Saturday, September 17, 2022

The TV Series M*A*S*H Turns 50

It was fifty years ago today, on September 17 1972, that the TV show M*A*S*H debuted on CBS. M*A*S*H would go onto become one of the most successful television shows of all time. Only ranking at no. 46 for its first season, by its second season M*A*S*H had risen to no. 4 for the year. It would remain in the top twenty in the Nielsens each year for the rest of its eleven year run, nine of those years in the top ten. After it ended its run in 1983, M*A*S*H entered syndication where it would have a very successful run. In fact, it is still airing in syndication to this day.The entire series is also available on DVD and it is also available on streaming.

Like the novel and movie before it, M*A*S*H centred on the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital near Uijeongbu, South Korea during the Korean War. The primary focus of the show in its early days were surgeons Captain Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) and "Trapper" John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers). They shared their tent in "the Swamp" with Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville), an inept, but well-to-do surgeon who usually blamed others whenever he made  a mistake. He also has a tendency to go by the book, although he often behaves as if the rules don't apply to him. The head nurse was Major Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Switt), who was regular Army and the daughter of a career Army officer. She is a firm believer in military discipline. Initially having an affair with Frank Burns, she would evolve into a more sympathetic character through the course of the series. The commanding officer of the 4077th was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). Henry was very down-to-earth and laid back, and never strict on military discipline, so much so he wasn't particularly effective as a commanding officer. Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) was the company clerk. He grew up on a farm near Ottumwa, Iowa and was somewhat naive. He loved comic books, slept with a teddy bear, loved Nehi grape soda, and had an extensive menagerie of animals. Father John Mulcahy (William Christopher) was the unit's chaplain. Although very religious, Father Mulcahy served somewhat as comedy relief early on the series, but became a more serious character as the show went along. While many of the characters were not religious, they still often turn to Father Mulcahy for advice.

The origins of  the TV series M*A*S*H can be traced back to the novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker (the pen name of Dr. H. Richard Hornberger, who was an Army surgeon during the Korean War). Published in 1968, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors was adapted as the 20th Century Fox movie M*A*S*H (1970). The movie proved to be a hit at the box office, ultimately making $81.6 million at the box office. It also received mostly positive notices from critics at the time, and it was nominated for five Oscars. It won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium for screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr.

Such success was not lost on William Self. President of 20th Century Fox Television. William Self turned to Gene Reynolds to bring M*A*S*H to the small screen. He had directed episodes of such shows as The Farmer's Daughter, My Three Sons, and Hogan's Heroes, and produced episodes of the TV series Room 222. Gene Reynolds brought Larry Gelbart onto the project as a writer and a producer. Larry Gelbart had a long career in comedy, having written for the TV shows The Colgate Comedy Hour, Four Star Revue, and Caesar's Hour, as well as having written the book for the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. He wrote the story for the movie The Thrill of It All (1963) and the screenplay for The Wrong Box (1966).

While Larry Gelbart left the series after its fourth season, he would have a lasting impact on it. Larry Gelbart insisted on realism in the scenes in the operating scenes. He fought for M*A*S*H to not have a laugh track, finally getting the network to agree that there would be no laugh track during operating room scenes. Larry Gelbart was also the reason the show, although set during the Korean War, would serve as a commentary upon the then ongoing Vietnam War in its early years.

The pilot (simply titled "Pilot") was written by Larry Gelbart. CBS then picked the series up and scheduled it on Sunday at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central. Ratings for the show then proved to be less than stellar, with it only coming in at no. 46 for the year. Fortunately, for its second season, M*A*S*H was moved to Saturday night at 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 PM Central, following the hit All in the Family. Its ratings rose to no. 4 for the season.

While CBS and the producers would at times come to heads, one thing that both agreed upon was that M*A*S*H must be medically accurate. Larry Gelbart devoted a good deal of time researching Army medicine during the Korean War, interviewing doctors who had served in the Army during the Korean War. The show also attempted to recreate a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War as realistically as possible. In fact, the 4077th was largely modelled after the real-life 8055 during the Korean War. That having been said, some concessions were made for the medium of television. The actual 8055 had 10 doctors, 12 nurses, and 200 beds, with 248 individuals serving in the company. The 4077th on M*A*S*H was much more modest, with fewer doctors, fewer nurses, fewer beds, and a smaller operating room.

M*A*S*H would also depart from reality in other ways. With regards to the racial composition of the actual MASH units during the Korean War, African Americans made up 14 to 18 percent of the personnel. The nurses serving in the actual MASH units during the Korean War also tended to be much older than the nurses serving in the 4077th on M*A*S*H. Indeed, most of the nurses who served in the Korean War tended to be career Army.

