Saturday, December 5, 2020

Godspeed Abby Dalton

Actress Abby Dalton died on November 23 2020 at the age of 88. She had lead roles in three different hit TV shows: Hennesey, The Joey Bishop Show, and Falcon Crest. She also appeared in several American International Pictures movies early in her career.

Abby Dalton was born Gladys Marlene Wasden in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 15 2020. Before her acting career, she worked both as a model and as a dancer at the Sands Hotel. She later worked as a dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. She made her film debut in Roger Coman's Rock All Night in 1957. In the late Fifties she appeared in a few more movies made by American International Pictures, including The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957), and Carnival Rock (1957). During the Fifties she also appeared in the movies Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958), Girls on the Loose (1958), Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), and The High Cost of Loving (1958). She made her television debut on an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars (1958). She guest starred on the shows The Rifleman, Have Gun--Will Travel, Jefferson Drum, Sugarfoot, Maverick, Rawhide, Mike Hammer, and The Chevy Mystery Show. In the 1959 Abby Dalton was cast as Nurse Martha Hale, the romantic interest of lead character Lt. Chick Hennessey (played by Jackie Cooper), a Navy physician, on the TV show Hennessey.

Abby Dalton went straight from being the female lead on Hennessey to being the female lead on The Joey Bishop Show. In the final, first-run episode of Hennessey, which aired in May 1962, her character Martha Hale married Lt. Hennessey. In the first episode of the second season of The Joey Bishop Show, her character Ellie married Joey Barnes (played by Joey Bishop). Abby Dalton then figured in two television weddings only four months apart. In the Sixties she also guest starred on the TV shows Hawaiian Eye; The Danny Thomas Hour; My Three Sons; Nanny and the Professor; and Love, American Style. Late in the decade she was a regular on The Jonathan Winters Show. She appeared in the movie The Plainsman.

In the Seventies Miss Dalton guest starred on Love, American Style; Police Story; Apple's WayAdams of Eagle Lake; The Waltons; and The Feather and Father Gang. She played Barney Miller's wife in the pilot for Barney Miller, "The Life and Times of Barney Miller." ABC rejected the pilot and the show was retooled so that the entirety of the action took place at the precinct house. When Barney Miller's wife eventually appeared on the show, she was played by Barbara Barrie. She appeared in the movie A Whale of a Tale (1976).

In the Eighties she played the scheming Julia Cumson on the night time soap opera Falcon Crest. She also guest starred on the shows Hardcastle and McCormick; Murder, She Wrote; and Hotel. She appeared in the movie Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force (1989). In the Nineties she guest starred on the TV show L.A. Heat and appeared in the movies Cyber Tracker (1994) and Buck and the Magic Bracelet (1998). Her final appearance was in the movie Prank in 2008.

Abby Dalton also appeared regularly as a panellist on games shows from the Sixties to the Eighties. She was among the original panellists on The Hollywood Squares.

Older viewers might best remember Abby Dalton as the sweet natured Martha Hale on Hennessey and Ellie Barnes on The Joey Bishop Show. Slightly younger viewers might remember her best as the mentally disturbed Julia Cumson on Falcon Crest. That having been said, she played a wide variety of roles throughout her career. She was Calamity Jane in the movie The Plainsman. She played boutique owner Stella Lewis in The Waltons episode "The Test." On the Murder,, She Wrote episode "Obituary for a Dead Anchor," she played the widow of a murdered TV anchorman who is not at all grief stricken. Abby Dalton could play a wide variety of roles, from those that were sympathetic to those that were not at all sympathetic.

Friday, December 4, 2020

This Year's Christmas Decorations

I feel as if I should apologize for not posting more this week. I have yet to eulogize Abby Dalton and I do feel badly about that. Unfortunately, I have felt under the weather all week. Don't worry. I don't have COVID-19. It is simply my allergies flaring up again. On top of feeling physically unwell, I have been thinking about Vanessa all week. Perhaps it is because it is her birth month. Perhaps it is because it is the holiday season. Either way, I have found myself missing her much more acutely than usual. I long ago concluded that grief never completely goes away, but it comes in waves. And right now I am caught in a wave of grief.

