Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hammer Horror on Turner Classic Movies in October

Every October means one thing on Turner Classic Movies: lots and lots of horror movies! Naturally many of those horror movies shown during the month on TCM will have been produced by Hammer Films. This October Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month, so there will certainly be several Hammer horror movies airing next month. In fact, the only oversight I can see is that once more TCM is not showing The Brides of Dracula (1960), which is the best film Peter Cushing ever made for Hammer in my humble opinion. Here are the Hammer horrors airing on TCM this October. All times are Central.

Monday, October 19
7:00 PM The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
8:30 PM Dracula (1958, AKA Horror of Dracula)
10:15 PM The Mummy (1959)

Tuesday, October 20
12:00 Midnight The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
1:45 AM Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
3:30 AM Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970)

Tuesday October 27
2:15 AM The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
3:45 AM Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Friday, October 30
10:00 PM The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Since Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month, TCM will be showing Hammer movies other than their horror movies. I highly recommend Cash on Demand (1961), a crime thriller that is also one of the best films Mr. Cushing ever made for Hammer, airs on October 5 at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern. On October 12 TCM is showing  Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern, and She at 11:30 AM/12:30 Midnight.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

I wanted to thank all of the participants for a successful 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon. This year's entries covered films from the Twenties to the Naughts, with a good number of genres covered as well. So far it has been a hectic week for me, but in the next few days I will be commenting on your various posts!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sink the Bismarck! (1960)

 (This post is part of the 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

If there was a Golden Age of World War II movies, it would have to be the period from the Fifties to about the mid-Seventies. It was during this period that some of the all-time classic World War II films were released. It should come as no surprise that many of these films were British productions or, at least, co-productions made by the United Kingdom with other countries. Among the classic World War II movies produced or co-produced by Britain were The Dam Busters (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Sink the Bismarck! (1960) numbers among the best of the British World War II movies made during this period, although today it is largely forgotten by many.

Sink the Bismarck! was based on the 1959 novel The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck  by C. S. Forester. The novel in turn was based on the real-life events behind the British Royal Navy's pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck. The novel had actually begun as a screen treatment that C. S. Forester had written for 20th Century Fox. Sink the Bismarck! then began life as a screen treatment before being turned into a novel before the novel was adapted for the screen.

The screenplay for Sink the Bismarck! was written by Edmund H. North, who had previously written such movies as Young Man with a Horn (1950) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Edmund H. Noth worked closely with C. S. Forester in adapting Mr. Forester's novel as a film. Sink the Bismarck! was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would go onto direct several more World War II movies as well as three James Bond movies. Edmund H. North and Lewis Gilbert decided that the movie should be made in the style of a documentary, with the action movie back and forth from an Admiralty war room to the battles at sea. To add even more realism, Edward R. Murrow recreated his broadcasts from World War II.

To add even more realism to the film, Sink the Bismarck! used actual World War II era ships. That they were able to do so was largely due to producer John Brabourne, who was Lord Mountbatten's son-in-law. Lord Mountbatten was then Chief of the Defence Staff, so Sink the Bismarck! had access to the Admiralty in a way that few movies would. The H.M.S. Belfast was used to portray the cruisers that were hunting the Bismarck, including the Dorsetshire, Norfolk, Sheffield, and Suffolk. The destroyers involved in the battle were portrayed using the HMS Cavalier. The H.M.S. Victorious briefly appeared as herself in one scene. Every scene involving aeroplanes launching from carriers were filmed using the HMS Centaur.  For any scenes showing the various ships' 15-inch guns, the HMS Belfast was used.

Of course, not every scene in the movie could be filmed using actual ships, necessitating the use of miniatures. The miniatures would have to be particularly realistic to be convincing, and so Howard Lydecker of the renowned special effects team the Lydecker Brothers was hired. With his brother Theodore Lydecker, Howard Lydecker has worked on various Republic productions for decades. He had been twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects, first for Women in War (1940) and then for Flying Tigers (1942). Special effects cinematographer L. B. Abbott shot the miniatures using a spherical lens so as to make the miniatures look larger and spread more apart.

