Friday, July 28, 2023

Teresa Wright's Remarkable Contract with Samuel Goldwyn

Teresa Wright was a movie star from the beginning of her film career. It was in 1939 that she began a two-year stint playing Mary Skinner in Life with Father on Broadway. She had been appearing in Life with Father for a year when legendary film producer Samuel Goldwyn attended one of its performances. Impressed by her acting skills, Mr. Goldwyn immediately signed her to play Zannie Giddens, the daughter of lead character Regina Giddens, in the in the 1941 movie adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes. Samuel Goldwyn also signed Teresa Wright to a five year contract.

Teresa Wright's contract with Samuel Goldwyn would be unusual for an actress in Hollywood in that it contained the following stipulation:

"The aforementioned Teresa Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: In shorts, playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something with a bow and arrow."

To many people today this stipulation might seem unusual, but for classic movie buffs familiar with classic pinups, it is clear Teresa Wright's contract is listing some of the most common tropes found in pinup pictures. Quite simply, in a rather humorous fashion, Teresa Wright is stating that she will not do many types of pinup pictures. It was in this way that Teresa Wright asserted herself as a serious actress. And Teresa Wright would be taken very seriously as an actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Little Foxes (1941). The next year she won the Oscar for  Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver (1942) and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for The Pride of the Yankees (1942).  She would go on to appear in the classics Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Even though she was taken seriously as an actress, Teresa Wright did wind up doing some pinup pictures, but they were not as goofy or campy as other pinups of the time. An example can be seen to the left. Of course, notice the look on her face...

Teresa Wright and Samuel Goldwyn would eventually part ways. It was in December 1948 that he cancelled her contract with the claims that she refused to promote the movie Enchantment (1948) and that she was "uncooperative." In response Teresa Wright stated that she never refused to do what was asked of her, but at the time she was in poor health. While Miss Wright would give many more great performances, in the following decades she would not see the success in movies that she had in the Forties.

Below are a few examples of the sort of pinups to which Teresa Wright objected doing....

Possibly the most famous pinup of all time: Betty Grable in a swimsuit, but clearly not in the water.

From the Fifties, but they also did these types of pinups in the Forties: Jayne Mansfield whipping up a meal.

Here's Ann Miller with some really big firecrackers.

And here's Heather Angel dressed in bunny ears for Easter.

While I love the old, campy pinups, I can fully understand why Teresa Wright might have thought she would have been taken less seriously if she did them!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

DC Comic Books Based on Sitcoms

When comic book fans think of comics and licensed properties, they are inclined to think of Dell Comics or Gold Key, both of which published several titles based on licensed properties over the years (most famously, those based on various Disney cartoons). While Dell and Gold Key may have been the undisputed kings of comic books based on licensed properties, DC Comics (back when it was still officially known as National Comics Publications and later National Periodical Publications), published a good number of comic books based on licensed properties from the Golden Age into the Silver Age. And while DC Comics has always been best known for such superheroes as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, over the years they did publish titles based on radio and television sitcoms.

DC Comics' first comic book based on a radio sitcom also proved to be its most successful title based on a situation comedy. The radio show A Date with Judy debuted on NBC Red on June 24 1941 as a summer replacement for The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope. It centred on teenager Judy Foster (initially played by Anne Gillis and later Dellie Ellis and Louise Erickson). A Date with Judy proved to be highly successful, running until May 4 1950. A movie based on the radio show, A Date with Judy (1948), starred Jane Powell as Judy Foster. There were two television adaptations of the radio show. The first was a daytime version that debuted on ABC on June 2 1951 and ran until February 23 1952. The second was a prime time version that also aired on ABC and ran from July 15 1952 to September 30 1953.

As to the DC Comics version of A Date with Judy, its first issue was dated October/November 1947. Henry Boltinoff, who wrote several of DC Comics' humour titles and fillers over the years, wrote the comic book A Date with Judy throughout its run. Bob Oskner, who would work on several other DC comics based on licensed properties (including The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope), provided much of the artwork throughout its run. A Date with Judy ultimately lasted longer than the sitcom upon which it was based. It ran for 79 issues until October–November 1960, a full 13 years.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
is still a familiar name today, but the comic book based on the popular sitcom did not prove to be a hit. The radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet debuted on October 8 1944 on CBS. It centred on the lives of performers Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their sons David and Ricky. The radio show proved to be a hit, running until June 18 1954. The television version of the show proved even more successful, running from October 3 1952 to April 23 1966. Running for 14 seasons, it was the longest running live-action sitcom until it was surpassed by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The comic book The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet did not last nearly as long as the radio show or television show. Its first issue was dated November 1949. It only ran for five issues until July 1950.

Curiously, this was not the last time Ricky Nelson would be seen in a comic book. Dell Comics published an issue of their long-running title Four Colour (dated June-August 1959) starring Ricky Nelson. It seems pretty obvious that this comic book was meant to capitalize on the popularity of Ricky Nelson, who was then both a pop star and a teen idol. Regardless, it would not lead to a regular title starring Ricky Nelson.