Over time M*A*S*H would evolve. Characters would change over time from their movie counterparts. Characters would also be added, while others would leave. Captain Oliver "Spearchucker" Jones (Timothy Brown) was one of the show's few Black characters. He was a surgeon who had been a champion javelin thrower in college (hence his nickname, which could be considered racially insensitive). The character was eventually dropped during the first season. Corporal Max Klinger (Jamie Farr) was the first character to be introduced on the show who was in neither the novel nor the movie. Klinger first appeared in the show's fourth episode, "Chief Surgeon, Who?". Klinger was inspired by a story Larry Gelberat had heard about comedian Lenny Bruce trying to be released from the Navy during World War II by wearing a WAVES uniform. For that reason, Klinger wore dresses in an attempt to get a Section 8 (a discharge on grounds of mental illness). Jamie Farr was hired for only one day to play Corporal Klinger in "Chief Surgeon, Who?," but the character proved to be so popular that he became a recurring character. By the fourth season, he was promoted to being a regular character. "

Radar and Klinger would not be the only enlisted men who would appear multiple times on M*A*S*H. Private Igor Straminsky (Jeff Maxwell, although Peter Riegert played him in two episodes of the sixth season) first appeared in the second season episode "5 O' Clock Charlie." Igor most often served food in the mess hall, although he sometimes had other duties as well. Igor would continue to appear until the end of the series. Among the nurses, Lt. Kellye Yamato (Kellye Nkhaara) may have appeared the most. She first appeared in the second season episode "Divided, We Stand." She remained until the end of the show. Initially appearing only briefly in episodes, as time went by Kellye played a  more important role.

Among the most popular recurring characters on M*A*S*H was psychiatrist Major Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus). He was not permanently assigned to the 4077th, but was called upon to treat any mental difficulties that arose. He first appeared in the second season episode "Radar's Report," although originally his first name was "Milton." He continued to appear in various episodes until the end of the series, including the series finale. One of the show's few recurring antagonists was Colonel Samuel Flagg (Edward Winter). Flagg was an American intelligence officer, although he was often unclear on whom he actually worked for (over time he claimed to work for the CIA, the CIC, and the CID) . Flagg also displayed a good deal of paranoia, and most of the 4077th thought he was insane, a diagnosis Sidney Freedman appeared to agree with. Edward Winter first appeared in the second season M*A*S*H episode "Deal Me Out," playing a character named Captain Halloran. There are those who believe that Halloran may have been Flagg using a different rank and name, given the characters are nearly identical. He first appeared as Colonel Flagg in the second season episode "A Smattering of Intelligence." He continued to appear until the seventh season.

M*A*S*H had a very large ensemble, and it is difficult to include all the recurring characters in one blog post. This is complicated by the fact that M*A*S*H underwent several changes in its lead cast through the years. Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John, left after the show's third season. Originally, Trapper John was meant to be as important as Hawkeye, but as the series progressed and Hawkeye proved popular, less and less attention was being paid to Trapper John. In the novel, movie, and originally on the TV show, Trapper was the 4077th's thoracic surgeon. It was with in the first season episode "Dear Dad" that Hawkeye was also made a thoracic surgeon, thus making Trapper John a less special character. While Wayne Rogers enjoyed working on M*A*S*H and enjoyed working with its cast, he felt that Trapper was not getting his due and so he left the series. Trapper John was then written out of the show as having been discharged from the Army.

He was replaced by Captain B. J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). B.J. came from a family of doctors and was happily married to his wife Peg and he had a daughter named Erin. He was more reserved than either Hawkeye or Trapper, and often acted as the voice of reason for Hawkeye. While he did not care for military discipline and was prone to practical jokes much as Hawkeye was, he also had a stronger moral compass, sometimes refusing to go along with Hawkeye's schemes on moral grounds.

McClean Stevenson as Henry Blake also left the show after its third season. He was uncomfortable in playing what had become a supporting role to Hawkeye and wanted the opportunity to have a starring role on a show, having played in ensembles for years. Lt. Col. Henry Blake was written out of the show as having received a discharge from the Army. His departure would prove to be a source of controversy. As many men did not make it home from the Korean War even after their discharge, in the episode "Abyssinia, Henry," in which Lt. Col. Blake was set to return home, Radar enters the operating room and reports the sad news that the plane carrying Henry was shot down over the Sea of Japan and that there were no survivors. The producers received over 1000 letters from viewers in reaction to the episode, which was decidedly mixed. Some accepted Henry's death as part of the realities of war. Others objected to his death, thinking it was not fitting for a television comedy. Not only were some viewers unhappy with Henry's death, but so too were CBS and 20th Century Fox. In fact, CBS went so far that when "Abyssinia, Henry" was rerun that summer, they simply cut the finale in which Radar reports Henry's death from the episode.

McClean Stevenson was replaced by Harry Morgan as Col. Sherman T. Potter. Col. Potter was a sharp contrast to Henry. He was a career Army doctor who had first entered the miliary as part of the cavalry in World War I. Col. Potter was stricter with regards to military discipline than Henry ever was, but at the same time he was very laid back, realizing how much pressure the surgeons and nurses were under. He was from Hannibal, Missouri, and had been married to his wife Mildred for years. Given their ages, Col. Potter and Mildred not only had children, but grandchildren. Col Potter loved horses and he was a big fan of Western novels. The staff of the 4077th had enormous respect for Col. Potter, and he is one of the few officers that Hawkeye and B.J. ever saluted. 

Larry Linville would leave the show after its fifth season. He simply felt that he had taken the character of Major Burns as far as he could take him. Frank Burns would be written out of the show as having a mental breakdown in the wake of Major Houlihan's marriage to Lt. Col. Donald Penobscott. He was replaced by Major Charles Emerson Winchester III. Much as Col. Potter was a sharp contrast to Lt. Col. Blake, so too was Winchester a sharp contrast to Frank Burns. For one thing, not only Major Winchester a competent surgeon, but he was actually one of the best surgeons in Boston. He was the scion of a wealthy family who lived on Beacon Hill and could sometimes be a snob. Like Frank Burns, Winchester could be adversarial to both Hawkeye and B. J., but at the same time he often takes their side. Unlike Frank Burns, Winchester, although he might be loathe to admit, respects Hawkeye and B.J. and counts them as friends. Although raised in wealth, Winchester was capable of great acts of charity.