Special attention was paid to historical accuracy in the making of Sink the Bismarck! and it is regarded as among the most historically accurate World War II movies ever made. That having been said, it did depart from history in some respects. The character of Captain Shephard (played by Kenneth More) was entirely fictional and was in no way meant to represent the real-life Director of Operations at the time, Captain R.A.B. Edwards. This was acknowledged in the film's epilogue. Similarly, the timeline of the hunt for the Bismarck was compressed so as to make for a tighter film. Other instances in which the film departs slightly from history is due to the fact that much of the information regarding the hunt for the Bismarck was still classified in the Fifties. It would not be until 1975, when much information was declassified, that much of the truth behind the hunt for the Bismarck was known. For instance, many of the hunches that Captain Shephard has in the movie were actually backed up by British intelligence.

Perhaps the biggest and most unfortunate historical inaccuracy in Sink the Bismarck! is its portrayal of German Admiral Günther Lütjens as a stereotypical, dyed-in-the-wool, fanatical Nazi. In truth Admiral Lütjens disagreed with Nazi policies. He condemned the crimes committed against Jews during Kristallnacht. When Adolph Hitler visited the Bismarck, he refused to give Hitler the Nazi salute, and instead gave him the traditional navel salute. While Sink the Bismarck! portrays Admiral Lütjens as believing the Bismarck was unsinkable, in reality Admiral Lütjens had serious doubts about the Bismarck's mission. Sink the Bismarck departs from history with regards to Admiral Lütjens's role in the battle between the Bismarck and the British ships the HMS Hood and the HMS Price of Wales. The movie depicts Admiral Lütjens as ordering the Bismark's captain, Ernst Lindemann, to open fire on the two ships. In reality, Admiral Lütjens not to engage the HMS Hood. Captain Lindemann disregarded Admiral Lütjens's orders and opened fire on the Hood anyway.

Ultimately, Sink the Bismarck! is very different from other World War II movies made in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, and not simply because it focuses on naval battles rather than battles on land. In focusing primarily on the events in an Admiralty war room, Sink the Bismarck! largely plays out as a military procedural in much the same way that The Naked City (1948) and He Walked By Night (1948) are police procedurals. It takes us within the war room so we can see step by step how the Bismarck was tracked and ultimately defeated. The suspense in the movie comes not from its action scenes, but instead from the battle of wits between the British Admiralty and the German Navy.

Sink the Bismarck! is one of the best World War I I movies ever made and really deserves to be better known than it is. While many films portray the military in the field, it is one of the very few that actually portrays what goes on behind the scenes in a war room. It is a suspenseful film, made all the more so by the film's realism. And while it departs from history a bit, it is still more historically accurate than most World War II movies.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The 50th Anniversary of The Patridge Family

It was 50 years ago yesterday, on September 25 1970, that The Partridge Family debuted on ABC. The show centred on a family, consisting of a widowed mother and her five children, who begin a successful music career. The Partridge Family proved successful, so much so that it produced hit records and a good deal of merchandise. It turned David Cassidy, who played oldest son Keith, into a teen idol. In addition to Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, the show also starred Susan Dey as oldest daughter Laurie Partridge, Danny Bonaduce as middle son Danny Partridge, Jeremy Gelbwaks and later Brian Forster as youngest son Chris Partridge, Susan Crough as youngest daughter Tracy Partridge, and Dave Madden as their manager, Reuben Kinkaid.

The Partridge Family was created by Bernard Slade, who had earlier created The Flying Nun and Love on a Rooftop. The show was inspired by The Cowsills, six siblings who became a successful singing group with such hits as "The Rain, the Park & Other Things" and "Indian Lake." From the beginning creator Bernard Slade and producer Bob Claver wanted Shirley Jones for the lead role of Shirley Partridge, the widow who becomes a singer in her children's band. From the Fifties into the Sixties, Shirley Jones had a successful film career, appearing in such notable movies as Oklahoma! (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), The Music Man (1962), and The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963). By the mid-Sixties she had turned to television. By the time of The Partridge Family she had already appeared in three pilots that had not been picked up by a network: For the Love of Mike, Dream Wife, and Out of the Blue. The previous year she had been offered the role of Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, but turned it down.

