Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Godspeed George Maharis

George Maharis, best known for playing Buz Murdock on the classic TV show Route 66, died on May 24 2023 at the age of 94.

George Maharis was born on September 1 1928 in Astoria, Queens, New York. He attending Flushing High School. He served 18 months in the United States Marines. He initially wanted to be a singer, but found himself drawn to acting. He studied acting at the Actors Studio with Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg.

George Maharis made his television debut in an episode of Philco Television Playhouse. In the Fifties he guest starred on the shows Mister Peepers, Playwrights '56, Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Investigator, The Phil Silvers Show, Brenner, Deadline, Alcoa Theatre, and Naked City. One of the episodes of Naked City on which he appeared, "Four Sweet Corners," was a backdoor pilot for Route 66. He played the role of John Gary. a former serviceman who sets out to travel the country with fellow veteran Lincoln Ridgeway (Robert Morris). There would be several changes made before the pilot would lead to Route 66. The two leads were renamed Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock, with Martin Milner cast in the role of Tod. They were no longer ex-serviceman. Tod was a Yale dropout from a once wealthy family, while Buz was an orphan who grew up on the streets of New York City. Route 66 debuted on October 7 1960 and proved to be a hit. From 1960 to 1961 he briefly appeared on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. In the late Fifties George Maharis also made his movie debut in The Mugger (1958). He also appeared in the big screen adaptation of the novel Exodus (1960). He appeared in the off-Broadway play The Zoo Story in 1960.

In the early Sixties George Maharis continued to star on Route 66. He was nominated for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead) for his role as Buz Murdock in 1962. He left the show during its third season after he had contracted hepatitis. After taking a break to recover from the disease, he appeared in the movies Quick, Before It Metls (1964), Sylvia (1965), The Satan Bug (1965), A Covenant with Death (1967), The Happening (1967), Land Raiders (1969), The Desperadoes (1969), and El último día de la guerra (1970). He also continued to appear on television, guest starring on the shows, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Danny Thomas Hour, Journey to the Unknown, and Love Story. He starred in the short-lived show The Most Dangerous Game from 1970-1971.

In the Seventies George Maharis guest starred on the shows Night Gallery, Cade's County, Medical Center, Cannon, Mission: Impossible, Barnaby Jones, Shaft, Marcus Welby M.D., The Snoop Sisters, Thriller, The Wide World of Mystery, McMillan & Wife, Movin' On, Nakia, Ellery Queen, Good Heavens, Jigsaw John, Bert D'Angelo/Superstar, The Bionic Woman, Kojak, Police Story, The Feather and Father Gang, Switch, Gibbsville, Logan's Run, and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man.

In the Eighties he appeared in the movie The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982). He guest starred on Fantasy Island; Matt Houston; The Master; Superboy; and Murder, She Wrote. His last appearance on screen was in the movie Doppelganger in 1993.

George Maharis also had a recording career. Starting with George Maharis Sings!, he recorded seven albums from 1962 to 1966. He released several singles from 1962 to 1965, but only his cover of "Teach Me Tonight" was a hit. It went to no. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.

George Maharis was a very talented actor. Both Buz Murdock and Tod Stiles on Route 66 rank among the greatest television characters of all time, all because of the performances of George Maharis and Martin Milner. He was also versatile. In The Satan Bug he played Lee Barrett, an outspoken private investigator who had earlier worked as an intelligence agent. In The Sword and the Sorcerer, he actually played a villain, Count Machelli, the War Chancellor to the evil Titus Cromwell (Richard Lynch). In the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Judas Tree," he played the family physician, Dr. Anthony Bender, of millionaire George Sherman. In The Desperadoes he played one of a band of raiders led by corrupt  Parson Josiah Galt (Jack Palance). George Maharis could play nearly any role he wanted, and he always gave performances. Such was his talent that he could convey emotion with just a look or his body language. While he will always be best remembered as Buz Murdock, he left behind many other great performances.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

An Update

For those of you wondering why I haven't posted much this month, I have been under the weather. My tree pollen allergies have gone berserk. At the same time, my blood pressure medication was increased, which resulted in some side effects. I also have  one other health concern, but I am not ready to mention it here until I see my doctor this week. I will tell you I don't think it is anything too serious. Anyway, with any luck I will get back to regularly posting soon.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

"Here, There and Everywhere" by The Beatles

I have not been feeling well of late, which is why I have not posted much on this blog this week. Tonight I thought I would then leave you with one of my favourite songs by The Beatles and one of my favourite songs written by Paul McCartney. This is an animated video created by the London based firm Trunk Animation. They have also created videos for other Beatles songs, including "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Glass Onion."

