The Millionaire

TV classics: aka If You had a Million

USA 1955-60, six seasons, 206 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Produced by Don Fedderson, Fred Henry. Cast: Marvin Miller, Paul Frees. Guest stars: Phyllis Avery, Carl Betz, Whitney Blake, Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden, Beverly Garland, Ray Gordon, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelly, Del Moore, Mary Tyler Moore, Agnes Moorehead, Maudie Prickett, Gloria Talbott, Robert Vaughn, Betty White, Bill Williams, Dick York and many others.

Plot summary: Millionaires are happy people or are they?

millionaireReview: In 1955, anthology programs were as popular on TV as procedurals are today. While most of them featured a different genre on a weekly basis, The Millionaire had a steady concept. John Beresford Tipton, Jr., a man as wealthy as he was generous, made out a check to complete strangers and asked his secretary to deliver them. He gave away one million dollars without any strings attached. Surprised by their sudden fortune, the recipients signed a legal contract to guarantee the anonymity of their unknown sponsor and were then abandoned to their fate. A blessing for some, a curse for others, Tipton’s gift always deeply affected the lives of people who had never dreamed of ever owning so much money.

Popular enough to be parodied on The Jack Benny Program and by Mad Magazine, The Millionaire attracted many guest stars who contributed to the show’s appeal. Although based on a simple idea, the program turned a similar situation into a new story every week and thus kept the original concept interesting for six seasons. Blessed with good scripts and the talents of Marvin Miller as Tipton’s bearer of glad tidings, the show created dramatic, funny and generally entertaining moments with actors such as Dick York, Betty White, Barbara Hale and Bill Williams. Successful for five years on CBS, the show was frequently rerun from 1960 to 1980 and temporarily revived on TV Land in the late 1990s. It is a pity that, today, the program has not yet been made available on DVD. It is a real gem for anyone who loves the Golden Age of television and a cordial invitation to dream of opening the door to Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony.

Hotel

TV classics: Hotel

USA 1983-88, five seasons, 115 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: James Brolin, Connie Sellecca, Nathan Cook, Shari Belafonte, Michael Spound, Heidi Bohay, Shea Farrell, Harry George Phillips and Anne Baxter.

Plot summary: For the hotel staff, life is busy at St. Gregory’s, for the guests, it’s pure leisure and luxury.

Review: Based on Arthur Hailey’s novel from 1965, Hotel focused on the lives and loves at St. Gregory, a fictional five star hotel located in San Francisco. Led by Anne Baxter as hotel owner Victoria Cabot, the show predominantly featured the professional and personal lives of general manager Peter McDermott (James Brolin), his assistant manager Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca) and their staff. Supported by a colorful collection of guest stars, including Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Joan Fontaine, Beverly Garland, Leslie Nielsen, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Betty White, Shelley Winters, Jane Wyatt and many others, the show met the standards of Love Boat, a comedy hit also produced by Aaron Spelling on ABC at the time.

Although originally featuring Bette Davis as the head of St. Gregory who was soon replaced by Anne Baxter for health reasons, Hotel faced a lot of dramatic changes in characterization and plot. Speaking to an audience who enjoyed the mix of soap opera and celebrity appeal, the show had the perfect time slot on ABC, following an equally dramatic Dynasty. With season one available on DVD since 2009, fans of the show are invited to revisit the glamor and allure of St. Gregory’s, its sympathetic staff and matriarchal owner beautifully portrayed by Bette Davis’ 1950 on-screen nemesis Anne Baxter. A shining example of the prime time soap genre celebrated to perfection in the 1980s, the show also has the quality to appeal to those who may still be unfamiliar with the program but enjoy a cast of well-known faces and a regular dose of emotional mayhem. So for anyone who was happy about the recent comeback of Dallas on TV, this show could be the perfect treat.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King

TV classics: Scarecrow and Mrs. King

USA 1983-87, 4 seasons,  88 episodes, approximately 45 minutes each, CBS, color. Cast: Bruce Boxleitner, Kate Jackson, Beverly Garland, Mel Stewart, Martha Smith, Greg Morton, Paul Stout, Sam Melville

Plot summary: Amanda King, a divorced mother of two, lives an uneventful life with her mother in DC until she stumbles into Lee Stetson who happens to be an agent with the alias Scarecrow.