As Shirley Partridge's offspring, Bernard Slade and Bob Claver initially considered the Cowsill children themselves. There are at least two different reasons given that this did not take place. According to Messrs. Slade and Claver, the Cowsill children had no background in acting and were too old for the parts as scripted. According to members of the Cowsill family, their father insisted that their mother Barbara Cowsill be cast in the lead role of the mother. Bernard Slade and Bob Claver would refused, as they wanted Shirley Jones in the lead role.

Not only did The Partridge Family originally have a different title (Family Business), but its pilot also differed substantially from the show as it was broadcast. The original name of the lead character was not Shirley, but instead Connie. Rather that the fictional city of San Pueblo, California, in the pilot the Partridges live in Ohio. In the pilot Connie dated a man played by Shirley Jones's real-life husband, Jack Cassidy. 

Much like The Monkees before it, The Partridge Family featured musical sequences. While the music on The Monkees was usually featured in what the producers called "romps" comparable to the music promotional clips of the time and later music videos, the music on The Partridge Family was featured in performances at  various places or simply their garage.

The Partridge Family debuted on September 26 1970 and proved to be a hit. It was the top rated show on ABC on Friday for that season, a line up that included The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, That Girl, Love American Style, and This is Tom Jones. Like The Monkees before it, The Partridge Family also generated several hit records. Unlike The Monkees, only Shirley Jones and David Cassidy participated in recording singles and albums, and even then their participation was limited to providing vocals. The music on the Partridge Family's records was provided by the group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. Regardless, their first single, "I Think I Love You," hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several other hit singles, including "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted (no. 6 on the Hot 100)," "I'll Meet You Halfway (no. 9 on the Hot 100)," and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning (no. 13 on the Hot 100)." Their albums did well, with their debut album The Partridge Family Album going to no. 4 on the Billboard album chart, their second album Up to Date reaching no. 3 on the chart, and their third album Sound Magazine going to no. 9.

The success of The Partridge Family would see a short lived spinoff from the show. The final episode of the first season, "A Knight in Shining Armour," was a backdoor pilot for the show Getting Together. Just as The Partridge Family was inspired by The Cowsills, Getting Together  was based on real life songwriters and performers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who had written hits for The Monkees and other groups as well as having their own recording career. It starred Bobby Sherman as Bobby Conway and Wes Stern as Lionel Poindexter. Unfortunately, Getting Together aired opposite the smash hit All in the Family on CBS and ended after only 14 episodes.

The Partridge Family would see some changes in its second season. Jeremy Gelbwalks, who played youngest son Chris, was not happy on the show. For the second season he was replaced by Brian Forster. Another change was in the nature of the show's episodes. In the first season episodes often saw the Partridges on tour. With the second season episodes more often took place in their hometown.

The success of The Partridge Family would prove difficult on David Cassidy, who did not particularly like the fact that he had become a teen idol. To get away from his image as Keith Partridge, he appeared in a new photo taken by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz on the cover of a May 1972 issue of Rolling Stone. In the interview inside Rolling Stone Mr. Cassidey did much to distance himself form his teen idol image. David Cassidy also released his first solo albums while the show was still on the air, the first being Cherish in 1972. Earlier in 1971, he had a hit with the song "Cherish," which went to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The success of The Partridge Family did not last. The show ranked no. 16 for the year in its second season and no. 19 for the year in its third season. That having been said, by 1972 the Partridge Family albums no longer hit the top 20 of the Billboard album chart, and their last hit was a cover of Gene Pitney's "Looking Through the Eyes of Love," also in 1972. For the show's fourth season ABC moved The Partridge Family  to Saturday night, where its ratings collapsed. It was cancelled at the end of the season.