The last major cast change on M*A*S*H was the departure of Gary Burghoff. He left the show in its seventh season primarily to spend more time with his family. Unlike the other major characters on the show, Radar was written out of the show as having been given a hardship discharge following the death of his Uncle Ed. Unlike other characters, Radar was not replaced, but instead Kliinger simply took over being company clerk.

While M*A*S*H went though several cast changes in its run, it also changed in tone over the years. Upon its debut, M*A*S*H was essentially a situation comedy with some dramatic elements. Eventually M*A*S*H would evolve into what was later called a "dramedy," combing elements of both comedy and drama. Even in its earliest days, M*A*S*H could shift from a scene that was highly comedic to one that was very dramatic. As the series progressed, the show's episodes also became much more character driven than they had before.While in its early days M*A*SH more often than not focused on Hawkeye and Trapper, as the seasons progressed it became much more of an ensemble show.

In keeping with being a dramedy, M*A*S*H often pushed the envelope as to what could be done on a television series. A prime example of this is the aforementioned death of Henry Blake. Characters on situation comedies had been killed off before. After Jean Hagen left Make Room for Daddy  following its third season, her character was written off the show as having died in between seasons. What set Henry Blake's death apart from earlier instances of character deaths on situation comedies is that the character of Henry actually appeared in the episode in which he was killed off. As noted above, the move would prove controversial.

M*A*S*H was also the first primetime, network show to feature nudity, although it was brief. In the second season episode "The Sniper," Radar briefly loses his towel while fleeing from the sniper of the title. M*A*S*H was also pioneering in its use of strong language.In the eighth season episode "Guerilla My Dreams," Hawkeye actually calls Lt. Park, a South Korean intelligence officer visiting the 4077th to take a wounded North Korean woman into custody, "a son of a bitch." For the year 1979 that was extremely strong language on American television (keep in mind it was only a few years earlier that the word "Hell" couldn't even be uttered).

M*A*S*H often toyed with television storytelling. The 4th season episode "Deluge" actually rotated scenes of the doctors in the 4077th at work with actual newsreel footage from the Korean War. Another 4th season episode, "The Interview," was shot entirely in black and white (except for the credits) and featured an American news correspondent interviewing the staff of the 4077th about their work and their experiences in Korea. The eighth season episode "Life Time" was told in real time, as they attempt to save a wounded soldier. Also in the eighth season, the episode "Dreams" portrayed the staff of the 4077th working with little sleep and the dreams they have when they do get a little time to nap. The 9th season episode "A War for All Seasons" unfolded through the course of a year. Finally, the eleventh season episode "Point of View" was told from the point of view of a wounded soldier.

Throughout its eleven years on the air, M*A*S*H received several Emmy nominations. Ultimately it won 14 Emmy Awards. Following its first season, it also received high ratings, ranking in the top ten shows every year except for its fourth season (when it came in at a still respectable no. 15 for the year). When it ended its run it was the 3rd highest rated show for the season.

As the seasons passed, it became harder and harder for the producers to find storylines that had not already been done on M*A*S*H before. Alan Alda and other producers then wanted to end the show with its tenth season, but CBS persuaded them to make a shorter 11th season with a two hour series finale. The final original episode,  "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," aired on February 28 1983. The episode drew a total of 121.6 million viewers. It remains both the most watched episode of an American television series and the most watched series finale to this day.

M*A*S*H would produce two spinoff series. The first to debut was the medical drama Trapper John, M.D., in 1979. On the series Pernell Roberts played Trapper, now working as the Chief of Surgery at San Francisco Memorial Hospital. Although a spinoff of M*A*S*H, the producers of the original show actually had nothing to do with Trapper John, M.D. Instead, the show was a product of 20th Century Fox, who had produced the 1970 movie and the TV show M*A*S*H. Trapper John, M.D. would prove successful. It ran for seven seasons.

The second spinoff to M*A*S*H was also a direct sequel to the show. CBS was not ready to give up on the M*A*S*H franchise when the show ended its run. AfterMASH took place immediately following the Korean War. After returning home, Sherman T. Potter became the chief of staff at General Pershing Veteran's Hospital in Missouri. He was joined by Klinger, whom he hired as his administrative assistant. Father Mulcahy became General Pershing Veteran's Hospital's chaplain. A few characters from the original series would appear on AfterMASH. Colonel Flagg appeared in the episode "Trials," investigating Klinger as a suspect Communist sympathizer or an outright Communist. Radar appeared in two first season episodes. While Sidney Freedman never appeared on AfterMASH, in one episode Sherman T. Potter is writing a letter to him. AfterMASH received respectable ratings in its first season, ranking at no. 15 for the year. It also received largely negative reviews. The show was overhauled a bit for its second season, and the show was moved to Tuesday. Unfortunately, this placed it opposite NBC's megahit The A-Team. Its ratings dropped dramatically and it was ultimately cancelled.

Gary Burghoff's guest appearances on AfterMASH would lead to one last, proposed spinoff of M*A*S*H. In the proposed spinoff, W*A*L*T*E*R, Walter O'Reilly, no longer using his nickname "Radar," must leave the family farm in Iowa and take a job as a police officer in St. Louis, Missouri. CBS did not pick up the series, but aired the pilot only once, on July 17 1984.

