James Garner

When I heard the news about James Garner’s death, I was unable to make an entry on Talking Classics. However, I was saddened by the news but glad to have come across a good selection of his work since.

He was one of those actors who always entertained me, on television and on the silver screen. I liked him on Maverick and The Rockford Files, loved seeing him in multiple Westerns or quarreling with Doris Day. I enjoyed him alongside Julie Andrews, guest starring on shows such as Chicago Hope or as a regular on 8 Simple Rules. As an old man, he made me smile in Space Cowboys and cry in The Notebook. In interviews, he always came across as a likable human being, as someone who did not take his career for granted or saw himself as the center of the universe. He was married once, for 58 years, an avid sports fan and a veteran of the Korean War. He worked several jobs before he started acting at the age of 25 without formal training but a lot of life experience instead. For his natural talent, he was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination, three Golden Globes and two Emmy awards.

On July 19, James Garner died at the age of 86 in his home in Los Angeles. He will long be remembered for his genuine career as well as his support for the University of Oklahoma – and, thanks to the internet, for the smart and funny things he had to say about it.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show

TV classics: The Dick Van Dyke Show

USA 1961-66, five seasons, 158 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Matthews, Richard Deacon.

Plot summary: Rob is the writer of a successful TV show. At home, he is the loving husband of Laura and their son Ritchie. Together, they master the adventures and challenges of everyday life with warm hearts and a healthy sense of humor.

The-Dick-Van-Dyke-ShowReview: In 1960, Carl Reiner created a TV show based on his experiences as a writer in Hollywood. Called Head of the Family, the show featured Reiner himself in the leading role as Rob Petrie and Mr. and Mrs. North alumn Barbara Britton as his television wife. Despite the lovely casting choice for Mrs. Petrie, the show failed to meet the necessary enthusiasm to be picked up for a complete season and found its way back to Carl Reiner’s writing desk. Re-imagined and re-cast with Dick van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, the show made a comeback one year later. Named after the new leading man, The Dick Van Dyke Show found a home on CBS for its first season and was renewed for four more due to Procter & Gamble’s commercial influence on the network.

Rewarded with 15 Emmy Awards (out of 25 nominations), the show offered a look behind the scenes of a fictional variety program, The Alan Brady Show, as well as a glimpse into the Petrie household. Although using the quirks of Hollywood as a setting was nothing new by 1961, The Dick Van Dyke Show managed to find a balance between the ballyhoo of entertainment and the everyday chaos of family life. Blessed with the comedic talents of the two leading actors as well as their natural chemistry, the show was lighthearted, smart and funny. Shaped in quality and style by writer/creator Carl Reiner (who also appeared as fictional TV star Alan Brady), the show remained top notch from beginning to end and is still popular in reruns today. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, the entire series can also be revisited by old fans and new ones alike – a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who appreciates classy comedy and a wholesome but quirky style.

Remember the show or need a reminder? Watch the pilot here.

Hazel

TV classics: Hazel

USA 1961-66, five seasons, 154 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC and CBS, black & white and color. Based on a comic strip by Ted Key. Cast: Shirley Booth, Don DeFore, Whitney Blake, Bobby Buntrock, Maudie Prickett, Ray Fulmer, Lynn Borden, Julia Benjamin.

Plot summary: In the Baxter home, Hazel takes the reins over her boss, his darling wife and their precious offspring. But who would mind with her warmth, street smarts and delicious cooking? After all, Hazel is the kind of gem any family would love to call their own.

HazelaReview: Hazel Burke is the kind of woman families dream of: she’s caring, funny and a true original. Her food is the best in the neighborhood and her attitude ranging from cheerful to saucy, her opinion mostly unasked for but always spot on.

For five years, Shirley Booth played Hazel and bewitched the fictional Baxter family as much as her audience, first on NBC and finally on CBS. In 154 episodes, Hazel looked after little Harold (Bobby Buntrock) and his parents Missy (Whitney Blake) and Mr. B (Don DeFore). Based on a comic strip by Ted Key, the show was created as a comedy program and primarily sponsored by the Ford Motor Company (later co-sponsored by Bristol-Myers). An instant hit on NBC, the show was nominated for four Emmys and one Golden Globe, including two consecutive awards for lead actress Shirley Booth. Shot in color for the majority of its run, Hazel was moved to CBS in 1965, introducing new cast members as well as Procter & Gamble and Philip Morris as new sponsors. Despite respectable ratings, the show was not renewed for a sixth season but was frequently rerun in the 1970s through 2000s.

