Screen Couples

We all know them: the Stoneses, the Andersons or the Stephenses. For some, they may be a guilty pleasure, for others a mere necessity to get a story told. For me, they are the cherry on top of any tale: fictional couples and their personal stories. On the fringes of drama, comedy and mayhem, romantic innuendo has always been my favorite treat. From Date with the Angels and Family Ties to Murder She Wrote or Babylon 5, I have a weakness for double entendre paired with a healthy sense of humor, smarts and mutual respect.

Della and Perry1) Perry Mason and Della Street, for example, have been my favorite couple for more years than I care to admit. On paper, radio and screen, the lawyer and his secretary know how to put a smile on my face. Committed to their work as much as to each other, the true nature of their relationship has always remained a mystery. For some fans, they are the best of friends while others suspect some hanky-panky behind closed doors. For me, they have long been married, the epitomized working couple who combines independence with traditional values. And that’s the beauty of those characters and their story. They ignite your imagination and tease you to the point of sizzling frustration with a simple look, remark or smitten smile. It is a tradition Erle Stanley Gardner himself started in The Velvet Claws in 1933 and lasted until 1994 when the last Perry Mason TV movie aired on NBC. Perfected by its signature cast, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, Perry and Della have since lived on in the hearts of many fans, the flame of their romance burning more and more brightly towards the series’ end.

Jennifer&Jonathan2) The second couple I have loved for as long as I can remember are Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. Sophisticated, rich and charming, the Harts had everything including a mutually executed interest in solving mysteries. Following in the footsteps of TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, they dug up trouble where it’s usually hard to find but their love for each other made their cases stand out from others. Together, they were invincible and (much like Della and Perry) have stood the test of time. A mere decade after Hart to Hart was canceled on ABC, the couple returned to television in 1993, matured, refined, and every bit as committed to each other as they had always been. Today, the Harts are still a dream couple for their fans, a twosome who showed their audience the ingredients of true love and how it beautiful life can be even if you are denied to have your desired offspring.

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Beyond Kit Carson

Remembering the Charm and Talents of Bill Williams

Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 21, 1915* as Hermann Wilhelm Katt, Bill Williams started his career in Vaudeville, touring the US and Europe as an adagio dancer until he joined the army in WWII. Following an honorable medical discharge, he returned to show business, starting out as an extra in Hollywood and playing small, uncredited parts before he finally landed a deal with RKO in the mid 1940s. As a contract player, he was slowly cast as a budding co-star, opposite popular colleagues such as Spencer Tracy in Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Robert Young in Those Endearing Young Charms, Robert Mitchum in Till the End of Time and Susan Hayward in Deadline at Dawn while in private life he quietly divorced his first, long estranged wife. In 1946, two years after shooting West of the Pecos, a small Western featuring RKO starlet Barbara Hale whom he had previously been introduced to by acting coach Lillian Albertson, he got married to his former co-star gone studio sweetheart and saw a bright future laid out before him. Considered for a series of pictures following A Likely Story co-starring his young wife, Bill’s stream of luck ended with the sudden death of RKO president Charles Kroener and the structural changes that followed at the studio.