That having been said, I have not been idle all week. It is our family's tradition to decorate for Christmas in early December. My sister and I have been busy decorating much of the week (Mom willed the house to all three of us kids, so I share it with my sister). We have part of the living room completed and a few of the outdoor decorations up. We are hoping to get more decorations up over the weekend. Anyway, given I still feel out of sorts, I thought I would share with you four pictures of our decorations.

First is my favourite ornament. I am not absolutely sure when we bought him, but it was either in the late Nineties or early Naughts. When we bought him, I commented that he looked drunk, and he has been "the Drunken Elf" ever since. We always display him with a miniature liquor bottle for that reason. I joke that he is far better than any old Elf on the Shelf because a.) he is way cuter than the Elf on the Shelf (who I always thought looks a bit creepy) and b.) he won't snitch on you to Santa if you've been naughty!

Next up is our Christmas wreath. We bought it last year. The reason I bought it is because it has butterflies on it. Vanessa always said her name meant "butterfly," so it is yet another way I have of remembering her.

Next is our single oldest ornament. It is on the tree in the picture, but I took it down immediately after taking the picture. It is one of those balls so popular in the 20th Century that would break if you dropped them. I am not sure how old it is, but my parents had it for nearly as long as I can remember. I am guessing it could be older than me, dating to the late Fifties or early Sixties. It is certainly older than 50 years old!

Finally, here is our tree. We bought the tree a few years ago and we got it used at that, so I am not sure of its age. Most of the ornaments on it date back to the Nineties and Naughts. I really ought to get a new topper for it, as the old one is getting a bit worn out (we bought it nearly twenty years ago). The decorations at its base also date to the Nineties and Naughts. The skirt is only about two or three years old.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Virginia Mayo's 100th Birthday

Most of my favourite actresses are brunettes, with a notable exception being blonde Virginia Mayo. I have had a schoolboy crush on her ever since I first saw her in The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) when I was a teenager. Of course, as a teen what I first noticed about Miss Mayo is that she was extremely beautiful and she had a remarkable pair of legs. It was when I was a bit older and had seen more of her movies that I realized that she was remarkably talented as well. Virginia Mayo had a gift for musical comedies, and appeared in a series of them with Danny Kaye. That having been said, she also had a gift for dramatic roles as well, appearing in such classics as The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and White Heat (1949). Sadly, I think Virginia Mayo has always been a bit underrated as an actress.

Of course, among the things that I learned about Virginia Mayo as I got older is that she is a native Missourian like myself. In fact, her roots in the state go back fairly far. Virginia Mayo was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis on November 30 1920. Her great, great, great grandfather was Captain James Piggott, who founded East St. Louis in 1797. Her father, Luke Jones, was a newspaper reporter in the St. Louis area. Her aunt, the sister of her father, ran an acting school in the area. Young Virginia was enrolled in her aunt's acting school when she was only six years old. She would also be taught to dance by a succession of instructors in the St. Louis area.

It was not long after she graduated from Soldan High School in the Academy neighbourhood of St. Louis that she became a professional actress. She performed as an actress and a dancer at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (often simply called The Muny) and she also performed with six other girls at the historic Hotel Jefferson. Andy Mayo, one half of the comedy team Morton and Mayo, hired her to act as a foil to him and his partner Nonnie Morton. It was with Andy Mayo in the short "Gals and Guys" that Virginia made her film debut in 1939, using her birth name Virginia Jones. It was while she was with Morton and Mayo that Samuel Goldwyn took notice of her and signed her to a contract. As her stage name she took Andy Mayo's surname, so that Virginia Jones became Virginia Mayo.