M*A*S*H was a huge departure from previous service comedies that had aired on American television. Previous service comedies (such as The Phil Silvers Show) were often set during peacetime. Even when a service comedy was made during a time of war, it often avoided any mention of that war. A perfect example of this is Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., which never mentioned the Vietnam War. When a service comedy did have a wartime setting, such as McHale's Navy and Hogan's Heroes, it was usually set during in an earlier time period (in the case of those two sitcoms, World War II) and strenuously avoided the realities of war. M*A*S*H was set during the Korean War and never avoided the harsh realities of war. The scenes in the operating room could be graphic for the era. The doctors and nurses were often overworked. It was not unusual for characters to die, in one instance one of the lead characters. While M*A*S*H was often comedic in tone, it always took the subject of war very seriously. This was a sharp break from earlier service comedies.

M*A*S*H was also revolutionary in its blend of comedy and drama. It is quite possible that M*A*S*H was the first dramedy to air on American television. At the very least it was the first successful one. Arguably, the success of M*A*S*H opened the doors for such dramedies as Moonlighting, The Wonder Years, Northern Exposure, and others. It also revolutionized the way stories could be told on television. As noted above, many of its episodes broke with the usual, straightforward plotlines of American television, with an episode told from the point of view of a particular character and told in real time.

The fact that M*A*S*H differed a good deal from previous shows on American television may explain much of its success, but it also seems likely that much of its success was also because it was a character driven show. Between an excellent writing staff and a great cast, the episodes of the show explored the staff of the 4077th in a way that no previous sitcoms had explored their characters before. Indeed, M*A*S*H may be one of the very few shows from which the average person can actually name most of the characters.

Ever since M*A*S*H ended its original run on CBS it has persisted in syndication. It is also available on DVD and it is available on streaming. Arguably, it was not only one of the most successful shows of the Seventies, but also one of the most success TV shows of all time. It may well be safe to say that in 50 years viewers will still be watching M*A*S*H.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The 50th Anniversary of The Waltons

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the TV show The Waltons. It debuted on CBS on September 15 1972. The Waltons centred on the family of that name, who lived in rural Virginia upon the fictional Walton's Mountain in the fictional Jefferson County. The series began at the height of the Great Depression in 1933. The series concluded shortly after the end of World War II. The main character on the show was John Walton Jr. (Richard Thomas), called "John Boy," who began the show as an aspiring writer. His parents were John  Walton Sr. (Ralph Waite) and Olivia Walton (Michael Learned). John Boy's grandparents, Zebulon Walton (Will Geer) and Esther Walton (Ellen Corby), lived with them. John Boy had several brothers and sisters: second oldest Jason, an aspiring musician; eldest daughter and tomboy Mary Ellen ((Judy North Taylor); middle sister Erin (Mary Elizabeth McDonough); middle brother Ben (Eric Scott); youngest son and aspiring pilot Jim-Bob; and youngest child Elizabeth (Kami Cotter). The Waltons shopped at the local general store on Walton's Mountain, ran by Ike Godsey (Joe Conley). While The Waltons debuted to low ratings, it would become one of the most successful shows of the Seventies. It ultimately ran for nine seasons.

The origins of The Waltons can be traced back to the 1961 novel Spencer's Mountain by Earl Hamner Jr. The novel was adapted as the 1963 motion picture of the same name, starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. The movie differed a good deal from the novel. While the novel was set in the Great Depression, the movie was set in the early Sixties. Also, while the novel was set in Virginia, the movie was set in Wyoming. It was in 1970 that a sequel to the novel Spencer's Mountain, The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer's Mountain, was published.

Lee Rich of Lorimar Productions bought the television rights to The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer's Mountain to adapt as a TV movie. Because Warner Bros. still owned the film rights to the novel Spencer's Mountain, the names of the characters were changed. For that reason, the Spencers became the Waltons, Clayboy became John Boy, and so on. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story aired on CBS on December 19 1971 on The CBS Sunday Night Movie. Except for Ellen Corby as Grandma and the children, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story had a different cast from the subsequent TV series: Patricia Neal played Olivia Walton, Edgar Bergen played Grandpa Walton, and Andrew Duggan played John Walton. Even storekeep Ike Godsey was played by a different actor. He was played by Woodrow Parfrey. Like the TV series, author Earl Hamner Jr. served as the narrator, playing the adult John Walton Jr.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story proved to be phenomenally successful in the Nielsen ratings. While it was not meant to be the pilot for a TV series, its success led to the TV series nonetheless. Despite the TV movie's success, CBS would insist that the father be played by a big name in order to draw in viewers. For that reason, Lorimar Productions approached Henry Fonda, who had played Clay Spencer in the movie Spencer's Mountain (1963), to play John Walton Sr. After watching The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, he said Lorimar, "What do you want me for? The family is the star. You don't need me." Ultimately, Ralph Waite was cast in the role. As to the role of Olivia Walton, the part went to Michael Learned, billed as "Miss Michael Learned" because of her unusual first name. As to Edgar Bergen, his health was in decline and as a result he was replaced by Will Geer.