After serving as good-will ambassador from Hollywood to the public in 1946 and 47 for several months, keeping his popularity afloat by touring he country, he was struck down by an old injury that would further interrupt his career while Mrs. Williams was expecting their first child. With A Likely Story under his belt, however, the press didn’t lose interest in him and focused on the private life of the growing Williams family instead, presenting them as happy, lovely and homey. After bowing out of The Window, his second would-be collaboration with wife Barbara, Bill regained his health and starred with her in The Clay Pigeon. Shortly thereafter, the couple faced a new challenge in their conjoined careers when Howard Hughes entered the scene to change the course of RKO by letting all the contract players go. While his wife managed to land a career-breaking part in Jolson Sings Again and a follow-up contract with Columbia Pictures, Bill Williams continued working as a freelance actor, starring in a number of small Westerns and memorable films like The Stratton Story until he got his big break on television in 1951. Landing the title role in The Adventures of Kit Carson, Bill breathed life into a character who soon turned into a kids’ favorite and guaranteed him long hours on set. Successful for four consecutive seasons, the show turned Bill into a household name and Western hero, a good fortune he tried to continue with Date with the Angels in 1957. Starring opposite TV darling Betty White, Bill was seen as a newlywed husband who showed splendid comedic timing. Although promising, entertaining and less strenuous to work on than his predecessor series, the show did not last longer than a season. Instead, his wife Barbara Hale started an unexpectedly long career on television when she agreed to star as Della Street on Perry Mason, a show that would last from 1957 to 66. After years of putting her family first, it was Bill now who spent more time at home with the three children. He did not return to the small screen until 1960 when he starred in Assignment: Underwater, an underwater adventure show modeled after Sea Hunt, a surprise hit Bill Williams himself had turned down in 1958. Following the show’s cancellation, Bill returned to being a working actor and guest starred on a variety of popular programs including his wife’s great success and her co-star Raymond Burr’s follow-up smash Ironside until he retired from acting for good in 1981.

Although originally a city boy with a defining Brooklyn accent, Bill was frequently cast as a handsomely talented cowboy throughout his career. With his boyish grin, tender eyes and natural athleticism, he was the perfect ‘good guy’ when he was young and a credible character actor when he got older. Always deeply committed to his craft, he worked hard at doing most of his own stunts, oozed honesty and earthy charm. Not unlike his darling wife, Bill Williams is now often remembered for his one career-defining role as Kit Carson, but it would be a pity to forget all the other characters he breathed life into, including the many different men he played opposite Mrs. Williams – from their first feature West of the Pecos in 1945 to their last in 1976, Disney’s Flight of the Grey Wolf.

Twenty years ago, on September 21, Bill Williams died in Burbank, California at the age of 77. He left his wife of 46 years, two grown daughters and his son, William Katt, a working actor who continued the tradition of keeping the business in the family by repeatedly working with his mother, Barbara Hale, on the same projects. By his fans, he is still remembered with great fondness, especially by those who grew up loving Westerns.

* Author’s note: Apparently, there’s some confusion about Bill Williams’ date of birth. (Thanks for the mention, Gina!) Wikipedia now lists May 15th as his birthday while imdb still mentions May 21st. As soon as I get confirmation on the validity of one of these dates, you’ll be the first ones to know.

For Your Commercial Interruption…

I don’t know about you, but I’m easily annoyed by commercials. These days I should probably add because I have fond memories of re-enacting the most popular commercials for my family when I was little, giving them all a good laugh at the dinner table. It must’ve looked positively silly though, when I repeated all those slogans I barely understood at five or six. After all, my family has always been utterly unimpressed by all things Hollywood. I, however, have always loved it, for as long as I can remember, and when I grew up I didn’t only practice smoking by buying chewing gum cigarettes and filling my toothpaste cap with ice-cold water to resemble booze and learn how to chug-a-lug (which TV had taught me was something you just had to have down to a tee to become an adult), no, I also loved to watch commercials and learned the slogans and jingles by heart without the use of a VCR.

Today, my fascination is but a mere memory of that time long gone, of an era when classic stars were still regulars on a vast variety of TV programs. Looking further back, I now find great joy in looking at ads and commercials from the 1940s and 50s, when car companies, soap manufacturers and cigarette labels sponsored entire programs: Ford Television Theatre, Lux Radio Theater or General Electric, just to name a popular few. Apart from those anthology series, other shows were also endorsed by companies and products; Date With the Angels, for example, was presented by a single sponsor, the Plymouth Dealers of America, following in the footsteps of many others while Perry Mason was supported by a variety of sponsors in its almost ten production years. Depending on the target audience, brands like Procter & Gamble’s Tide, Palmolive and Lux soap often sponsored afternoon programs on the radio, directly aiming at America’s housewives and their interest in beauty and their homes. Yes, also in the golden days of Hollywood, marketing companies ruled our world of entertainment.