Review: Designed as a family show with James Bond elements and romance, Scarecrow and Mrs. King entered American living rooms in the fall of 1983, introducing Kate Jackson in her first series lead since Charlie’s Angels in the late 70s. Teamed up with Bruce Boxleitner, she instantly built up a chemistry between herself and her co-star and thus turned the show into a decent hit. Typical for its day and age, Scarecrow and Mrs. King used the cold war as a setting for suspense and entertainment, but also managed to give the characters room to grow. Starting out as a housewife and mother, Amanda Kind slowly tapped into the world of espionage, curious and excited about her new adventures but also feeling guilty for having to keep her family in the dark. Apart from her budding attraction to The Agency’s star agent Lee “Scarecrow” Stetson, Amanda’s dynamic with female agent Francine (Martha Smith) and her clueless mother Dotty (Beverly Garland) only added to the charm and quality of the show.

Diverting, good-natured and mildly patriotic, Scarecrow and Mrs. King worked well for three consecutive season until Kate Jackson, unfortunately, was diagnosed with breast cancer in season four. Her treatments resulted in the reduction of her character and led to alterations that ultimately affected the show in an unfortunate way. The series was finally canceled by CBS at the end of the season, closing the characters’ storylines without too much dissatisfaction.

Today, three seasons of Scarecrow and Mrs. King have already been released on DVD and it’s safe to believe that the last season will follow eventually. For anyone who used to enjoy the show during its original run, it is a great pleasure to revisit the charming storyline in a good quality that will outshine your old VHS recordings. Lee Stetson and Amanda King are still as lovely and entertaining to watch and their supporting cast members continue to be a blast. Blessed with Beverly Garland, Mel Stewart and Martha Smith, the show still has the potential to attract a new audience that may not even have been born when the series first aired. It is a fun show full of suspense, romance and witty lines, and if you’re fond of the 80s, this gem will definitely make you smile.

Author’s note: Happy 4th of July by the way!

Science Fiction Theatre

TV classics: Science Fiction Theatre

USA 1955-57, 2 seasons,  78 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, Syndication, black & white, and color (season 1). Hosted by Truman Bradley. Cast examples: John Archer, Gene Barry, Dick Foran, Beverly Garland, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelley, Otto Kruger, June Lockhart, William Talman, Bill Williams et al.

Plot summary: Introduced by host Truman Bradley, Science Fiction Theatre presented a case of factual science each week, taken one step further by the show’s writers to tickle the imagination of their audience.

Review: Shot in color in season one despite black and white only TV sets across America, Science Fiction Theatre was the forerunner of genre shows such as The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Presented by actor Truman Bradley, the anthology series aired on a weekly basis and offered a creative outlook on present-day science and its possible future.

Always written to entertain and educate, Science Fiction Theatre stimulated the mind of its viewers, young and old, and picked up topics such as telepathy, outer space and evolution. Introduced by the show’s host, each story was linked to a concrete example of the topic it focused on and cast with a decent cast of actors to make the plot believable. Often suspenseful and sometimes funny, each episode offered a new scenario of science in motion. “Mind Machine” with Bill Williams, for example, examined the infinite possibilities of the human mind while “The Hastings Secret”, with Barbara Hale, contemplated the abilities of termites.

Today, fifty-five years after going off the air, Science Fiction Theatre is still a joy to watch for anyone who likes to dive into science fact and fiction before starships and aliens conquered the genre. The episodes were short and crisp, and the actors beautifully chosen. If you get your hands on one of the unofficial boxsets, allow yourself to lean back and enjoy the quiet pace of this classic show. It will do wonders to your imagination, a rare treat on TV these days.

