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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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.

Hart to Hart

TV classics: Hart to Hart

USA 1979-84, 110 episodes, 5 seasons, 47 minutes each, ABC. Created by Sidney Sheldon, Producer: Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, Music by Mark Snow. Cast: Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Lionel Stander

Plot summary: As hobby sleuths, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigate mayhem and murder with a little help from butler Max and their dog Freeway.

Review: Loosely based on The Thin Man narrative, Hart to Hart entered American living rooms in the summer of 1979. Starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a wedded team of hobby sleuths, the show combined murder, mayhem and comedic situations with guest stars such as June Allyson, Diana Muldaur and Roddy McDowell. Supported by Hollywood veteran Lionel Stander as Max, Jennifer and Jonathan Hart investigated crimes in their hometown Los Angeles, as well as on trips around the world. Always combining duty with pleasure, Hart to Hart was a mystery show with the right amount of romance and action to entertain a family audience.

Originally written for Cary Grant, Robert Wagner was cast as a younger version of the charming leading man whose mansion was located in Mandeville Canyon. His on-screen chemistry with Stefanie Powers, once a guest star on his previous TV hit It Takes a Thief, was the main attraction of a show that never made it to the top of ratings. Warmly embraced by world audiences for the couple’s flirtations and banter however, the show had a decent five year run. With an unfortunate decline in script quality, the show was ended in 1984 and successfully rerun for many years until the formula was revisited in the early 1990s. Reprising their fan favorite parts in eight Hart to Hart TV movies, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers reunited with their equally popular colleague Lionel Stander who remained a set imperative until his death in 1994.

Still dearly remembered by audiences around the globe, the Hart to Hart TV movies are now available on DVD while fans are still waiting for seasons three through five of the original show to be officially released. With their felicitous homage to Nick and Nora Charles with a dash of Mr. and Mrs. North, it would be a shame to not see the Harts on DVD as a complete set. Self-made millionaire Jonathan and his journalist wife Jennifer deserve to be introduced to young viewers who may not watch as much TV as generations before them but rather stick to DVDs and online streaming. In 2012, the upbeat tone of the series and the romantic foundation of each episode are still as entertaining and enchanting as in the 1980s when the show premiered on ABC. It is the perfect show for any spring season – hearty, suspenseful and bewitching. You’ll never forget it, especially due to the charm and quality of the performances of the three main actors and an adorable Lowchen dog called Freeway.

Hart to Hart intro

Autobiographies

I’m a big fan of biographies, especially autobiographies – the kind that explores the essence of a person’s life (personal as well as professional) with a deep sense of self-reflection, irony and/or playful nostalgia.

Today, I am going to recommend some of my personal favorites, in alphabetical order because I couldn’t possibly decide which one I like best for they are all so intricately different in content and style (not that that should be surprising, after all, each book describes very diverse and unique personalities and their genuine careers and lives).

  • Allyson, June – “June Allyson”, 1983
  • Andrews, Julie – “Home – A Memoir of my Early Years”, 2008
  • Bacall, Lauren – By Myself and Then Some”, 2005
  • Ball, Lucille – “Love, Lucy”, 1996
  • Burnett, Carol – “One More Time: A Memoir”, 2003
  • Burnett, Carol – “This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection”, 2010
  • Davis, Bette – “The Lonely Life: An Autobiography”, 1962
  • Davis, Bette – “This’n That”, 1987
  • Hepburn, Katherine – “The Making of the African Queen OR How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Houston and Almost Lost My Mind”, 1987
  • Hepburn, Katherine – “Me: Stories of My Life”, 1991
  • Loy, Myrna – “Being & Becoming”, 1988
  • MacLaine, Shirley – “Dance While You Can”, 1991
  • McClanahan, Rue – “My First Five Husbands… And the Ones That Got Away”, 2007
  • O’Hara, Maureen – “‘Tis Herself: An Autobiography”, 2005
  • Palmer, Lilli – “Change Lobsters and Dance”, 1974
  • Powers, Stefanie – “One From the Hart”, 2010
  • Redgrave, Vanessa – “An Autobiography”, 1991
  • Taylor, Elizabeth – “Elizabeth Taylor”, 1964
  • White, Betty – “In Person”, 1987
  • White, Betty – “Here We Go Again”, 1995

I do realize that I failed to list autobiographies by men, but most of my favorites never wrote about their lives: Raymond Burr, Bill Williams, Robert Young, Spencer Tracey, Larry Parks or Cary Grant. Thus my negligence and probable ignorance. I do have Robert J. Wagner’s book “Pieces of My Heart: A Life” from 2008 and Rock Hudson’s “His Story” from 2007 on my reading list though – if that placates those of you who wonder if I, as a woman, may be a little biased towards female life stories and voices.