Friday, May 12, 2023

Two Unusual Homes on Late Fifties Sitcoms

The late Fifties was the era of domestic sitcoms like The Donna Reed Show and Leave It to Beaver. The families on these shows generally lived in suburban homes that were almost always two storeys. There were at least two exceptions during this era. One centred on a group of hillbillies who migrated from the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia to a farm in the San Fernando Valley. The other centred on the teenage son of a small town grocer.

The Real McCoys debuted on October 3 19457 on ABC and centred on the family of the title, who inherited a farm in the San Fernando Valley from an uncle. This alone made it different from the many sitcoms set in the suburbs of the time. Further setting them apart was the fact that their house was only a single storey. In the pilot a house on the Iverson Ranch was used. It had appeared in movies from Outlaws of Boulder Pass (1942) to Don't Knock the Rock (1956). For the regular series a house resembling the one on the Iverson Ranch was built on the old RKO Forty Acres lot, that had recently been bought by Desilu. Such classic films as King Kong (1933) and Gone with the Wind (1939) had been filmed there. The first season of The Adventures of Superman and later The Andy Griffith Show and Batman would be filmed there.

As might be expected, the living room on The Real McCoys looked a bit old fashioned, with furniture that probably went back to the Victorian era. The same was true of the bedrooms, down to their wrought iron beds To a lesser degree, the same could be said of its kitchen/dining room. The McCoy's home offered a sharp contrast to the many Mid-Century Modern suburban homes featured on other sitcoms.

While the McCoys lived in the country, the Gillis family on Dobie Gillis lived in the fictional town of Central City. Dobie Gillis centred on the girl-crazy teenager of the title (Dwayne Hickman), who was the son of the owner of a neighbourhood grocery store (Frank Faylen). As was typical of such neighbourhood groceries, the Gillis family lived above the store. This already sets it apart from many domestic sitcoms of the era. Of course, being located above a grocery, the Gillis home was also located in a downtown district rather than a residential area. In establishing shots of the downtown, other businesses are visible, including King Drug Store (a Rexall Pharmacy) and the State Hotel. From various episodes it would appear that Charlie Wong's ice cream parlour, Riff Ryan's Music Store, the Bijou Theatre, and Ziegler's clothing store are all within walking distance of the grocery. Even further setting it apart is that very little of the action on the show actually takes place in the Gillis home. It usually takes place in the grocery or at Central City High (later S. Peter Pryor Junior College), with some scenes at the local ice cream parlour on occasion.

When scenes do take place in the Gillis home, it is often in the dining room/kitchen or Dobie's bedroom. The Gillis home is set apart from the various domestic sitcoms in that its dining room and kitchen are combined, but other than that the dining room/kitchen is similar to what one might see on other sitcoms of the time, complete with a toaster and a refrigerator (albeit a small one). Dobie's bedroom is also what one would expect from a teenager living in the late Fifties. Pictures and sports pennants decorate the wall, and a lamp sets on a night stand by the bed. There is apparently a tree outside the bedroom window, which explains how Dobie's pal Maynard (Bob Denver) is able to enter the room by way of the window (Dobie's room is on the second storey, above the grocery store). The Glllis family does have a living room, although its appearance could vary from episode to episode. Sometimes it has a table for dining when they have guests, sometimes it doesn't. When the table does appear, its position in the living room may vary. What is consistent about the Gillis living room is that it has a couch, several cabinets filled with knick knacks, and armchairs. Like many old-time, downtown stores, the Gillis Grocery also had a basement, as seen in first season episode "The Chicken from Outer Space." In the end, the Gillis home is a sharp contrast to the homes seen on such shows as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show.

Of course, both The Real McCoys and Dobie Gillis differed from other shows of the late Fifties in other ways. The Real McCoys was the first of the rural sitcoms, which set it apart from the sitcoms set in the suburbs. Although it debuted in 1959, Dobie Gillis had much more in common with such sitcoms of the Sixties as Bewitched and The Monkees than it did Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver. I will say that of the two homes I prefer the Gillis home to the McCoys' home. I grew up on a farm and we had a better house than the McCoys, complete with Mid-Century Modern furnishings. Besides, I think it would have been fun living above a grocery store. Think about it. One would never have to go far to get groceries!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The Late Great Newton Minow

Newton Minow, who served as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (BCC) under President John F. Kennedy, died on May 6 2023 at the age of 97. He remains well-known for his speech before the National Association of Broadcasters on May 9 1961. Officially titled, "Television and the Public Interest," it would become known as "the Vast Wasteland" speech.

