Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Feline Occasion

Happy National Cat Day from Samantha Stephens and all the other feline fanciers of classic TV and movies! Remember Minerva, Mrs. Davis' cat from Our Miss Brooks?

Friday, October 24, 2014

And Now a Word from...Vivian Vance?

Practically since the beginning of television, advertisers have been looking for ways to make sure consumers watch their commercials. In the 1970s and 1980s, one favorite way was to hire a celebrity whom viewers liked to deliver the message.

At right is Vivian Vance, beloved as Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy, pitching coffee. Below is movie and TV veteran Martha Raye as a spokesperson for a denture cleanser. They're just two of the classic TV performers who landed ongoing endorsement deals. Such a deal could be quite lucrative, well into six figures per year, without requiring a lot of an actor's time.

"Celebrity broker" Jon Albert explained in 1986, "As the price of network commercials keeps going up and up, there has to be a tremendous amount of effectiveness in a short time ... Viewers tend to become aware of celebrity commercials a lot quicker than non-celebrity commercials. By capitalizing on the performer's celebrity you can give the product some celebrity."

Did this work for you? Did you buy products because they were endorsed by a celebrity?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where Authors and Readers Meet

Big thanks to author James Zeruk, Jr., who created this banner for his busy Facebook page Hollywood Book Chat, of which I am a member. The page, which now boasts more than 2,000 members, was created to cater to readers who enjoy books about show business history. The group also has numerous authors among its membership, and James was nice enough to include me and my newest book in this visual assortment.

I'm in pretty good company here, wouldn't you say?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Remembering Beverly Garland

In honor of Beverly Garland's birthday, here's a photo of her with one of her typical movie leading men, in Roger Corman's It Conquered the World:
After a career like that, you can imagine that marrying Fred MacMurray on TV's My Three Sons was a welcome change. Interviewed shortly after she joined the show in 1969, Garland said she enjoyed her new role, noting, "With a few happy exceptions, I've played mostly screamers, neurotics and just about every other kind of oddball you can imagine."
Born on October 17, 1926, Beverly had a long and successful career that lasted for more than forty years. Although she passed away in 2008, she's still fondly remembered by her many fans, whether they know her as Officer Casey Jones of TV's Decoy, Bing Crosby's wife from his 1964-65 ABC sitcom, Kate Jackson's mom on Scarecrow and Mrs. King -- or that unfortunate lady who found herself married to one of The Alligator People.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Retro Research

I'm in the throes of researching a new book, so I went to the Emory University library yesterday. Since I expected to make lots of notes, I took along my new tablet. (Never let it be said that I'm against taking advantage of useful technology).

For those of you who like to know all the glamorous details of a writer's life, my tablet looks something like this:

Why, what kind of tablet did you think I meant?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Irene Ryan: Stardom at 60

That's Granny?! Irene Ryan away from the cameras.
She was a major television star of the 1960s, but even her most ardent fans might not have recognized her out of costume. Irene Ryan, pictured at left, played "Granny" Daisy Moses on The Beverly Hillbillies from 1962 to 1971. Nearly sixty when she was cast in the popular sitcom, Ryan already had a long entertainment career behind her, but nothing had brought her the attention and acclaim that Hillbillies did when it became one of television's Top Ten shows during its first season.

However, she nearly missed out on the chance to play Granny. According to an interview she gave the Associated Press' Bob Thomas a few months after the show's premiere, both the casting director and creator/producer Paul Henning thought Ryan was too young for the role. "Look, Paul, do I have to go home and get my grey wig and shawl to convince you I can play Granny?" she remembered telling the latter. "If you get anybody older than me to play the role, she won't be able to stand the pace. I know what those 7-to-7 schedules are like." Henning was reportedly close to choosing Bea Benaderet for the part, but was finally convinced that the role was tailor-made for Ryan.

Nine years of playing Granny left Ryan a wealthy woman. Rather than living high on the hog herself, though, she created a foundation that endowed scholarships for acting students. The Irene Ryan Foundation still exists today, and has provided a helping hand to numerous aspiring actors. After the cancellation of Hillbillies in 1971, Ryan made a successful return to the stage, winning a Tony Award nomination for her performance in the Broadway hit Pippin. Sadly, she suffered a stroke that forced her to drop out of the show, and passed away in 1973. As long as there are reruns of her popular series, however, new viewers will go on discovering this gifted comedic actress.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mrs. G Has a Birthday

Happy birthday to the late, great Gertrude Berg (1898-1966), the pioneering star and creator of the long-running radio and TV hit, The Goldbergs. Here she's pictured with Sir Cedric Hardwicke, her leading man in the successful Broadway play A Majority of One. They worked so well together that, when Berg returned to weekly television in 1961 with Mrs. G Goes to College, she insisted on having Hardwicke as her co-star. In that series, rather than her signature character of Molly Goldberg, she played a not-dissimilar widow, Sarah Green, who pursued a college degree later in life, with Hardwicke as her professor.

Although Mrs. G Goes to College (retitled The Gertrude Berg Show at midseason) wasn't a ratings winner, it earned Berg an Emmy nomination. I researched the show a few years ago for my book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television, and thought it was a neglected gem that should be rediscovered. Give it a look and let me know if you agree.