While The Partridge Family had been cancelled, the characters did not disappear from television screens. On September 7 1974 an animated spinoff, Patridge Family 2200 A.D., produced by Hanna-Barbera, debuted on CBS. The cartoon did not explain how the Partridges came to be living in 2200, nor did it explain why. The character of Reuben Kinkaid did not appear on the show. Added to the cast was a robot dog named Orbit, a Martian named Marion, and a Venusian named Veenie. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy did not reprise their roles on the show. Susan Dey provided the voice of Laurie for only two episodes before being replaced by Sherry Alberoni. Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough, and Brian Forster reprised their roles as Danny, Tracy, and Chris. Micky Dolenz, then as now best known for The Monkees, provided the voices of assorted characters on the show. Partridge Family 2200 A.D. only lasted one season before going into syndication as part of the package Fred Flintstone and Friends.

It was only three years after The Partridge Family had been cancelled that a reunion special aired on ABC on November 25 1977. Thanksgiving Reunion with The Partridge Family and My Three Sons was an odd special in that The Partridge Family and My Three Sons were in no way connected (in fact, they produced by entirely different companies). Danny Bonaduce, David Cassidy, Suzanne Crough, Susan Dey, and Shirley Jones all appeared on the show. In 1999 ABC aired a "behind the scenes" TV movie titled Come On Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story. Of the original cast, only Danny Bonaduce participated in the TV movie, serving as its narrator.

It was in 2004 that VH1 produced a  pilot of a reboot of The Partridge Family titled The New Partridge Family with Suzanne Sole as Shirley Partridge and Leland Grant as Keith Partridge. A new show failed to materialize. Today the pilot is most notable for featuring future star Emma Stone as Laurie Partridge. French Stewart of Third Rock from the Sun played Reuben Kinkaid.

The success of The Partridge Family continues to this day. The show had a respectable run in syndication and can still be seen on such streaming services as Crackle and Amazon Prime. Such songs produced for the show as "I Think I Love You" and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning" are still played to this day. For many younger Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, The Partridge Famiy remains one of the most memorable shows of the early Seventies.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

The Seventh Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon has arrived! The Rule, Britannia Blogathon is meant to celebrate classic, British films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (September 25) through Sunday (September 27).

Without further ado, here are this year's entries:

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Deadly Strangers (1975)

Silver Screenings: "The Misery of Getting What You Asked For"

Caftan Woman: I See a Dark Stranger (1946)

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "A Mystery in Paris: So Long at the Fair (1950)

Diary of a Movie Maniac: The Devils (1971 Uncut Version)

Liberal England: "Derailed by A Canterbury Tale"  

Dubsism: "Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 91: ffolkes

Wide Screen World: Black Narcissus

Crítica Retrô: "British Film Pioneers"
18 Cinema Lane: "Take 3: Nicholas Nickleby (2002)" 

Cinema Essentials: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

Poppity Talks Classic Film: "Celebrating Britain in Film with Alfred Hitchcock's The Manxman (1929)"

Taking Up Room: "We Can Take It" 

Moon in Gemini: Howard's End (1992)

 Lorna Dupree: "Film review: The Draughtsman's Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982)"

A Shroud of Thoughts: Sink the Bismarck! (1960) 

A Scunner Darkly: "A Mug's Game--The Stud (1978, Quentin Masters)"

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The TV Show The Odd Couple Turns 50

"On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence; that request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that some day he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?" (the first season opening narration of The Odd Couple)

It was fifty years ago today, on September 24 1970, that The Odd Couple debuted on ABC. The show would ultimately go onto be nominated for several Emmy Awards, wining three. It would also become one of the best remembered sitcoms of the Seventies, and continues to be seen in syndication and on streaming services.

The Odd Couple centred on commercial photographer Felix Unger (played by Tony Randall) and sportswriter Oscar Madison (played by Jack Klugman), who become roommates after Felix's wife kicks him out. In some ways the situation was a precarious one. Felix was almost obsessively neat and clean, while Oscar was a total slob. Felix was cultured, while Oscar was not. Despite this, the two men made the situation work and remained close friends.