It may be shallow to admit that those classic ads don’t bother but rather appeal to me – on Radio Vintage or Old Time Radio, it doesn’t matter: I love the jingles and the time they used to take to sell their products, time that has gotten more and more expensive over the years. I also like to look at my favorite stars in many ads – their pictures always beautiful in that way commercial art worked back in my favorite era. Just have a look at Barbara Hale (and her husband Bill Williams) below. In her fifty year career, she was not only the video spokesperson for Amana Radar Range in the 70s, she already plugged for Chesterfield cigarettes, Lux, Max Factor, Sunnybank Margarine and Matson back in her RKO, Columbia and Perry Mason years. Aren’t those pictures just darling, the colors vibrant and delicate, the smiles warm and inviting?

I may be in the minority, but apart from being tired of looking at undernourished teenage models these days, those airbrushed faces with their blank expressions also make me feel depressed. I prefer to see happy faces and not someone who is starving herself to look smaller than Twiggy in the 60s. So yes, I admit vintage commercials are my guilty pleasure and this link is meant for anyone who’s with me on this topic. Have fun listening to those jingles or tune in to listen to Radio Vintage like I often do, always getting giddy about those commercial interruptions which bring me back to “the good old days”.

Vintage Christmas

So this is it, only one day left till Christmas Eve.  Let’s doll up and spend the holidays with some of those joyful classics. Have yourself a charming vintage Christmas. And bless y’all!

Christmas songs:

Christmas TV episodes:

Christmas radio:

Bill Williams

To those of you who are as enthusiastic about classic TV gems as I am, the name Bill Williams will ring a bell as one of television’s most charming leading men gone frequent guest star.

Career: Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 21, 1915* as Hermann Katt, Bill Williams started his career as a dancer in Vaudeville. Picking up on his expertise as a professional swimmer, he appeared in aquatic underwater shows before he broke into film business. Following army service, he started out working as an extra and played small, often uncredited parts in the mid 1940s before he finally landed a contract with RKO.

As a contract player, he was frequently cast as a budding co-star, opposite Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward or wife Barbara Hale. Bit by bit, he got a chance to show off his talents as the handsome leading man, mostly starring in entertaining B movies from all genres, including Westerns and film noir.

In the 1950s, Bill turned his attention to TV and landed the lead in The Adventures of Kit Carson for a four season run from 1951 to 1954. The show was a great success and turned him into a household name and Western hero, especially idolized by children. In 1957, another TV show followed, Date of the Angels, in which he starred opposite TV darling Betty White. Although promising, entertaining and a lot less strenuous to work on, the show unfortunately did not last longer than a season. In 1960, Bill gave TV another shot as a leading man, putting his efforts into an underwater adventure show called Assignment: Underwater, a program modeled after Sea Hunt.

Apart from working on feature films and TV movies, Bill Williams had successful stints as host and guest star on numerous popular TV programs in the 1960s and 70s, including his wife’s smash hit Perry Mason and family friend Raymond Burr’s follow-up show Ironside. In 1981 then, Bill retired from acting completely and retreated to pursuing his many interests outside of Hollywood.

Characters: Although originally a city boy, Bill Williams was frequently cast as a convincing and handsomely talented cowboy. With his boyish grin, tender eyes and natural athletic charm, he was the perfect ‘good guy’, a true mother-in-law’s dream. He worked hard at doing most of his own stunts, oozed honesty and a down-to-earth mentality. It’s not really a surprise that he memorably worked his way into the hearts of an entire generation of kids when he starred as TV’s Kit Carson. It would be a pity though to remember him for only that.

Not unlike his marvelous wife, Bill is often remembered for his one career-defining role. Now I’m here to ask you to check out more of his work. Go beyond his favorable Western show and check out his other work, feature films and TV guest stardom, either way. You will not regret it, especially if you have a look at the lovely programs and projects he starred in with Mrs. Williams aka Barbara Hale.