Available on DVD, the show is still as fresh and funny as it used to be when it first aired on Thursday nights at 9:30 pm. With its sweet storylines, Hazel is the perfect gem for anyone who enjoys a mix of tender comedy and innocent family entertainment. As one of those shows circling around a female lead, Hazel has had a lasting effect on generations of children who longed to have a live-in maid whose tongue whipped up sassy remarks as fast as her hands whipped up culinary treats.

Want a taste of Hazel, watch a sample episode here on Youtube.

Mr. Adams and Eve

TV classics: Mr. Adams and Eve

USA 1957-58, two seasons, 66 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Created by: Collier Young. Cast: Howard Duff and Ida Lupino.

Plot summary: Howard Adams and Eve Drake are a married couple whose life is a little more extravagant than that of the Joneses.

mradamseve-09Review: Howard and Eve are a couple of married actors. Living in Beverly Hills, they lead rather extravagant lives dominated by the quirks and corollaries of their profession. While Eve comes from a movie family background, Howard’s roots are down-to-earth and all-American. Their opposites make for an interesting mix, leading to funny moments, especially when their mothers finally meet.

Shedding light on the private lives of Hollywood actors, Mr Adams and Eve used a lot of typical situations to entertain their audience: script issues, producer problems or agent troubles to just name a few. Actor-director Ida Lupino starred as Eve Drake with her real life husband Howard Duff, a performance that earned her two Emmy Award nominations but didn’t suffice to revive the show for a third consecutive season. Created by Lupino’s second spouse, Collier Young, the show was on the air for sixty-six episodes and welcomed guest stars such as Lee Patrick (as Eve’s colorful mother), Dick Powell, David Niven, Ed Sullivan and Joan Fontaine (who, at the time, was married to the show’s creator and executive producer). Designed as a comedy, Mr. Adams and Eve offered light entertainment about the entertainment industry itself – unfortunately a concept that has rarely found an audience big enough to take a lasting interest.

Today, few episodes of the show have survived and are scarcely available for purchase. For those of you who share my interest in classic television and the entertainment business, an untitled sample episode is currently available on Youtube. A real treat for anyone who likes to laugh the way they used to back in 1957.

Hogan’s Heroes

TV classics: Hogan’s Heroes

USA 1965-71, six seasons, 168 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, color. Cast: Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer, John Banner, Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, Ivan Dixon, Larry Hovis and Kenneth Washington.

Plot summary: At Stalag 13, the prisoners of war are not exactly what they seem to be.

Review: Unlike most TV shows, Hogan’s Heroes is hilarious to some and controversial to others, its overall reception influenced by contemporary criticism. Recognized by Hollywood through several Emmy nominations in the 60s, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series, the show was also named one of the worst TV programs of all time by TV Guide in 2002. As always, it is a matter of perception and depends on your sensitivities towards Nazi prison camps and WWII in general. It is safe to say, however, that the show was not inappropriate. After all, Hogan’s Heroes clearly caricatured Nazis and presented all POWs (prisoners of war) as impeccable heroes. Led by a dashing Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane), the imprisoned (Western) Allies used Stalag 13 as their espionage home base and took every chance to strike against their German enemies. Armed with intellect and a sharp sense of humor, Hogan and his men always prevailed against camp supervisor Colonel Klink, played by German born Werner Klemperer. Like his colleagues John Banner (who portrayed Hauptfeldwebel Schultz) and Robert Clary (aka Free French Air Force Corporal LeBeau), the actor was a European Jew who had escaped the Nazis. The fact that neither one of them had trouble with the unreal setting of Stalag 13 and the silly storylines should placate any critic who feels uncomfortable making fun of war imprisonment.

Available on DVD. Season 4 sample episode, Man in a Box.

McMillan & Wife

TV classics: McMillan & Wife

USA 1971-77, six seasons, 40 episodes, approximately 90-120 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Rock Hudson, Susan Saint James, John Schuck, Nancy Walker, Martha Raye et al.

Plot summary: Police commissioner Stewart McMillan and his young wife Sally solve murders they didn’t plan to stumble into.

Review: Originally an NBC Mystery Movie, McMillan & Wife premiered on September 17, 1971 as a so-called wheel series, sharing its time slot with Columbo and McCloud. Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, the show presented a married couple of sleuths and thus continued a tradition Hollywood had started with Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man movies in the 1930s and 40s. Entertaining and lighthearted, the series benefited from the charm and charisma of its two main leads, as well as their supporting stars Nancy Walker and John Schuck. Nominated for several Emmys and Golden Globes, the ladies of show left a lasting impression on their audience, critics and peers, while Rock Hudson created a character who was every bit as handsome and congenial as his most successful silver screen alter egos.