Pantomime Quiz

TV classics: Pantomime Quiz

USA 1947-59, aka Stump the Stars 1962-63, irregular seasons, episodes approximately 25 minutes each, KTLA, CBS, DuMont, NBC and ABC, black & white. Hosted by Mike Stokey. Celebrity guests: Lucie Arnaz, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Beverly Garland, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Eartha Kitt, Michael Landon, Nancy Sinatra, William Talman, Dick Van Dyke et al.

Game summary: Based on the popular game Charades, two groups of celebrity contestants compete against each other to find out who’s faster at miming the titles and sentences contributed by the audience.

Review: Pantomime Quiz is one of those shows I miss a lot these days: pure entertainment for the entire family. These game shows are great fun to watch at any age and apparently brought a lot of joy to the contestants as well back in the days. Beverly Garland was one of the regular contestants on Pantomime Quiz, Sebastian Cabot and Ross Martin. Always supported by an incoming celebrity guest, the ever-changing teams of contestants did their best to explain as many terms, names or phrases as possible. The faster a contestant managed to show his or her given term without using a single word, the more points their team got. If they didn’t stay under two minutes, no points were added to their account and thus lowered their chances to prevail in the end.

Originally airing on KTLA as early as in 1947, Pantomime Quiz survived a successful twelve non-consecutive season run on four different networks. Presented by Mike Stokey, the show won an Emmy for “Most Popular Television Program” at the first Emmy Awards ceremony. Discontinued on ABC in 1959, the show was revived on CBS in 1962 under a new title, Stump the Stars. Pat Harrington Jr. hosted the re-imagined show until veteran emcee Stokey returned to the format and welcomed celebrity guests such as the cast of the Dick Van Dyke Show and Perry Mason.

Today, selected clips are available online and on DVD to enjoy with your (grand)parents and kids. Complete episodes are a real treat, my personal favorite being an episode from 1963 featuring Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper and William Talman (displayed on the 5oth Anniversary of Perry Mason box set). I always root for each one of them to find the right clues and gestures, no matter how often I watch them play. You can have a look a full sample episode here on youtube and see for yourselves or click the links above to share my joy about the Perry Mason gang and their familiar quips and quirks. But be prepared, if you’re into game shows, Pantomime Quiz or Stump the Stars may awaken your inner Charades Queen (or King) who feels the urge to convert everyone around you to play along.

Decoy

TV classics: Decoy aka Decoy Police Woman

USA 1957-58, 1 season,  39 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, Syndication, black & white. Inspired by Jack Webb’s Dragnet, Dedicated to the Bureau of Policewomen of the NYPD. Cast: Beverly Garland

Plot summary: Police woman Casey Jones investigates undercover in New York City by diving into different milieus and situations to solve her assigned cases.

Decoy Police Woman pilot episode

Review: Decoy was the first American TV show that focused on a female police officer, Casey Jones. With only one central character, Decoy Police Woman presented crime stories from a female perspective, often commented on by Beverly Garland as Casey Jones at the end of an episode. Crimes on women were frequently covered, but not exclusively so. The show offered a new insight but wasn’t meant to only attract a female audience.

As an undercover officer, Casey Jones entered a lot of different worlds and milieus. Beverly Garland thus laid the groundwork for an interesting show by playing the same character under different circumstances and in different situations each week. She had to adapt to her weekly case and mastered the art of transformation from a dutiful officer to whatever her cover required. Later known for her memorable supporting roles in My Three Sons and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Beverly Garland got a chance to shine on Decoy by showing her diversity and maturity as an actress. And so she did as a sincere and committed forerunner for the talented ladies of Charlie’s Angels, Police Woman or Cagney and Lacey.

Today, Decoy Police Woman is not only a great history lesson for Women’s Studies majors, classic TV enthusiasts and feminists, it is also an entertaining show with elements of film noir and an interesting cast of guest stars like a young Larry Hagman or Peter Falk. Decoy is full of suspense intensified by the beautiful performances of Beverly Garland. It’s a real pity this show only lasted one season.

Selected episodes available on DVD and online.