Family business: On RKO grounds ca. 1944, Bill Williams met fellow RKO contract player and actress Barbara Hale. According to a Movie Stars Parade article from 1948, they were introduced by acting coach Lillian Albertson, although later articles suggest that they met on the set of West of Pecos which was released in 1945. Either way, Bill and Barbara got married in June 1946 and started working together on a frequent basis.

Together they had two daughters and one son, actor William Katt, born in 1947, 1951 and 1953, and several grandchildren. For the most part, they lived a rather quiet simple life in the San Fernando Valley area, enjoying forty-six years of matrimony until Bill Williams passed away on September 21, 1992 at the age of 77.

Bill and his wife starred side by side in several movies and TV projects, including West of Pecos, A Likely Story, The Clay Pigeon, Young Couples Only, Slim Carter, her TV hit show Perry Mason, Buckskin, Insight, The Giant Spider Invasion and Flight of the Grey Wolf.

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Date with the Angels

TV Classics: Date with the Angels

USA 1957 -58, 1 season, 33 episodes, 20-25 minutes each, ABC, black & white. Producer: Don Fedderson, Presented by the Plymouth dealers of America, Announcer: Tom Kennedy. Cast: Betty White, Bill Williams, Recurring guest stars: Maudie Prickett, Richard Reeves, Richard Deacon, Burt Mustin, Natalie Masters, Roy Engel, Nancy Kulp, George N. Neise, Jimmy Boyd et al.

Plot summary: Vicki and Gus Angel’s first year of marriage. She’s a housewife. He’s an insurance salesman. They both live in the L.A. area and master their lives with strange neighbors, funny friends, awkward family members and everyday challenges after having said “I do”.

Review: There are several reasons to start watching a show that’s been off the air since over fifty years. Provided that the show is available on DVD, VHS or online. Date with the Angels offers a very obvious reason if you consider the well-deserved relaunch of Betty White’s long small screen career. Although relaunch is a misleading term since she never really stopped working in all those years. After her most recent successes on Saturday Night Live, Hot in Cleveland and alongside contemporary Hollywood stars like Sandra Bullock on the silver screen, many viewers will still remember her as naive and iconic Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls. Or as a guest star on Boston Legal, That 70s Show or The Bold and the Beautiful. Betty White is America’s TV darling who was a regular on a variety of game shows such as Password or Match Game, who starred on Mama’s Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then in her own Betty White Show in the 70s. She received numerous Emmy awards for her work, including one for 1952s Life with Elizabeth. So Date with the Angels is a perfect addition for the average Betty White fan who wants to see more of her comical, sweet side and not so much of the raunchy image she’s been booked on as of late. It is fair to say that if you don’t like Betty White, you may probably not enjoy this show.

On another note however, Date with the Angels is a beautiful example for a 1950s comedy show. It’s not as big as I love Lucy of course, nor was it as successful or long-living. But it is mighty entertaining anyway. The setting is simple, but the wardrobe is beautiful and the writing features the two protagonists very well. What makes this show work is the combination of Betty White’s on-screen charm and Bill Williams’ entertaining way of playing with and adding to it. He is a wonderful Gus Angel and, like Vicki Angel, a little too good to be true. But that’s the fun of it! After all, Date with the Angels introduces the audience to a newly-wed couple. They are bound to be a little too in love, a little too cotton candy. But then, are they?!

Date with the Angels is pure entertainment which works better on some episodes and turns screwball on others. But again, the cast is who holds it together. Who makes it smooth and carries even the weakest episode. Bill Williams is such a delight to watch, and so are the supporting guest stars. And although Betty White introduces every episode and  she’s the featured star, her on-screen husband is equally memorable. After The Adventures of Kit Carson which went off the air in 1955, he gets to show off his romantic talents and his sense for timing. It’s a pity this show didn’t last longer than a season, especially for the sometimes underestimated work of  Mr. Williams.

Available on DVD, unfortunately incomplete. Date with the Angels example episode