarian, I know where to look).


The chart above shows what network TV viewers had to choose from 50 years ago. New shows for the 1963-64 season are displayed in white. Of the newbies, CBS' rural comedy Petticoat Junction would become the most enduring hit, running through 1970. Others that would catch on with TV fans included My Favorite Martian, The Patty Duke Show, and certainly The Fugitive. On the other hand, The New Phil Silvers Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, and Harry's Girls would never see a second season. If you're curious about two other short-lived shows from this season, The Bill Dana Show and Grindl, check out my book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television: Thirty Sitcoms That Faded Off Screen.

Do you have a favorite show from the chart above? Which ones do, or would, you still watch, given the chance?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Sitcom Writers Speak

If you're a fan of the classic sitcom, these names are practically emblazoned on your memory banks, preceded by the words "written by." Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Davis. David Lloyd. Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orenstein. These are just some of the heavy hitters featured in Scott Lewellen's new book Funny You Should Ask: Oral Histories of Classic Sitcom Storytellers (McFarland, $35.00).

This long-overdue volume collects a lifetime of memories from scriptwriters who contributed some of TV comedy's most iconic moments -- Lucy Ricardo's losing battle with the assembly line at a candy factory, Mary Richards' hilariously inappropriate reaction at a clown's funeral, and Maude Findlay's response to an unexpected pregnancy, to name a few. Rather than devoting a chapter to each writer, or pair of writers, as in Jordan R. Young's excellent book on radio comedy, The Laugh Crafters, Lewellen organizes the book by themes. You'll read about battles with temperamental actors, aggravating rewrites, hit shows and crushing failures. In addition to the classic sitcoms already alluded to, coverage in the book includes Laverne & Shirley, Bewitched, 227, Cheers, Frasier, The Andy Griffith Show, Good Times, and too many others to list.

Whether you're a scholar of popular culture, or just a comedy fan who wants to know a little more about the shows that made you laugh, this compulsively readable book belongs on your shelf. It's available from the publisher's website at www.mcfarlandbooks.com, as well as major online booksellers.

P.S. Full disclosure: McFarland is also my publisher. However, I wouldn't know Mr. Lewellen if I fell on him, and am sharing my honest opinion of his book. Didn't even get a free review copy -- I checked it out of the library. OK? 


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Memorable Meets: Sherwood Schwartz

In the course of researching and writing four books, I've had the chance to interview some people I never expected to meet. One memorable example was Sherwood Schwartz, the veteran comedy writer/producer most closely associated with his eternally popular shows Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. 



I wrote to Mr. Schwartz in 2006 asking for an interview because he was one of the few people still around who could tell me first-hand about Joan Davis (1912-1961), the radio and television comedienne who was the subject of a chapter in my first book, The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Mr. Schwartz spent three years as a staff writer on Davis' popular NBC sitcom, I Married Joan (which co-starred Jim Backus, later "Thurston Howell III.")

Thinking back more than fifty years from the day I interviewed him, Mr. Schwartz had admirable recall of what it was like to work with Ms. Davis. In his study at home, he kept copies of the many scripts he'd written over the years, and he retrieved a couple from Joan to refresh his memory. I was also impressed with the fact that he was honest about her without being unkind. He certainly could have slapped her around some had he chosen to do so; she'd been dead for a number of years, and wasn't around to defend herself. Instead, without whitewashing anything ("She was tough," he said frankly), he spoke with admiration for her talent, and gave me a good feel for what it was like to work with her. He told me an anecdote about the making of an I Married Joan episode called "Mountain Lodge" and her impromptu revamping of a scene he'd written. Later, I was able to see that episode, and was impressed that his memory of the scene -- and what she did to it! -- was accurate.

Mr. Schwartz died on July 12, 2011, at the age of 94, after a long and storied career. His passing, like that of a few other people I've interviewed in the past several years, reminded me there is a limited window of opportunity to preserve memories like his. I don't think the accomplishments of people like him -- and Joan Davis -- will be forgotten.

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Blink Out Their Clothes," Jeannie!

Happy 48th birthday to that guilty pleasure of Baby Boomers everywhere, I Dream of Jeannie. Premiering September 18, 1965 on NBC, this timeless fantasy sitcom about a beautiful genie (Barbara Eden) disrupting the life of her astronaut master (the late Larry Hagman) enjoyed a five-year run in prime time, and countless reruns since.

Far it be from me to incite the 9,854th debate about the relative superiority of Jeannie and Samantha, or their respective shows. I love them both. I will say, though, that the setup of Jeannie has always made more sense to me. Unlike Darrin on Bewitched, Tony Nelson never much cared if his sparking clean house and fabulous dinners were conjured up with magic, and he didn't pitch a hissy every time Jeannie blinked. I'm pretty sure I'd feel the same way about it, just in case I should ever have the opportunity. Let's face it, whether your reasons are punitive, practical, or prurient, most of us would take advantage at least once in a lifetime of the chance to say to your personal genie, "Blink out their clothes!" (See season 5 episode "Jeannie, the Recording Secretary" for details).

When I was ten or eleven years old, reruns of both Bewitched and Jeannie played every weekday afternoon on Channel 5 in Atlanta, where we lived. Much to my frustration, however, either the syndication package at that time didn't include the black-and-white episodes, or the station chose to skip over them. It was probably an ominous foreboding of my future as a TV historian that I once begged to be allowed to stay home from the beach one afternoon on a family vacation, because the local station was going to show the Jeannie pilot episode, which I'd never seen. Belated thanks, many years later, to my parents, who (I think) sorta understood.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Outtakes: Eve Arden

Although it's the words that matter most in a book about a legendary performer like Eve Arden, I also love using photos to document the careers I write about -- and  you'll find 60 of them in "Eve Arden: A Chronicle of All Film, Television, Radio and Stage Performances."   Inevitably, though, there are pictures that, for one reason or another, don't make the cut in the finished book. I thought it would be fun to use this blog to share some of those that I've collected in the course of writing four books.


This one shows Eve in 1947, shopping for dresses with her daughter Liza. Onscreen, Eve's character in Our Miss Brooks faced an uphill battle in her quest to find love and domestic happiness. In real life, though, Eve adopted two daughters in the 1940s, and was subsequently married for many years to actor and artist Brooks West. Together they raised a family of four, and if you've ever read or heard an interview with Eve, you'll know how important that family was to her. I think this photo nicely illustrates that.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

If Lucy Ricardo had a blog...

Since the actors and shows I write about are mostly those that were meaningful to Baby Boomers like me, it seems a little incongruous to blog, text, or tweet about them. Yet I'm often struck by how fresh, funny, and pertinent these classic performances still are, 50 years or more after their heyday. I also appreciate how the Internet has made it possible not only to do more in-depth research for my books, but also connect with people all over the world who share my fondness for Eve Arden, Shirley Booth, I Love Lucy, and many more we'll hopefully get to as this blog progresses.

Have you ever wondered how life might be different for some of your favorite classic characters if they had access to all the technological bells and whistles of 2013? It might have been handy if Ethel Mertz could have sent her best pal the occasional frantic text, along the lines of:

OMG rr on way up! >:-@!

And wouldn't Lucy find Craigslist handy for those times you just need to hire a stranger to impersonate your imaginary boyfriend, or rent a circus elephant for a few hours? As for Our Miss Brooks, you just know her Facebook status would have been "It's Complicated."