Scheduled for release as a complete boxset on December 4, 2012, McMillan & Wife is a treat for anyone who grew up loving mysteries that were light rather than gruesome. Blessed with popular guest stars of its time, including Tom Bosley, Linda Evans, Barbara Feldon, Roddy McDowall, Donna Mills, Stefanie Powers and David Soul, the show continues to be diverting and funny – a good example of a decade that shaped a new generation of mystery dramas, as well as a new dynamic between men and women which led to other successful shows such as Hart to Hart or Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

The Golden Girls

TV classics: The Golden Girls

USA 1985-92, seven seasons, 180 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty

Plot summary: It can be fun pushing towards retirement, if you share a house with friends and know where to get Miami’s best cheesecake to get over your troubles with family and men.

Review: Cynthia Fee sings Thank You For Being a Friend and the pictures introduce you to a show about friendship, pun and laughter. Bea Arthur is credited first, then Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty. As Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia, they share a house in Miami, three widows and a divorcée. Dorothy (Bea Arthur) is a teacher whose sarcasm matches her Ma’s (Estelle Getty) sharp tongue when Rose (Betty White) shares her small town wisdom and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) brags about her nightly escapades with men. They butt heads at times, are jealous of each other and sometimes snarky – all in all, however, they are good friends and there is nothing a piece of cheesecake couldn’t mend.

Premiering on September 14, 1985 on NBC, The Golden Girls were an instant hit on television, securing an audience from and beyond the Greatest Generation. With three small screen veterans as leading ladies, the show managed to build up on their previous fame without typecasting them. While Bea Arthur’s character showed certain parallels to Maude, Vivian Harmon and Sue Ann Nivens did not make a reappearance. Although originally auditioning for Blanche Devereaux, Betty White ended up playing naive Rose Nylund from St. Olaf, Minnesota, while Rue McClanahan got to show her playful side as a man-hungry Southern Belle. Blessed with fantastic scripts right from the start and Estelle Getty as TV’s new discovery, the show had a successful run of seven years and addressed many previously untouched topics.

Following Bea Arthur’s departure in the show’s popular finale in 1992, The Golden Girls lived on for another season at The Golden Palace and graced Nurses, as well as Empty Nest (both also created by Susan Harris) with occasional guest appearances. Twenty years after going off the air, The Golden Girls are still dearly remembered by a worldwide audience. Released on DVD and available as individual seasons or a complete boxset, the show still attracts fans across the generations by walking the fine line of entertainment and quality. Rewarded with sixty-five Emmy nominations, the writing and cast was top notch then and remains funny today. In times of reality TV and anything goes, the show is still refreshing and, like Betty White’s popularity, never seems to get old.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show

TV classics: The Barbara Stanwyck Show

USA 1960-61, 1 season,  36 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Presented by Barbara Stanwyck, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Guest stars: Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotton, Peter Falk, Dennis Hopper, Julie London, Jack Nicholson, Lloyd Nolan, Marion Ross, Stephen Talbot  and many others

Plot summary: As a classic anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show featured different genres and actors each week, often including the hostess herself.

Review: As one of Golden Hollywood’s female stars, Barbara Stanwyck followed a popular trend of starring in her own TV show when movie offers became scarce due to her advancing age in the early 1960s. A typical anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show presented different genres each week with a new cast, including the popular actress herself. Usually wrapping the first act in sixty seconds, the storylines ranged from funny to dramatic, allowing Ms. Stanwyck to show variety and depth. Although rewarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress in a Series in 1961, the show, unfortunately, did not last longer than one season due to its moderate ratings. It wasn’t until The Big Valley four years later that led to a more lasting success for her on the small screen. With another Emmy win and two more nominations in the 60s, as well as her renewed success with The Torn Birds two decades later, Barbara Stanwyck remains one of Hollywood’s most successful stars whose work is now available on DVD.

Although only selected episodes have been released so far, The Barbara Stanwyck Show Volumes 1 and 2 are a worthy investment for anyone who appreciates the actress and her genuine style. Always classy, poised and beautiful, Ms. Stanwyck breathes life into a series that didn’t live enough to reach its full potential. It is the perfect treat for fans of classic Hollywood, no matter how how young or old, and a show you may find yourself coming back to over and over again.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show sample episode

And Baby Makes Three

Talkie of the Week: And Baby Makes Three

USA 1949, 84 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Henry Levin, Written by Lou Breslow and Joseph Hoffman. Cast: Robert Young, Barbara Hale, Robert Hutton, Janis Carter, Billie Burke, Nicholas Joy, Lloyd Corrigan, Howland Chamberlain, Melville Cooper

Plot summary: Vern and Jackie are recently divorced and not exactly on speaking terms until Jackie wants to get married again and learns that she is pregnant with Vern’s baby.