The Odd Couple was based on Neil Simon's play of the same name, which premiered on Broadway on March 10 1965 with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix. The play would prove to be a success, and won Tony Awards for Best Actor (for Walter Matthau), Best Author  (for Neil Simon), Best Direction of a Play, and Best Scenic Design (for Oliver Smith). The play led to the 1968 film adaptation starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Jack Lemmon as Felix. Like the play, the movie proved to be a hit. Not only did it received positive reviews from critics, but it was the third highest grossing film at the box office for 1968.

The success of the movie version of The Odd Couple led producer Garry Marshall (who had produced the sitcom Hey, Landlord) and writer Jerry Belson (who had written for such TV shows as Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show) to bring The Odd Couple to the small screen. Although now Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are identified with the roles of Felix and Oscar more than any other actors, in the beginning various other actors were considered for the parts. Dean Martin (who then starred in his own variety show on NBC every Thursday night) and Art Carney (who had originated the role on Broadway) were considered for the role of Felix. Jack Kruschen, Martin Balsam, Jack Carter, and Mickey Rooney were all considered for the role of Oscar. That having been said, from the beginning Garry Marshall knew he wanted Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar. While it might seem unusual looking back, both actors were reluctant to do the show at first. That having been said, there should be little surprise that they would be. Tony Randall had a successful movie career that included Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), the Doris Day and Rock Hudson sex comedies, Boy's Night Out (1962), and many others. Jack Klugman also had a highly successful career. He had appeared in such movies as 12 Angry Men (1967), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), and Goodbye, Columbus (1962), as well as numerous guest appearances. Fortunately, both Tony Randall and Jack Klugman decided to appear in the show.

As bizarre as it might seem now, a major concern of ABC was that viewers would think Felix Unger and Oscar Madison were homosexuals living together. This is the reason for the show's opening narration, which makes it clear that Felix and Oscar are two divorced men. It is also the reason that the name of Felix's ex-wife was changed from Frances to Gloria, the feminine name Frances being pronounced the same as the masculine name Francis. ABC's fear that people would think Felix and Oscar were gay would lead Tony Randall and Jack Klugman to film scenes with homoerotic dialogue and send them to ABC as a prank about once a year.

In addition to Felix and Oscar, The Odd Couple included supporting characters, some of who were played by actors who would go onto even more success. Felix's ex-wife Gloria was played by Janis Hansen, while Oscar's ex-wife was played by Jack Klugman's real life wife Brett Somers. Al Molinaro, who would later play Al on Happy Days, Officer Murray Greshler, one of Felix and Oscar's regular poker buddies. Penny Marshall played Oscar's secretary Myrna Turner. Of course, Penny Marshall went onto success as Laverne on the hit sitcom Laverne & Shriley, as well as career as a director of feature films. Penny Marshall was producer Garry Marshall's sister, although he did not show her any favouritism on The Odd Couple (or Laverne & Shirley, for that matter). Felix and Oscar's poker buddies rounded out the cast, including Garry Walberg as Homer "Speed" Deegan,and Larry Gelman as Vincent "Vinnie" Barella. Eventually Felix and Oscar would have steady girlfriends. Oscar dated Dr. Nancy Cunningham (played by Joan Hotchkis). Felix's steady girlfriend was Miriam Welby (played by Elinor Donahue). Felix and Oscar's regular physician was Dr. Melnitz. A colleague of Oscar's girlfriend Nancy, he tended be a bit of a curmudgeon.

In addition to its regular cast, The Odd Couple frequently featured celebrity guest stars. Both sportscaster Howard Cosell and Roone Arledge of ABC Sports appeared on the show as themselves. Among the other celebrities who played themselves were Richard Dawson, Hugh Hefner, Deacon Jones, married couple Allen Ludden and Betty White, Bubba Smith, and David Steinberg. Other celebrities played various roles in individual episodes of The Odd Couple. Jean Simmons played the princess of the fictional country of Liechtenberg, who dates Oscar. Roy Clark played Willie Boggs, one of Oscar's old friends who loved playing practical jokes. Reta Shaw played a former Army Colonel who serves as Felix and Oscar's housekeeper, when Oscar is sick and Felix is preoccupied with other things. Albert Brooks played a photographer with whom Felix is acquainted. Marilyn Horne played a co-worker of Oscar who turns out to have a talent for Oscar.