Miss Mayo's career began to take off in the Forties. In 1941 she appeared on Broadway with Eddie Cantor in Banjo Eyes. In 1943 she made her feature film debut as an uncredited chorus girl in Follies Girl. It was after playing a number of supporting roles that she finally received her first lead role in the Bob Hope movie The Princess and the Pirate (1944). It was the following year that she first appeared opposite Danny Kaye in the movie Wonder Man (1945). It was followed by The Kid From Brooklyn (1946),  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song is Born (1948). 

While Virginia Mayo established herself in musical comedies, she would soon establish herself as a dramatic talent as well. She gave a sterling performance as the cheating wife of Fred Derry (played by Dana Andrews) in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Miss Mayo appeared in her first film noir in 1948, the movie Smart Girls Don't Talk. She would later appear in one of the greatest film noirs ever made, White Heat (1949), as well as such lesser noirs as Red Light (1949), and Backfire (1950)

Virginia Mayo's stardom would continue into the Fifties, during which she appeared in a variety of genres of movies. She appeared in the swashbuckler Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), the Western Along the Great Divide (1951), the comedy She's Working Her Way through College (1952), and the Jim Bowie biopic The Iron Mistress (1952). It was following the failure of the historical epic The Silver Chalice (1954) that Virginia Mayo left Warner Bros. And while many of her films in the late Fifties would not match her successes of the late Forties and early Fifties, Miss Mayo remained busy. She appeared in such films as The Proud Ones (1956) and The Tall Stranger (1957).

With the Sixties, Virginia Mayo's film career slowed considerably, as she only did four movies during the decade. While she made fewer movies, she did appear occasionally on television. Miss Mayo had first appeared on television in 1957 in an episode of Conflict. She would go onto guest star on such shows as Wagon Train, The Loretta Young Show, Burke's Law, and Daktari. While she would only appear in a few films in the Seventies, she appeared on television on the shows Night Gallery, Police Story, and Lanigan's Rabbi

While Virginia Mayo appeared with less frequency on film and television as the decades passed, she did appear on stage in such productions as the 1972 national tour of No, No Nanette, Good News at the Paper Mill Theatre in 1977, and the 1981 tour of Butterflies are Free. In 1984 she had a recurring role on the television soap opera Santa Barbara and she guest starred on Murder, She Wrote and Remington Steele. She later guest starred on The Love Boat. She made her last appearance in a feature film in The Man Next Door (1997).

When Virginia Mayo died on January 17 2005, some headlines took notice of her appearance, such as "Virginia Mayo, 84, stunning actress of 1940s romantic films (New York Times) and"Virginia Mayo, blonde beauty of '40s, '50s films, dead at 84" (Associated Press). Fewer in number were the headlines that took notice of her talent, such as "Virginia Mayo, 84; Comedy Star With a Flair for Drama" from The Los Angeles Times. For me this reflects my opinion that to a large degree Virginia Mayo has always been underrated. Too often people remember her looks and not her performances.

She certainly had a gift for musical comedy. While Virginia Mayo did not sing (her singing voice was always dubbed), she was a great dancer and her comic timing was impeccable. It should come as no surprise that the films in which she appeared with Danny Kaye were successful. At the same time, however, Virginia Mayo also had a knack for drama. Indeed, today her best remembered films may not be her comedies, but instead her dramas. Today people are more likely to remember her as the fast and loose wife in The Best Years of Our Lives or the murderous wife of psychopath Cody Jarrett in White Heat than singer Polly in The Kid from Brooklyn or the girl of Walter's dreams in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It was a mark of just how talented Virginia May was that she could play a wholesome girl next door or duplicitous femme fatale. Over the years she played everything from a teacher to a British noble. What is more she did all of them well.

If I had a crush on Virginia Mayo as a teenager because of her appearance, now it is more because she was a great, if underrated talent. And it is for that talent that she should be celebrated 100 years after her birth.