It would be several years before DC Comics attempted another title based on a sitcom. This time it would star a big name actor and comedian. When DC Comics' Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners hit newsstands, Jackie Gleason was not a newcomer to comic books. St. John had published a Jackie Gleason comic book from September 1955 to December 1955, only four issues. DC Comics would have a bit more success.

The comic book Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners was based on Jackie Gleason's most famous creation. The Honeymooners originated as a series of sketches on Cavalcade of the Stars on the Dumont Network. Jackie Gleason took the "Honeymooners" sketches with him when he moved to CBS for The Jackie Gleason Show. It was in 1955 that the sketches were spun off as a sitcom. As a sitcom The Honeymooners proved to be very popular. The sitcom ended after one season not because of low ratings, but because Jackie Gleason wanted to end the show while it was on top. He did not think they could sustain the quality of the series following the first season. Regardless, the "Honeymooners" sketches would return on The Jackie Gleason Show and would continue to be seen until The Jackie Gleason Show ended its run in 1970. As to the comic book, the first issue of Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners was dated July 1956. It ran for twelve issues until May 1958.

It was while Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners was still being published that DC Comics came out with their next title based on a sitcom. Sgt. Bilko was based on the popular sitcom The Phil Silvers Show. The Phil Silvers Show focused on Master Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko, who spent his time in the peace-time Army coming up with various get-rich-quick schemes. The Phil Silvers Show debuted on September 20 1955 on CBS under the title You'll Never Get Rich (it was retitled only a few weeks into its run). It was still doing well in the ratings when it ended its run on September 11 1959.

DC Comics' Sgt Bilko hit newsstands with its first issue dated June 1957. The title proved to be relatively successful, running for 18 issues until April 1960. Sgt. Bilko would be unique among DC Comics' comic books based on sitcoms in that it is the only one to have a spinoff. Private Doberman, played by Maurice Gosfield, had proven to be the breakout character on The Phil Silvers Show. It is perhaps for that reason he received his own comic book, Sgt. Bilko's Pvt. Doberman, the first issue of which was dated July 1958. It ultimately ran for eleven issues, until March 1960.

DC Comics' next sitcom title would prove to be even more successful than Sgt. Bilko The TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was based on Max Shulman's popular short stories that had also inspired the musical The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953). Like Max Shulman's short stories, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis centred on love crazy teenager Dobie Gillis (Dwayne Hickman). On the TV show he was the son of independent grocer Herbert T. Gillis (Frank Faylen). His best friend was television's first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver).  The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis debuted on September 29 1959 and proved to be popular. It ended its run on June 5 1963 after four seasons, having been toppled in the ratings by NBC's hit Western The Virginian. Curiously, while the title of the sitcom would be shortened to Dobie Gillis in its second season and then changed to Max Shulman's Dobie Gillis in its fourth season, the comic book would always be titled The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

The first issue of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was cover dated June 1960. It ran for 26 issues until October 1964, so that the comic book ultimately ran as long as the sitcom had. While The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ended with no. 26 (October 1964), it would have something of a strange afterlife. In the Sixties DC Comics had a title called Showcase, in which they published trial runs of new features. If a feature proved popular, it would receive its own title. It was with Showcase no. 81 (March 1968) that they introduced Windy and Willy. That having been said, Windy and Willy was nothing new. The stories were nothing more and nothing less than stories from the run of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis re-lettered and redrawn. Dobie Gillis became Willy Newton, while Maynard G. Krebs became Windy Wiggs. The trial run in Showcase proved successful enough that Windy and Willy received its own title, the first issue cover dated June 1969. Windy and Willy did not last long. It only ran for four issues, until December 1969.

It would be twelve years after DC Comics' The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ended before they would attempt another title based on sitcom. In some respects, DC Comics' Welcome Back, Kotter was something of an anomaly. DC Comics had cancelled their humour titles in  the early Seventies and in the mid-Seventies they published little in the way of comic books based on licensed properties. Regardless, the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter had proven to be a hit, particularly popular with younger viewers. For its first season it came in at no. 18 in the Nielsen ratings for the year. Welcome Back, Kotter debuted on September 9 1975. It starred Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, a teacher who returns to teach remedial students known as "the Sweathogs' at his old high school.  The show turned John Travolta into a star and ultimately ran for four seasons.

The first issue of DC Comics' Welcome Back, Kotter was dated November 1976. Writers on the title varied for the entirety of its run. Elliot S. Maggin wrote the first two issues. Over the years he would write stories for Superman, Batman, Adam Strange, and other DC characters. Later Tony Isabella, Mark Evanier, and others would write for the series. Some of the covers were drawn by the aforementioned Bob Oskner, who had worked on several of DC's humour titles and their titles based on licensed properties. Welcome Back, Kotter ran for ten issues, ending its run in April 1978. After the title had been cancelled, DC Comics issued a  Limited Collectors' Edition that featured a look behind the scenes on the sitcom.  Limited Collectors' Editions were over-sized comic books published by DC Comics in the Seventies, mostly containing reprints of older material.