Newton Minow was born on January 7 1926 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During World War II he served in the United States Army. Following the war he received a Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University and then a Juris Doctor from  Northwestern University School of Law. He went to work for the law firm of  Mayer, Brown & Platt and then became a law clerk to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of the U.S. Supreme Court. He became an assistant counsel to Adlai Stevenson, Governor of Illinois, and was afterwards a partner in  law firm of Stevenson, Rifkind & Wirtz. It was in 1961 that President John F. Kennedy appointed Newton Minow as the Chairman of the FCC.

Newton Minow would have an enormous impact as the Chairman of the FCC. He supported passage of the All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962, which required all television manufacturers to include a UHF tuner on their sets. This made UHF television stations more viable. He was also influential with regards to satellite communications. He pushed through the licence for a test of Telstar that occurred in July 1962.He also campaigned for Congress to pass legislation related to communications satellites. While these achievements are arguably greater that the "Vast Wasteland" speech, Mr. Minow remains best known for that speech. Although the speech is remembered for the phrase "vast wasteland," it was not a condemnation of all television programming. Instead he was reminding broadcasters that they must serve the public interest and as a result they must do better. Indeed,  he cited a number of television shows he considered to be of quality, including Kraft Theatre and The Twilight Zone.

After serving as the Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow would do further work in communications. He sat on the Board of Governors of National Educational Television and its successor the Public Broadcasting Service. From 1978 to 1980 he was Chairman of PBS. He also served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Carnegie Corporation, a foundation founded by Andrew Carnegie "to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding" and one of PBS's chief sponsors.

Newton Minow later worked as senior counsel at Sidney Austin LLP. Later he served as Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Singapore.

Newton Minow also wrote books, including Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future, and Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television, and the First Amendment.

Newton Minow would have an enormous impact, both as FCC Chairman and as a private individual. He was important in the passage of the All Receivers Act, which required all television sets to have UHF receivers. The requirement that all TV sets have UHF tuners would allow ABC to expand until it was finally competitive with NBC and CBS. It would also allow for the proliferation of independent television stations and public television stations. His support of thee Communications Satellite Act of 1962 and INTELSAT helped pave the way for communications satellites. As to his speech "Television and the Public Interest," it would lead to the networks airing more news coverage and educational content throughout the Sixties and Seventies. Newton Minow also supported public television. In the end Newton Minow may have had more impact than any other FCC Chairman. Indeed, he may have had more impact on television and communications than most of those who actually in the industry.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Guy Lee, One of the Actors Who Played Charlie Wong on Dobie Gillis

Guy Lee, Dwayne Hickman,
and Shelia James from Dobie Gillis 
Guy Lee is not among the best known Asian American actors, but he is remembered by many for playing ice cream parlour owner Charlie Wong on the classic sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Guy Lee more or less shared the role with fellow actor James Yagi, and it was not unusual for Guy Lee play Charlie in one episode and then James Yagi to appear as Charlie in the next. Guy Lee was the first of the two play the part, in the episode "Maynard's Farewell to Arms." In the next episode in which Charlie appeared, "The Old Goat," it was James Yagi who played the role. Guy Lee ultimately played Charlie the most, appearing in five episodes. He last appeared in "A Taste for Lobster," episode 38 of the first season. As to James Yagi, he appeared in four episodes as Charlie Wong, last appearing in "The Flying Millicans," episode 18 of the first season. Charlie Wong no longer appeared on the show after the first season.

Aside from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Guy Lee made two guest appearances on Bonanza (playing a different role each time), and also guest starred on episodes of Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Death Valley Days; Honey West; Ironside; and others. He also appeared in such movies as Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and One More Train to Rob (1971).

Guy Lee's biggest impact may have been as an agent who represented such Asian American actors as B. D. Wong and John Lone, as well as an activist. He took over The Bessie Loo Talent Agency, which represented Asian American actors, from Bessie Loo, who had been an actress, when she retired. Guy Lee & Associates was still in operation as of 2019. Guy Lee was a co-founder and board member of the Association of Asian Pacific American Artists, which was founded in 1976 to right stereotyping and promote a more realistic portrayal of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in movies and television. He was among the many Asian Americans who protested the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce as the engineer in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon rather than an Asian  actor.

Guy Lee died on November 22 1993 at the age of 66 from cancer. While it is likely he will always be best remembered as Charlie Wong on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, he did so much more.