The Waltons debuted on September 14 1972. While its competition on ABC was not particularly impressive (The Mod Squad had been declining in the ratings), it was opposite The Flip Wilson Show on NBC, then one of the highest rated shows on television. Despite getting overwhelmingly positive reviews, The Waltons was then not expected to last. Given the fact that the network scheduled The Waltons against the no. 2 show on the air, there are those who believe CBS simply picked up the show to appease representatives and senators in Congress, not to mention moral watchdogs, concerned about sex and violence on television. Regardless, there were those at CBS who apparently believed in the show. Lou Dorfsman, design director at CBS, created a print ad extolling the show and making reference to its critical acclaim. The ad turned things around for The Waltons. Initially suffering from low ratings, its ratings climbed until it was ultimately no. 19 for the year in the Nielsens. By its second season, it was the no. 2 rated show for the year. As to the show that was expected to kill The WaltonsThe Flip Wilson Show dropped in the ratings. For its fourth and final season, it came in at no. 50 for the year.

Given The Waltons grew out of The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer's Mountain, the show's characters were essentially the same as those in the novel Spencer's Mountain. Warner Bros. still owned the rights to the novel. To avoid a lawsuit, Lorimar then sold the distribution rights to the show to Warner Bros. Of course, in 1989 Lorimar was acquired by Warner Bros., so that now Warner Bros. owns the series.

Centred on a large family consisting of parents, grandparents, and seven children, The Waltons had a large cast. What made the show's cast even larger was a number of semi-regular and recurring characters who played the inhabitants of Walton's Mountain and neighbouring communities. Mamie (Helen Kleeb) and Emily Baldwin (Mary Jackson) were a pair of elderly spinsters who made what they called "Papa's recipe," thinking it a simple elixir and not realizing it was outright moonshine. Mamie was the more sensible of the two, while Emily was the romantic. She is still fixated on an old beau, Ashley Longworth, who she still expects to return to her after decades. Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner) was the local handyman, who, at times, engaged in such things as chicken theft. Verdie Grant (Lynn Hamilton) began the show as a widow, who had two adult sons and three adult daughters. She was one of the African American characters on the show. Sheriff Ep Bridges (John Crawford) was the sheriff of Jefferson County and a close friend of the Walton family. Reverend Matthew Fordwick (John Ritter) was their church's pastor, while Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello) was their school's teacher.

As The Waltons progressed, yet more characters would be added to the show. In the second season itinerant worker Harley Foster arrived on Walton's Mountain, where he met and married Verdie Grant.H Harley had a young son named Jody (Erin Blunt). Later Harley and Verdie would adopt an orphan named Josh (Todd Bridges). It was in the second season that Ike Godsey met and married John Walton's second cousin Corabeth (Ronnie Claire Edwards). As the Walton children grew older, some of them would also marry. Mary Ellen married Dr. Curtis Willard (Tom Bower), who was thought to be killed Pearl Harbour. Ben married Cindy Brunson (Robin Eisenman), and they later had a daughter. The Waltons featured several recurring characters, so many that it would be hard to list them all.

Over the years The Waltons went through several changes. Among these were changes in the cast. John Ritter left the series in its fifth season, having been cast on the sitcom Three's Company. Richard Thomas, John Boy himself, left the show after its sixth season out of fears that he might become typecast. Ellen Corby had a stroke during the show's fifth season, and had to leave The Waltons for a time (although she still received her credit). Ellen Corby returned in the sixth season, which, sadly, would be the last season on which Will Geer appeared. He died of respiratory failure at age 76 on April 22 1976. Grandpa was then written out of the show as having died between seasons. Ellen Corby remained with the show until its eighth season, leaving due to declining health.

As if the loss of Richard Thomas, Will Geer, and Ellen Corby was not enough, it was in the seventh season that Michael Learned left the show. Olivia was then written out of the show as having contracted tuberculosis and having to go to a sanitarium. Ralph Waite would also leave the show in its ninth season. It was explained that John went to be with Olivia.

To fill the void left by characters no longer on the show, The Waltons would add characters in its later years. Rose Burton (Peggy Rea) was Olivia's cousin, who moved in with the Waltons to take over keeping the house in Grandma and Olivia's absence. She had two young grandchildren, Jeffrey (Keith Coogan) and Serena (Martha Nix). Jeffrey and Serena would only appear in the show's eighth season, although Rose remained with the show until nearly its end, marrying her beau Stanley Perkins (William Schallert) in the ninth season. One bit of casting that has always been controversial with fans was the recasting of John Boy. The character returned to the show in its eighth season, this time played by Robert Wightman. Robert Wightman remained with the show until its end and even played John Boy in the first reunion movie (A Wedding on Walton's Mountain in 1982).

While the various cast changes would alter The Waltons, the show would also see changes due to the passage of time. Beginning in 1933, for each season roughly one year would pass in its early years. It was with the fifth season that suddenly two years would pass for every season. With two years passing in each season, by the seventh season The Waltons had entered World War II. A might be expected, with World War II The Waltons was sometimes darker than it had been, with recurring characters on the show actually being killed off.

Over the years the credit sequence also changed. In its first season the credits portrayed John Walton Sr. bringing home the family's new radio, with shots of the various characters. With the second season the credit sequence was changed to a montage of sepia still photographs. With changes made to the credits to accommodate changes in the cast, the sepia credit sequence remained in place until the end of the show's run.