The Odd Couple would see a few changes from its first to second season. The first season was shot using a single-camera and used the same set for the apartment as used in the 1968 film. Beginning with the second season, The Odd Couple was shot with multiple cameras in front of a live studio audience. In the show's first season, its on screen title was Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, even though Mr. Simon really did not have anything to do with the show aside from writing the play upon which it based. With the second season its on-screen title was simply The Odd Couple. Neil Simon would later appear in the episode "Two on the Aisle" as himself.

The Odd Couple received its share of critical acclaim upon its debut. It was also nominated for several Emmy Awards throughout its run. In its first season it won the Oscar for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series for Jack Klugman. In its third season Jack Klugman won for The Odd Couple a second time. In its fifth season Tony Randall took home the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series.

While The Odd Couple received a good deal of acclaim, it was never a hit in the ratings. During no season did it finish in the top thirty shows for the season. Fortunately, it did well enough in the ratings to be renewed each year. It also developed a very loyal fan base. The show ultimately lasted five seasons. While The Odd Couple had only received middling ratings in its network run, it proved to be a hit in syndication. The show remains in syndication to this day and is available on various streaming services.

Unlike many shows in the mid-Seventies, The Odd Couple would have a series finale. In the final episode Felix, having apparently broken up with his steady girlfriend Miriam, remarried his wife Gloria. 

The popularity of The Odd Couple would lead to further television shows based on the original play. In fact, the first debuted the season after The Odd Couple went off the air. The Oddball Couple was a Saturday morning cartoon centred on an neat freak cat named Spiffy and a slovenly dog named Fleabag who are roommates. The Oddball Couple ran for two seasons on ABC. Another revival of The Odd Couple debuted on ABC in 1982. The New Odd Couple cast African Americans in the lead roles. Ron Glass (who had earlier appeared on Barney Miller and would later appear on Firefly) played Felix while Desmond Wilson (who played Lamont on Sanford and Son) played Oscar. The New Odd Couple did not prove to be a success and only ran one season. Yet another revival of The Odd Couple debuted on CBS in 2015. It starred Matthew Perry (best known as Chandler on Friends) as Oscar and Thomas Lennon as Felix. It ran for three seasons.

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman would reprise the roles of Felix and Oscar in stage revivals of the play The Odd Couple over the years. In 1993 they appeared in the television reunion movie The Odd Couple: Together Again. In the movie Felix's wife Gloria temporarily kicks him out because he keeps interfering in the wedding plans for their daughter. Felix then moves back in with Oscar. TheTV  movie also saw Gary Walberg return as Speed and Penny Marshall (then a highly successful director) return as Myrna.

Although The Odd Couple might not seem as edgy as some of its contemporaries (such as All in the Family), in some ways it was a revolutionary show. Prior to The Odd Couple divorce was rarely even mentioned on American sitcoms. The 1967 sitcom Accidental Family had featured Lois Nettleton as divorcée Sue Kramer, the first divorced, regular character on an American sitcom. Debuting the same season as The Odd Couple, Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was originally going to be a divorcée, but CBS rejected the idea. In centring on two divorced men, The Odd Couple was then breaking new ground.

While The Odd Couple might not have been as edgy as some of the socially relevant sitcoms of the era (such as All in the Family and Maude), it left a more lasting imprint than most of them. The Odd Couple would have a very successful run in syndication and remains available on streaming services. It also inspired three different revivals. And while many actors have played Felix and Oscar over the years, I have to suspect when most people picture the characters in their heads it is Tony Randall and Jack Klugman that they see. The reason for the show's success is not hard to find. Its leads were two of the greatest actors of all time, and the two men had genuine affection for each other. They remained friends for the rest of their lives. The show also boasted a great supporting cast, including everyone from Penny Marshall to Gary Walberg. It also featured some of the best scripts of any sitcom in the history of American television. The Odd Couple was a genuinely funny show and remains so fifty years later. I have to think people will still be watching it fifty years from now.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Turns 50

