Goody-bye, Polly Bergen, and thanks for the laughs!

Polly Bergen has died. One of my favorite funny ladies. And a wonderful singer, too.

Here are some of my favorite moments with her: film clips, TV appearances and recordings. In memory of a grand dame, always outspoken, genuine and entertaining.

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Singing Along II

As promised, here’s part II of my musical post. On this beautiful, sun-kissed weekend what else matters but some fresh air, a good smoothie and some swell tunes?! So here we go, lean back. This is Radio Talking Classics for you with a selection of classic songs from Hollywood, Broadway and beyond.

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The Love Boat

TV classics

USA 1977-87, nine seasons, four specials, 249 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Produced by Aaron Selling, Douglas S. Cramer. Cast: Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange, Lauren Tewes, Jill Whelan, Ted McGinley, Pat Klous. Guest stars: June Allyson, The Andrew Sisters, Eve Arden, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Amanda Blake, Tom Bosley, Raymond Burr, Sid Caesar, Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse, Olivia de Havilland, Patty Duke, Joan Fontaine, Greer Garson,  Andy Griffith, Katherine Helmond, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Werner Klemperer, Jack Klugman, Dorothy Lamour, Janet Leigh, Allen Ludden, Rue McClanahan, Leslie Nielsen, Lilli Palmer, Donna Reed, Della Reese, Debbie Reynolds, Marion Ross, Eva Marie Saint, Jaclyn Smith, Jean Stapleton, Gale Storm, Sada Thompson, Lana Turner, Gloria Vanderbilt, Betty White, William Windom, Shelly Winters, Jane Wyatt, Jane Wyman and many others

Plot summary: On the Pacific Princess, love and laughter are all-inclusive.

Love Boat crewReview: In 1976, three TV movies launched the career of a special ship, the Pacific Princess. Based on a non-fiction book by cruise director Jeraldine Saunders, the so-called Love Boat traveled the world with Captain Stubing and his crew. Each week, they were accompanied by a wide array of guests stars ranging from Hollywood legends to contemporary starlets. Split into three different stories, every episode focused on love, comedy and drama. Written by three sets of writers, the weekly plots rarely crossed over but instead made The Love Boat crew the pivotal element that held them all together.

The Captain (Gavin MacLeod), Doc (Bernie Kopell) and bartender Isaac Washington (Ted Lange) were the longest serving members of an ensemble that appeared to be tight on camera and off. They were supported by Gopher (Fred Grandy) and Julie McCoy, played by Lauren Tewes, a young actress who successfully earned her stripes on TV in the first seven seasons. Eventually, they were joined by Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the Captain’s daughter, and Pat Klous as Jody McCoy, Julie’s sister and replacement for the last two seasons. In 1979, Charlie’s Angels checked in on the Pacific Princess to solve a case and simultaneously introduce Shelley Hack as the latest angelic addition. Collaborations like that were rare but boosted ratings for Aaron Spelling’s other projects, Fantasy Island following suit in 1980.

Popular around the world during its ten year run, The Love Boat offered an escape from the grim realities of politically callous times. At the height of the Cold War, the program was bubbly, glamorous and diverting. A perfect vehicle for old stars and new ones alike and thus an evening favorite for boomers and their parents. Shown in reruns for many years, the first two seasons were finally made available on DVD in 2008. A great treat for anyone who has fond memories of flares, weekly cameos and the famous theme song performed by Jack Jones (as well as by Dionne Warwick in 1987).

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.

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

Perry Mason TV Movies

TV classics: Perry Mason TV movies

USA 1985-95, 30 episodes, 90 minutes each, NBC. Based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels and the Perry Mason TV series. Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Katt, William R. Moses, Recurring Guest Stars: James McEachin, David Odgen Stiers, Guest Stars: Barbara Babcock, Scott Baio, Polly Bergen, Gene Barry, Angela Bassett, Shari Belafonte, Tom Bosley, Diahann Carroll, Dixie Carter, Morgan Fairchild, Genie Francis, Robert Guillaume, Hal Holbrook, Brian Keith, Diana Muldaur, Patrick O’Neil, Regis Philbin, Davis Rasche, Debbie Reynolds, John Rhys-Davies, Jerry Orbach, Anne Schedeen, Dwight Schultz, Jean Simmons, Paul Sorvino, John Spencer, Susan Sullivan, Holland Taylor, Alan Thicke, Vanessa Williams et al.

Plot summary: Perry Mason returns to Los Angeles to defend his former secretary Della Street and opens up shop with her again after he gets her acquitted.

Review: It was nineteen years after the last episode of the original Perry Mason series that the famous lawyer gone judge reunited with his loyal secretary in Perry Mason Returns: facing murder charges in L.A., Della Street calls her former boss who steps down from his duties in San Francisco to rush to her aid like he used to when a damsel was in distress back in the days. Fitting right back in with Della who easily switches into her secretarial mode during her own trial, Perry immerses himself in saving his friend and contacts Paul Drake Jr. to get on the case. Skeptical about Junior’s attitude at first, he hires young Paul upon his client’s request and asks him to investigate the murder victim and his family. Like in the classic show,  justice prevails in the end and Perry wins his case with his usual theatrics and courtroom charm.