Today there is tendency to think of The Waltons as a wholesome, even a saccharine show. In truth, The Waltons covered some very serious issues throughout its run. Multiple episodes addressed racism, both against African Americans and in one episode ("The Medal") against Chicanos. Anti-Semitism was also addressed more than once. Among the other issues addressed by The Waltons were poverty, illness, war, pacifism, post traumatic stress, and spousal abuse. The show even addressed drug addiction using one of its own characters. In "The Obsession," Mary Ellen becomes addicted to amphetamines while studying for her nursing exam. The Waltons was certainly a wholesome show given it centred on a close-knit, loving family, but it was also a very progressive show.&nbsp

It was perhaps because of the changes in the show over the years, particularly the death of Will Geer, that The Waltons would decline in the ratings as time passed. It remained in the top twenty until its seventh season, when it dropped to no. 37 for the year. The show was ultimately cancelled with its ninth season.

The Waltons was filmed on rear part of the Warner Bros. lot, with the mountains in the background actually being the Hollywood Hills. With the series' end, the facade of the Waltons' home was torn down. A replica of the Waltons' house would be built for the reunion movies, on the old Columbia Ranch. This house would later serve as the Dragonfly Inn on Gilmore Girls, among other things.

While The Waltons ended its run in 1981, the show was hardly gone. Aside from having a highly successful run as a syndicated rerun, there were also reunion movies. It was in 1981 that NBC aired the first of three reunion movies, A Wedding on Walton's Mountain. It was followed in 1982 by Mother's Day on Walton's Mountain and A Day for Thanks on Walton's Mountain. It would be ten years before another reunion would air. A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion aired on CBS marked the return of Richard Thomas as John Boy. It would be followed by two more reunion movies: A Walton Wedding in 1995 and A Walton Easter in 1997.

Last year a reboot of The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, The Waltons: A Homecoming, aired on The CW. As might be expected, it had an all new cast, although the character of Ben was omitted and Richard Thomas took over as narrator, Earl Hamner Jr. having died a few years ago. It will be followed by another reboot movie this year, A Waltons Thanksgiving, also airing on The CW.

Throughout its run The Waltons won several Emmy Awards and it has been in syndication ever since its network run ended. It is definitely one of the most successful shows of the Seventies. As to the reason for its success, part of it may be due to the nostalgia craze that lasted throughout the decade. While many think of the Fifties with regards to the nostalgia craze of the Seventies (a prime example being the show Happy Days), there was also nostalgia for other eras, such as the Depression, as well. The nostalgia craze had actually begun in the Sixties, with renewed interest in Old Time Radio and pulp magazines. As a result, the Seventies would then see several period dramas, from the action adventure shows Bearcats and The Manhunter to the mystery series Ellery Queen. The Waltons would even inspire other period family dramas, such as The Family Holvak and the Saturday morning cartoon These Are the Days. Prior to The Waltons, successful period pieces were a rarity, The Untouchables being a notable exception. Since The Waltons there have been several. As strange as it may seem given how different the two shows are, Mad Men then owes something to The Waltons.

The Waltons would also pave the way for other family dramas. In the wake of The Waltons there were such family dramas as Apple's Way (created by Earl Hamner Jr. himself), Family, and Eight is Enough. To a degree The Waltons carved a path for further family dramas, whether or not they are set in the current day or an earlier time.

In the end The Waltons  would have a lasting impact on television. It has persisted in syndication ever since its original run ended and inspired further television period pieces and family dramas. Much of this was perhaps due to the show's superior writing, much of it by the show's creator Earl Hamner Jr. Although many today sometimes think of it as a somewhat saccharine show, it was actually much more complicated than that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Technical Difficulties

Today I was going to write about the 50th anniversary of The Waltons, which debuted on this date, September 14, in 1972. Unfortunately, we had an internet outage that lasted for hours today, so I was unable to do so. This will make things a bit rough the next few days. I will have to write the post on The Waltons tomorrow. Friday the 9th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon begins. The 50th anniversary of The Bob Newhart Show is Friday, but I will have to write about it sometime next week. Quite simply, the 50th anniversary of M*A*S*H is Saturday and Sunday I will want to write my contribution to the Rule, Britannia blogathon. Of course, next week there are yet more television anniversaries...

Anyway, if you are wondering why the 50th anniversaries of The Waltons, The Bob Newhart Show, and M*A*S*H all fall so close together, it can be summed up by the phrase "premiere week." From the Forties into the Fifties, the networks tended to debut their new shows throughout the month of September and sometimes even as late as October. This changed in the early to mid-Sixties when the networks began premiering their new shows all in one week in September. The tradition of "premiere week" persisted for decades and it has only been in the past few years that they have broken away from it. For fall 1972, CBS's premiere week was from September 11 to September 17. The Waltons, The Bob Newhart Show, and M*A*S*H all aired on CBS, hence they all debuted in the same week.Of course, this means that CBS's premiere week in 1972 was one of the absolute best premiere weeks of all time. Anyway, my post on The Waltons will be out tomorrow evening, barring another internet outage!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Late Great Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard, the legendary filmmaker who revolutionized the cinema with such films as À bout de souffle (1960) and Bande à part (1964), died today, September 13 2022, at the age of 91.

Jean-Luc Godard was born on December 3 1930 in Paris, France. His mother, Odile, was the daughter of Julien Monod, a founder of the Banque Paribas, and the great granddaughter of theologian Adolphe Monod. In 1933 the family moved to Switzerland, from which Jean-Luc Godard's father, Paul Godard, came. As a child Jean-Luc Godard was athletic, and he enjoyed football, skiing, basketball, and tennis.