On the surface it might look as if DC Comics had little success with adaptations of radio and television sitcoms, with the exception of the long-running  A Date with Judy. The same might be said of Dell Comics and Gold Key if one looks at how long many of their sitcom titles ran. In many cases, comic books based on sitcoms continued being published only as long as the sitcom was still running. Sgt. Bilko and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ended their runs a little after both shows ended their network runs. Over at Dell Comics, their comic book based on The Beverly Hillbillies ended its run in 1971, only a little before the show was cancelled by CBS. It would seem that in many cases comic books based on sitcoms would seem to remain popular only as long as that sitcom is on the air.

Regardless, DC Comics' comic books based on sitcoms are fondly remembered by many and of interest to fans of those shows, even ones like me who weren't around when the TV shows were first on the air and the comic books were being published. Indeed, I would be very happy if DC Comics published collections of Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners, Sgt. Bilko, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, giving many fans of those shows a chance to read their comic book adventures.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

1968 Coppertone Commercial

Among the things I remember from child are commercials for suntan lotion, now more commonly called sunscreen. During the summer commercials for suntan lotion were ubiquitous, particularly commercials for Coppertone. Here is an example of one of those commercials, which would have aired when I was a mere tyke.

The commercial is notable for starring Anne Randall, who was the Playmate of the Month for the May 1967 issue of Playboy. She would later be a regular for a short time on the soap opera Days of Our Lives and a regular for two years on Hee Haw. She guest starred on such shows as Banyon, McCloud, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, and The Rockford Files. She appeared in such movies as Hell's Bloody Devils (1970) and Westworld (1973), as well as the TV movie The Night Strangler (the sequel to The Night Stalker).

Interviewing Anne Randall in the commercial is Army Archerd, who was a columnist for Variety for over fifty years. Army Archerd also appeared in several movies, usually as himself, including Teacher's Pet (1958), What a Way to Go! (1964), Wild in the Streets (1968), and several others. He was well known for his appearances on Hollywood Squares in the Seventies.

Here I must note that while I remember suntan lotion commercials from my childhood well, I have never really used it. I am part Cherokee and I rarely get sunburns. And, before anyone says anything, yes, I know I should use suntan lotion.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Estelle Getty's Birth

It was 100 years ago on this date that Estelle Getty was born in New York City. I eulogized her when she died in 2008 at the age of 84 from Lewy body dementia, so here I will just discuss some of her better known roles. 

Of course, Estelle Getty is best known as Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy's wisecracking mother, on The Golden Girls. Amazingly enough, Sophia was originally meant to be a recurring character, but Estelle Getty as the character proved to be a hit with test audiences, and so she became a regular. At the beginning of the show Sophia was 80 years old, but Estelle Getty was only in her early sixties at the time. As a result, she had to wear make up to make her look older. It is quite possible that Sophia is the most popular character on The Golden Girls, and as a result she would appear on episodes of other shows as well. Indeed, she appeared in 52 episodes of the Golden Girls spinoff Empty Nest. She also appeared on one episode of the Empty Nest spinoff Nurses and an episode of Blossom. Of course, she was a regular on the short-lived Golden Girls sequel/spinoff The Golden Palace.

While Estelle Getty will probably always be best remembered as Sophia on The Golden Girls, she played other roles as well. In Mannequin (1987) she played kindly department store owner Claire Timkn. In Mask (1985) she played Evelyn, the grandmother of Rocky (who had craniodiaphyseal dysplasia). In the film she often acts as a mediator between Rocky (Eric Stoltz) and his mother Rusty (Cher), as well as a mediator between Rusty and her husband Abe and his daughter Rusty. While Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) is not a particularly good film, Estelle Getty was still entertaining as the constantly interfering mother of Police Sergeant Joe Bomowski (Sylvester Stallone).

Amazingly enough, Estelle Getty did not begin her career in film and television until she was older. She spent years performing various roles in New York theatres. She made her film debut in a small role in the movie Team-Mates in 1978. In 1981 she made her television debut in a guest appearance on the short-lived TV show Nurse. It was in 1982, when she was 59 years old, that she appeared on Broadway in Torch Song Trilogy. By later seasons of The Golden Girls Lewy body dementia began to take its toll, as she struggled to remember lines despite years as an actress on stage. With her health in decline, Estelle Getty retired from acting following a guest appearance on the show It's Like...You Know in 2001.

Estelle Getty was certainly a remarkable actress and played one of the most memorable characters on television. And while she will always be remembered as Sophia Petrillo, she played many other roles as well.