Created by Leonard Stern
Starring John Astin, Marty Ingels, Emmaline Henry, Dave Ketchum, Frank De Vol, Noam Pitlik
One of the joys of watching old sitcoms is seeing familiar people early in their career. I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster is a prime example, a short-lived series that was a stepping stone for several actors who had long careers – though often not as actors.
The show is about two friends who worked as carpenters. Harry Dickens (John Astin) is married to Kate (Emmaline Henry), while Arch Fenster (Marty Ingels) is single and who isn’t interested in settling down.
This was basically a workplace comedy. Most of the scenes happened when they were on the job as builders, which gave ample opportunity for slapstick comedy, which was the strength of the show. The plots were the usual melange of 60s humor and plot contrivances, but managed to be funnier than the usual run of the mill.
John Astin is fine at Harry, the straight(er) man of the two, though it’s usually Ingels who gets the best lines. Of course, the show didn’t give Astin the type of off-beat strangeness that he used as Gomez Addams.
The show was created by Leonard Stern. Stern had written for some of the classic shows of the 50s – The Honeymooners and The Phil Silvers Show. This was his first chances as a producer, and the start of a long career that included He & She, Get Smart, The Good Guys, The Governor and J.J. and McMillan & Wife. He also was a publisher of Price Stern Sloan books – best known for Mad Libs.
No one has to be told how John Astin’s career went after that,* but other regulars continued in show business. Emmaline Henry had a recurring role in I Dream of Jeannie as Dr. Bellows wife.
Others in the cast made their marks on TV, though not as actors. Frank de Vol was a composer for TV shows; his best known work was the theme song for The Brady Bunch. Noam Pitlik moved to the director’s chair, most notably for Barney Miller, Taxi, and Wings.
Marty Ingles ended up doing a lot of voice work and leaving acting to be a Hollywood agent, primarily finding ad gigs for his clients. He married Shirley Jones.
*I was lucky enough to see him onstage at Ford’s Theater (yes, that Ford’s Theater) in a production of Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies. It was the final performance of the run, and Astin was wonderful.