It was fifty years ago today, on Saturday, September 19 1970, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted on CBS. It would go onto become one of the most successful shows of the Seventies and has persisted in syndication ever since it ended its run in 1977. It won  29 Emmy Awards, a record that was not broken until Fraser took its 30th Emmy in 2002. It was nominated many more times.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show centred on Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore), a single woman who, after a broken engagement, moved to Minneapolis. Initially applying for a secretarial position at TV station WJM, she instead becomes the associate producer of the station's six o'clock news. Her boss was the somewhat grumpy, but soft hearted news director Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner). Working with her was head news writer Murray Slaughter (played by Gavin MacLeod), who was Mary's closest friend at work and known for his humorous quips. The anchorman on WJM's six o'clock news was the inept Ted Baxter (played by Ted Knight), who was known for his many on-air errors. Mary's best friend was her neighbour Rhoda Morgenstern (played by Valerie Harper), who was single yet sardonic and had a sense of humour about her love life. Her landlady was Phyllis Lindstrom (played by Cloris Leachman, who was a bit snobbish and could be arrogant.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. James L. Brooks had written for such shows as My Mother the Car That Girl, The Andy Griffith Show, and My Three Sons, and had created the show Room 222.  Allan Burns had written for Jay Ward's animated shows, and with Chris Hayward he had created The Munsters and My Mother the Car. With Chris Hayward he would later serve as a story editor on the sitcom He & She, and Get Smart.

As originally conceived, Mary Richards would have been a divorcee starting a new life. This met with disapproval from CBS, their research department declaring that American audiences would not tolerate a divorced lead character. The network's objection to Mary Richards being divorced was made worse by the fact that with the casting of Mary Tyler Moore CBS was worried that viewers might confuse Mary Richards with Mary Tyler Moore's earlier character of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and think that Laura had divorced Rob Petrie. It was then that it was decided that Mary Richards would be a woman making a new life following a broken engagement. Initially Mary Richards was to have been the assistant to a gossip columnist loosely based on Joyce Haber, then the gossip columnist for The Los Angeles Times. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns later reworked this so that Mary worked in a newsroom in Minneapolis.

Among the most famous aspects of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is its theme song, "Love is All Around." The song was written and performed by Sonny Curtis, who had been one of The Crickets, and had written The Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back" and The Crickets' "I Fought the Law" (later covered by The Bobby Fuller Four). In the first season the lyrics reflected a woman just starting a new life. The lyrics changed with the second season to better reflect the fact that Mary had become established in her new life.

CBS gave a commitment to The Mary Tyler Moore Show without ordering a pilot episode. That did not mean it would be smooth sailing for the show.  While The Mary Tyler Moore Show would become regarded as a classic, it did not fare well when a live version of the show was performed in front of a test audience. They did not like the fact that Mary was over 30 and still single. The audiences disliked Rhoda and thought Phyllis was abrasive. They didn't care for Lou Grant either. Unfortunately, The Mary Tyler Moore Show fared only a little better with further test screenings.  If it seems unusual that The Mary Tyler Moore Show fared poorly with a test audience, consider the fact that other classic shows also fared poorly with test audiences. Batman, The Monkees, and Seinfeld all received disastrous ratings from test audiences.

Fortunately, Grant Tinker, then Mary Tyler Moore's husband and head of her production company MTM Enterprises, was able to persuade CBS vice president in charge of programming, Michael Dann, to still give the show a chance. Initially, Mr. Dann placed the show on Tuesday nights, where it would be sandwiched in between The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee Haw. Furthermore, CBS only ordered thirteen episodes. Fortunately for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Michael Dann would leave CBS for the Children's Television Workshop. Fred Silverman was then promoted to vice president in charge of programming. With then CBS President Robert Wood, Fred Silverman was one of the architects of what became known as the Rural Purge, in which CBS cancelled nearly all of its show with rural appeal. With its urban setting, The Mary Tyler Moore Show then became much more attractive to CBS.