He was a teenager when he developed an interest in cinema, having read the essay "Outline of a Psychology of Cinema" by André Malraux and the magazine La Revue du cinéma. He studied at the Lycée Buffon in Paris, after which he studied for a time at the Sorbonne. He would soon desert his classes for  ciné-clubs and cinemas of the Latin Quarter. It was there that he would meet such fellow cinephiles as François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette. In 1950 with  Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette he founded the short-lived film journal Gazette du cinéma, which only lasted five issues. Jean-Luc Godard was first published in the legendary film journal  Cahiers du Cinéma in 1952.

Jean-Luc Godard's first film was the short subject "Une femme coquette" in 1955, made using the name Hans Lucas. He would make several more short subjects before his first feature film Breathless (the French title was À bout de souffle) was released in 1960. In the Sixties, Jean-Luc Godard directed A Woman is a Woman (1961), the segment "La paresse" in the film Les sept péchés capitaux, My Life to Live (1962), The Little Soldier (1963), the segment "Il nuovo mondo' in the film Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963), The Carabineers (1963), Contempt (1963), Band of Outsiders (1964), A Married Woman (1964), Alphaville (1965), the segment "Montparnasse-Levallois" in Paris vu par..., Pierrot le Fou (1965), Masculin féminin (1966), Made in the U.S.A. (1966), Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), La  Chinoise (1967), Week End (1967), A Film Like Any Other (1968), and Joy of Learning (1969). He began directing documentaries in the late Sixties, including the films One + One (1968) and British Sounds (1969).

In the Seventies Jean-Luc Godard directed the movies Struggle in Italy (1971), Tout va bien (1972),  Comment ça va? (1976), and Every Man for Himself (1980). He directed the documentaries 1 P.M. (1971), Letter to Jane (1972), Number Two (1975), and Ici et ailleurs (1976). He directed the six part documentary television mini-series Six fois deux/Sur et sous la communication and the 12 part documentary television mini-series France/tour/détour/deux/enfants.

In the Eighties he directed the feature films Passion (1982), Prénom Carmen (1983), Je vous salue, Marie (1985), King Lear (1987),  and Le rapport Darty (1989). He directed the documentaries Sauve la vie (qui peut) (1981), Scénario du film 'Passion' (1982), and Soft and Hard (1985). He directed an episodes of the TV shows Spécial cinéma and Série noire,  and episodes of the mini-series Les Français vus par.

In the Nineties Jean-Luc Godard directed the movies Les enfants jouent à la Russie (1993) and For Ever Mozart (2003). He directed the documentaries JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre (1994) and The Old Place (2000). He directed the TV movie Allemagne 90 neuf zéro, and an episode of the TV show Century of Cinema and the 8-part cinema Histoire(s) du cinéma.

In the Naughts he directed the films Éloge de l'amour (2001), Notre musique (2004), and Film socialisme (2010). He directed the documentaries Moments choisis des histoire(s) du cinéma  (2001), Vrai faux passeport (2006), and Vrai faux passeport (2006). In the Teens he directed the film Adieu au langage (2014).

Jean-Luc Godard also wrote, edited, and produced much of his work. He made several films with actress Anna Karina, to whom he was married for a time.

Jean-Luc Godard would have a lasting impact on cinema, both as a critic and as a director. His use of jump-cuts in Breathless was not unprecedented, but that film was largely responsible for its modern day usage. The metafictional elements of Breathless would also have a lasting impact on modern day cinema. Indeed, regardless of what story was played out in his movies, Jean-Luc Godard's films were largely about film itself. As a critic he wrote a good deal about montage, and in his later films he would put his theories to use. He was also a pioneer in low-budget cinema. Breathless was shot on a shoe-string budget. Jean-Luc Godard's most lasting legacy may be the fact that he was one of the earliest filmmakers to belong to the film movement known as La Nouvelle Vauge--the French New Wave. The French New Wave would have an impact on the British New Wave and kitchen sink realism, the Japanese New Wave, the Indian New Wave, and yet other film movements around the world. Jean-Luc Godard himself would have an influence on such diverse filmmakers as Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. Jean-Luc Godard created such legendary films as Breathless, Band of Outsiders, and Alphaville, and in doing so changed cinema forever.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Late Great Marsha Hunt

Marsha Hunt, who appeared in such movies as The Human Comedy (1943) and Raw Deal (1948), died on Wednesday, September 7 2022 at the age of 104.

Marsha Hunt was born Marcia Hunt on October 17 1917 in Chicago. She later changed the spelling of her first name. Her father was a lawyer and later a Social Security Administrator. Her mother was an organist and vocal coach. The family moved to New York City when she was very young. She was 16 she graduated from the Horace Mann School for Girls.

Marsha Hunt was still a teenager when she became a model. She signed with the Powers Agency. While her modelling career was taking place, she took acting classes at the Theodora Irvine Studio. She was 17 when she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. She made her film debut in The Virginia Judge in 1935. Over the next few years she appeared in the films Desert Gold (1936), Gentle Julia (1936), The Arizona Raiders (1936), Hollywood Boulevard (1936), Easy to Take (1936), The Accusing Finger (1936), College Holiday (1936), Murder Goes to College (1937), Easy Living (1937), Annapolis Salute (1937), Thunder Trail (1937), and Born to the West (1937). Paramount Pictures decided not to renew her contract in 1938.