Review: Reuniting Barbara Hale and Robert Young in yet another romantic comedy after their decent success with Lady Luck at RKO in 1947, Columbia Pictures presented And Baby Makes Three on December 2, 1949 to movie theaters across the country. Diverting and hilarious in best screwball tradition, the film told the story of Jackie and Verne, two recent divorcées who are brought back together on Jackie’s wedding day. Engaged to Herbie Fletcher, a man of considerable wealth, she is walking down the aisle as his bride when she suddenly swoons and has to lie down to get examined by her uncle, Dr. Bill Parnell. Overwhelming her with the news of being pregnant with her ex-husband’s child, Jackie is forced to deal with an excited Verne, a dumbfounded Herbie and his unamused family. As the story progresses, Jackie and Verne find it easy to fall back into their old patterns and fight, laugh and love as much as they used to before they ended their marriage.

Using well-proven twists and turns, And Baby Makes Three managed to tell a silly story in a fast-paced, amusing way. Blessed with the talents of two charming leads, the film benefited from the chemistry between Barbara Hale and Robert Young, as well as from the often witty dialog. Although predictable like most other written romances, the movie is a delightful eighty-four minutes of good-natured drama, absurdity and laughter. It may not have reached other top notch comedies of its time in quality, but And Baby Makes Three continues to be one of those films you may all too easily fall in love with and it is unfortunate that it hasn’t yet been released on DVD*. I am hopeful, however, that the film will get a second chance – after all, “Barb” Hale and “Bob” Young worked so well together as a team, in Lady Luck (1946), And Baby Makes Three (1949), on Marcus Welby M.D. (1974) or at the Emmy’s in 1959 when Robert Young presented the award for Best Actress to his dear colleague Barbara Hale.

And Baby Makes Three theatrical trailer

*Edit: The film will be released on DVD on September 4, 2012.

Murder, She Wrote

TV classics: Murder, She Wrote

USA 1984-96, 264 episodes, 12 seasons, 45 minutes each, CBS. Created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, Producer: Angela Lansbury, Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, David Moessinger, Music by John Addison. Cast: Angela Lansbury, William Windom, Tom Bosley, Ron Masak, Guest Stars: Julie Adams, June Allyson, Barbara Babcock, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Len Cariou, George Clooney, James Coburn, Courtney Cox, Marcia Cross, Mike Farrell, Michael Horton, Kim Hunter, Shirley Jones, Brian Keith, Dorothy Lamour, Martin Landau, Keith Michell, Kate Mulgrew, Leslie Nielsen, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Paul, John Rhys-Davies, Wayne Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jean Simmons, David Ogden Stiers, Loretta Swit et al.

Plot summary: JB Fletcher is a retired English teacher gone bestselling author who writes mysteries for a living and solves real murders after hours.

Review: Already looking back on a renowned career in Hollywood and on the Broadway stage, Angela Lansbury became a household name when she entered America’s living rooms in the fall of 1984. As former English teacher gone mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, she won the hearts of audiences worldwide, solving crimes on paper and in person while sometimes butting heads with the police outside of her hometown Cabot Cove in Maine. Inquisitive by nature, Mrs. F found it hard to resist investigating the crimes she stumbled into, often bringing her own life in danger when she got too close to the truth.

Supported by some recurring characters, Jessica worked with her hometown sheriffs, Doctor Hazlitt, Scotland Yard and an agent from MI6. She solved murders on vacation and on book tours, found crimes that hit close to home but never got gritty. Her way of investigating was suspenseful yet family friendly. Murder, She Wrote was not CSI or Law & Order_ SVU.  The show relied on strong performances and a whodunit story rather than violence and exaggerated action. JB Fletcher was a widow and retired teacher, she didn’t carry a gun or used science jargon. She used her eyes and ears to observe and connect the dots – much like Miss Marple had, solving crimes a different way.

Always savvy, warm and assertive, Jessica Fletcher was a respected member of her community and extended family, always eager to expose the truth behind the crimes she got involved with. Angela Lansbury did a fine job creating one of TV’s most beloved characters, a part that put four Golden Globes on her resumé and a record of twelve consecutive Emmy nominations.

Canceled due to time slot changes in 1996, Murder, She Wrote has remained a popular program in reruns and on DVD. Living on in a franchise that includes mystery novels, games and four TV movies, JB Fletcher is still a beloved member of many households around the world and continues to entertain her fans both young and old.

Murder, She Wrote opening theme