Fred Silverman watched the pilot episode as well as rough cuts of the show's second and third episodes. He really liked what he saw. Realizing that it was scheduled in a poor time slot, Mr. Silverman moved Green Acres from its Saturday night time slot to the Wednesday night time slot in which The Mary Tyler Moore Show was originally scheduled, and then placed The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday night. The Mary Tyler Moore was sandwiched between two top rated shows, My Three Sons (which ranked no. 19 for the year) and Mannix (ranked no. 17 for the year). It should come as no surprise, then, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a success. It ranked no. 22 for the season.

Throughout its seven seasons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would have very little in the way of changes in its cast. Valerie Harper left the show following its fourth season when Rhoda received her own spin-off show. Despite this, she would continue to make guest appearances as Rhoda until The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its run. Cloris Leachman left the show after is fifth season after Phyllis received her own spin-off. She would make guest appearances in the seventh season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In the show's third season Georgia Engel was added as Ted Baxter's scatterbrained girlfriend Georgette. Ted and Georgette would eventually marry. In the fourth season Betty White was added to the cast as Sue Ann Nivens, the host of the WJM show The Happy Homemaker. Although on The Happy Homemaker Sue Ann was relentlessly upbeat and perky, in real life she tended to be sardonic, competitive, and very man hungry.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show proved to be very successful. From its second to fourth seasons it ranked in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings for each year. In its fifth season it ranked at no. 11 and in its sixth season at no. 19. In its final season it still came in at a respectable no. 39 in the Nielsen ratings for the year.

Given it success, it should come as no surprised that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not cancelled, but simply ended production. After seven seasons, Mary Tyler Moore found the show was no longer as challenging as it once was and had decided to move onto other things. Since The Mary Tyler Moore Show was ended on its producers' terms rather than being cancelled by the network, it was able to have something that was very rare in 1977, a series finale. In the appropriately titled "The Last Show," WJM's station manager decided to fire everyone on the six o'clock news except for the one person responsible for its low ratings, anchorman Ted Knight. It would become regarded as one of the greatest series finales of all time.

The success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show would result in three spin offs. Rhoda saw Rhoda Morgenstern return to New York City. Debuting in 1974, it ran for five seasons. Phyllis saw Phyllis and her daughter move to San Francisco following the death of her husband. It proved less successful than Rhoda, running only two seasons. Following the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant was spun off into his own show, Lou Grant. In the show Lou had become the city editor for The Los Angeles Tribune after he had been fired from WJM. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis had all been sitcoms, Lou Grant was a drama. It ran for five seasons.

CBS would produce two retrospectives of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Special aired in 1971 and The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion aired in 2002. Of course, the show has persisted in syndication ever since it left the air and is widely available on streaming services.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show would prove to be a historic show. Of course, there had been shows centred on single women before. Both Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show as single women, although they almost entirely centred on her characters' professional lives. That Girl starred Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, a single woman who moves from her hometown to her New York City. Unlike Mary Richards, however, was engaged throughout the show's run. The Mary Tyler Moore Show centred on both Mary's career and her private life, and she remained unattached throughout the show's run. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was then largely responsible for changing the depiction of women on television.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also historic as the first show produced by MTM Enterprises. MTM Enterprises would become one of the most successful independent television production companies in the Seventies and early Eighties. It would produce such classic shows as The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, and St. Elsewhere.

Fifty years after its debut, The Mary Tyler Moore Show still has an impact.  Every sitcoms that featuring sharp dialogue and well defined characters largely owe something to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Mary Tyler Moore Show marked a shift from the sometimes gimmicky sitcoms of the Sixties to a more sophisticated form of character driven comedy still seen today. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show did not deal with issues the way such "relevant" sitcoms as All in the Family did, it did address subjects rarely, if ever, addressed in sitcoms before. The show featured what might have been the first ever positive portrayal of a homosexual ("My Brother's Keeper") and even used death as a source of humour ("Chuckles Bites the Dust"). The gap between men and women's salaries and the birth control pill were among the subjects almost never mentioned on sitcoms prior to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Along with He & She a few years before it, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would point the way for sitcoms for years to come.