For the next couple of years Marsha Hunt appeared in films for various studios, including Come On, Leathernecks! (1938), Long Shot (1939), and Star Reporter (1939). She then signed with MGM and for the remainder of the Thirties she appeared in the films The Hardys Ride High (1939), and Winter Carnival (1939), These Glamour Girls (1939), Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President (1939), Irene (1940), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940), and Flight Command (1940).

In the Forties she appeared in the films Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), The Trial of Mary Dugan (1941), The Penalty (1941), I'll Wait for You (1941), Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Unholy Partners (1941), Joe Smith, American (1942), Kid Glover Killer (1942), The Affairs of Martha (1942), Panama Hattie (1942), Seven Sweethearts (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), Pilot #3 (1943), Thousands Cheer (1943), Cry "Havoc" (1943), Lost Angel (1943), None Shall Escape (1944), Bride by Mistake (1944), Music for Millions (1944), The Valley of Decision (1945), A Letter for Evie (1946), Carnegie Hall (1947), Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), The Insider Story (1948), Raw Deal (1948), Jigsaw (1949), Take One False Step (1949), and Mary Ryan, Detective (1949). She made her television debut in 1949 in an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse. In the late Forties she appeared on the TV shows The Ford Theatre Hour, The Silver Theatre, Studio One, Danger, and Sure as Fate. In 1948 she made her Broadway debut in Joy to the World. In 1950 she appeared on Broadway in The Devil's Disciple, Borned in Texas, and Legend of Sarah.

It was in 1947 that she and her husband Robert Presnell Jr. joined the Committee for the First Amendment, a group formed to challenge the legality of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), then trying to uncover Communist activity in Hollywood. The group also included such members as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, and John Huston. It was on October 19 1947 that members of the Committee for the First Amendment flew to Washington, DC to protest the HUAC hearings. While other members of the Committee for the First Amendment would recant, Marsha Hunt would not.  As a result she was listed in Red Channels,a radical right wing pamphlet that named 151 actors, directors, musicians, and so on who were alleged to be Communists or Communist sympathizers. Marsha Hunt then found herself blacklisted.

Increasingly, Marsha Hunt's career would be on television and on stage. In 1959 she was a regular on the sitcom Peck's Bad Girl. She guest starred on the TV shows Cosmopolitan Theatre, The Ford Television Theatre, The 20th Century Fox Hour, The O. Henry Playhouse, Panic!, Matinee Theatre, Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Laramie, Grand Jury, The Detectives, and Zane Grey Theatre. She appeared in the movies Actors and Sin (1952), The Happy Time (1952), Diplomatic Passport (1954), No Place to Hide (1955), Back from the Dead (1957), Bombers B-52 (1957), Blue Denim (1959), and The Plunderers. She appeared on Broadway in The Tunnel of Love.

During the Sixties Marsha Hunt guest starred on the shows The Americans, Cain's Hundred, Sam Benedict, Breaking Point, Gunsmoke, Channing, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, The Defenders, Profiles in Courage, Ben Casey, Run for Your Life, My Three Sons, Accidental Family, The Outsider, The Name of the Game, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Young Lawyers, and Ironside. She appeared on Broadway in The Paisley  Convertible.

In the Seventies Marsha Hunt appeared in the movie Johnny Got His Gun (1971). She guest starred on the shows Ironside, Jigsaw, Harry O, Medical Story, and Police Story. In the Eighties she guest starred on the shows The Mississippi; Murder, She Wrote; Matlock; Shadow Chasers; and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her final screen appearances would be in the Naughts and the Teens. She appeared in the TV movie Chloe's Prayer (2006). She appeared in the TV movie Meurtres à l'Empire State Building in 2008. That same year she appeared in the short "The Grand Inquisitor," directed by film author and historian Eddie Muller.

In 1993 her book The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s and Our World Since Then was published. In 2015 she was the subject of the documentary Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity. She also wrote songs.

Marsha Hunt was a humanitarian and activist. She joined the United Nations Association in 1955 to fight starvation in the Third World. She founded the San Fernando Valley Mayor's Fund for the Homeless. For many years she served on the advisory board of  the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center. She was also a member of the SAG board for many years. Having moved to Sherman Oaks, California in 1946, she was named its honorary mayor in 1983.

Marsha Hunt was an incredible talent. In the mid-Forties she was known as "Hollywood's Youngest Character Actress." While other actresses often played the same sort of roles multiple times, Marsha Hunt played a wide variety of roles. No two roles were ever really the same. In Pride and Prejudice she played the bookish, dowdy Bennet sister Mary. In Raw Deal Marsha Hunt played caseworker Ann Martin, who finds herself hostage to escaped convict Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe). In the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Tea Time," she played Blanche, a woman having an affair with a married man. In "The Grand Inquisitor," Marsha Hunt played the widow of a possible serial killer in one of the most chilling performances of her life.

Marsha Hunt was a remarkable woman beyond being a talented actress. She was certainly brave, continuing to take a stand against HUAC even though it was detrimental to her career. She also devoted herself to humanitarian causes long before it was fashionable to do so. Over the years Marsha Hunt appeared at various film festivals, and she was a familiar face to Turner Classic Movies fans. I have plenty of friends who had the chance to meet her, and every one of them have said she was one of the warmest, nicest people one could hope to meet. She was articulate, thoughtful, and she truly loved her fans. Marsha Hunt had strength of character that few have, and she treated everyone with dignity. She was not simply a great actress. She was a great woman.