Although Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale were the only members of the original Mason cast who were able to reprise their iconic parts in 1985, the fate of their characters’ friends remained open. Paul Drake Jr.’s existence was never explained in the nine episodes William Katt played the charismatic detective, but it was clear that he had grown up in the presence of Perry and Della. Profiting from his natural chemistry with his mother Barbara Hale, Billy Katt added a spark of energy to the rejuvenated investigation scenes, reminding fans of Bill Hopper’s original Paul Drake whenever he started flirting with the ladies. In 1989, he was replaced by William R. Moses as Ken Malansky, a young lawyer Perry defends and later takes in as his associate. Ray Burr and his longtime leading lady picked up where they had left off at the end of the Perry Mason series in 1966. As experienced performers in their golden sixties, they returned to their congenial dynamic and used their sparkle to remind the audience of the lingering attraction between Perry Mason and Della Street. Although never openly expressed on the original show but always sizzling in the air, the famous lawyer finally got to kiss his loyal secretary in 1993, confirming the romance Erle Stanley Gardner himself had established in his early Mason novels.

In general, the TV movies gave Della and Perry more time for having a private life, as well as a past. Although still underused as faithful Miss Street, Barbara Hale got more screen time in most of the ninety minute episodes which were produced on an irregular basis. Moving production to Denver to cut down the costs, Perry Mason eventually moved his practice to the Colorado capital, too, which didn’t stop him from traveling to New York or Paris, something he had rarely done on the original show.

Successful from the first reunion movie on, the re-imagined franchise lasted another ten years and welcomed a variety of top notch guest stars who were eager to be on the stand for Perry Mason. Some of these stars were former colleagues of Raymond Burr or Barbara Hale, others merely impressed by the TV lawyer and his suspenseful cases. There were two actors who stepped into Perry Mason’s shoes without impersonating him after Raymond Burr’s untimely death in 1993 – Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook. Both played lawyers who replaced Perry on a case while he was busy otherwise in the Perry Mason Mysteries. Perry Mason himself never died and was ultimately entangled in court in Europe where Della joined him when Barbara Hale bowed out of her contract for personal reasons in 1994. The series ended with her departure and the movies are still frequently shown on different channels. Perry Mason Returns was published on the 50th Anniversary of Perry Mason DVD in 2008 and with the original show still being released in its entirety, fan hopes are high that the complete movie collection will also be available eventually.

The Perry Mason TV movies:

  • Perry Mason Returns (1985)
  • The Case of the Notorious Nun (1986)
  • The Case of the Shooting Star (1986)
  • The Case of the Lost Love (1987)
  • The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987)
  • The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987)
  • The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987)
  • The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988)
  • The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988)
  • The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)
  • The Case of the Musical Murder (1989)
  • The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989)
  • The Case of the Poisoned Pen (1990)
  • The Case of the Desperate Deception (1990)
  • The Case of the Silenced Singer (1990)
  • The Case of the Defiant Daughter (1990)
  • The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)
  • The Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)
  • The Case of the Glass Coffin (1991)
  • The Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991)
  • The Case of the Fatal Framing (1992)
  • The Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)
  • The Case of the Heartbroken Bride (1992)
  • The Case of the Skin-Deep Scandal (1993)
  • The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host (1993)
  • The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993)

The Perry Mason Mysteries:

  • The Case of the Wicked Wives (1993), starring Paul Sorvino as Anthony Caruso
  • The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle (1994), starring Hal Holbrook as “Wild Bill” McKenzie
  • The Case of the Grimacing Governor (1994), again starring Holbrook in the same role
  • The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995), again starring Holbrook

Password

TV classics: Password

USA 1961-67, 6 seasons,  1555 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Hosted by Allen Ludden, Celebrity guests: Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Polly Bergen, Arlene Francis, Gloria Stewart, James Stewart, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White et al.

Game summary: Two teams, consisting of a celebrity guest and a regular player, are trying to give their partners clues about a word they are supposed to guess.

Review: Password was a daily game show hosted by Allen Ludden, previously known for his work on G.E. College Bowl. Originally airing on CBS from 1961 to 67, the show returned to ABC in 1971 where it lasted another four seasons. Re-imagined over and over again, Password was presented in resembling formats on different channels, including a celebrity-only version where both teams played for the benefit of their chosen charities.

As a pivotal element of its concept, Password welcomed a lot of Hollywood’s big name stars, some of whom even appeared with their spouses or children. Always aiming at the lighthearted entertainment, Allen Ludden encouraged his contestants to bring their sense of humor to the show, sharing more than just one good laugh with the audience. Betty White was one of the early guest stars who made it a habit to reappear on the show on a regular basis. It may be safe to assume however that she did not only like to play the game since she got married to Password host Allen Ludden in 1963, a vow that lasted until his untimely death in 1981.

It’s charming trivia like that that adds to the fun of watching the original black and white Password episodes today – for Betty White enthusiasts, Allen Ludden fans and anyone who likes to play word games.

Selected clips and episodes available on DVD and on Youtube.