Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Joey Bishop Show (TV)

Joey Bishop Show(1961-69)
Joey Bishop, Abby Dalton, Corbett Monica, Joe Besser, Mary Treen
IMDB Entry

The Rat Pack is back in style and people know all about Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., who have become Las Vegas icons. But in their original incarnation, there were two others:  Peter Lawford, who is best known these days (if at all) for marrying into the Kennedy clan, and Joey Bishop.

Bishop was a comedian who actually wrote most of the jokes for the rest of the pack.  After he turned to acting, he caught the attention of Danny Thomas, who put him into an episode of Make Room for Daddy, as Joey Mason, a bumbling Hollywood PR agent.  The next year, this setup (with the character renamed Joey Barnes) formed the basis for The Joey Bishop Show. 

It wasn’t a success. It stumbled along with mediocre ratings the first year. NBC gave it another chance, with the request it be revamped. So, in 1962, everything had changed.*  Bishop was the only cast member retained and the concept was that he was a talk show host who lived in New York. He was married to Ellie (Abby Dalton) and was friends with his head writer Larry Corbett (Corbett Monica).  The cast was rounded out by Mr. Jilson (Joe Besser), and Hilda (Mary Treen), their maid.

Show castThe show was filled with gentle comedy. The jokes may have worn a little thin, but the stories hold up surprisingly well.  Barnes is a decent guy with a sense of humor and Bishop’s relaxed and subtle style – he never appeared to work to be funny – was charming to watch.

The cast was a delight.  I think I had a little crush on Abby Dalton; her Ellie was well rounded and very grounded.  Corbett Monica – a successful standup comedian, too,** and had some of the sharper line.

Joe Besser, of course, is a familiar name.  He was the fifth of the Three Stooges, a replacement after Shemp died. He is not well regarded by Stooges fans, but he was usually the best thing in the mostly recycled films of their later career.  I remember liking Mr. Jillson mostly because he was one of the Stooges, and he was better here than with the other two.

The show moved to CBS for its final season.  In 1967, Bishop tried to compete with Johnny Carson with a late night show that ran for two seasons.  After that, he worked occasionally, but never headlined. 

It’s too bad.  Once it found its stride, the show is one of the best of its era.

*I’m featuring this version of the show, since it’s the one I watched as a teen.

**I was delighted to see him as one of the comedians talking in the deli in Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Whale Rider

imageDirected by
Niki Caro
Written by Niki Caro, from a book by Witi Ihmaera
Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene
IMDB Entry

Like many small countries, New Zealand’s film industry is small* and few of their films make it to the US.  Despite being English-speaking, they have the curse of being considered “foreign films,” so few people go see them. But one of the most successful was the powerful coming-of-age film, Whale Rider.

It’s the story of Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), the granddaughter of a village leader, who is the descendant of Paikea, a legendary figure who came to the village by riding a whale. Tradition says that the position is passed on to the eldest grandson of the previous leader, but Pai not only has the misfortune of being a girl and thus ineligible, but her mother and her fraternal twin died in childbirth and there are no more siblings.  Her grandfather (Rawiri Paratene) blames her for the deaths, and,  when she shows some interest in becoming the next leader, refuses to let her try it because of her gender.

The movie hinges on Keisha Castle-Hughes.  She was 13 when the film was shot, but produced a bravura performance.  She was nominated for a best actress Oscar, the youngest person at the time to get that honor, and it was certainly well deserved.

Overall, it’s a story about triumph over hide-bound thinking, and a joyous film to watch.

*Lord of the Rings was shot there, but it was not a New Zealand film any more than Star Wars was a Moroccan film.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Good Morning, World (TV)

Opening title(1967-68)
Created by
Bill Persky and Sam Denoff
Starring: Joby Baer, Ronnie Schell, Julie Parrish, Billy De Wolfe, Goldie Hawn
IMDB Entry

Goldie Hawn rocketed to stardom after appearing on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. The story of her getting the role is well known: she was a struggling actress who blew a line at her audition, and giggled at her own mistake. The producers loved it, and gave her a part and her stardom began from her very first regular TV gig . . . except that it’s wrong.  Hawn had already moved up the ladder of success with a regular part in the CBS comedy, Good Morning, World.

The show had a great pedigree.  It was created by Dick Van Dyke Show writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff and had as executive producers TV greats Sheldon Leonard (Make Room for Daddy, Andy Griffith, I Spy) and Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show). It was designed as a vehicle for Ronnie Schell, who seemed on the verge of stardom after a stint on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.). 

The show was about two morning DJs – David Lewis (Joby Baker) and Larry Clarke (Schell).  Lewis was married to Linda (Julie Parrish), while Clarke was a bachelor.  Lewis and Clarke often run afoul of their by-the-book boss, Roland B. Hutton (Billy De Wolfe). David and Linda’s next door neighbor, Sandy Kramer (Hawn), acted as a sounding board for Linda and a sometime date for Larry.

Good Morning World

The stories showed how the two men balanced their work life (where they were “crazy” DJs of the time) with their home life. Not entirely innovative, but Persky and Denoff were among the top writers of sitcoms in their day, writing many classic episodes of Dick van Dyke and That Girl, so the show was consistently funny.

During the show’s run, Laugh-In  was cast and Goldie left. It’s unclear if any of her episodes were run while she was appearing on Laugh-In; if they had, she would have joined the list of people who appeared in series on two different networks at the same time (she certainly qualifies if it’s in the same season).*

Despite a good time slot, the ratings were never particularly good for the show, and it was canceled after one season.  Schell returned to Gomer Pyle and the sitcom went to an obscure corner of sitcom heaven.


*The champion of this was Jim Backus, who was on two series on two networks at the same time – and in the same time slot.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

People Will Talk/The Celebrity Game (TV)

(1963,1964, 1965)

Celebrity GameCreated by Merrill Heatter & Bob Quigley
Hosted by Dennis James, Carl Reiner
IMDB Entry

From back the the radio days, there was a specific style of game show, where the game really wasn’t the point. The best-known early example of that was Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, where the game took a back seat to the action. More modern examples include things like The Match Game. In the middle, one nice example of the form was People Will Talk.

The show, hosted by Dennis James, involved asking a group of nine celebrities simple yes-and-no opinion question. Then the contestants would pick a star and say what they thought the answer would be. If they were right, they won money.* It was not intended to be a serious discussion of the question, but the fun was having the celebrity talk about their answers.

Typical questions were “Should there be a different speed limit for women drivers?” or “Are performers really more self-centered and temperamental than other people?”

The show only lasted six months in its original run in 1963. But the next year, it was back again under the name The Celebrity Game. Carl Reiner had taken over as host, but otherwise it was the same as before.

The most memorable part of the show for me was on episode where the question was “Should a man wear a toupee?”  It was the second question of the show, and during the commercial break Reiner, who had always worn a toupee, appeared without it.**

The second run wasn’t much more successful than the first, and was cancelled after five months.

But things weren’t done yet.  It was revived once more a (with Reiner again) in the spring of 1965, probably because it was a relatively cheap filler for a terrible timeslot.***  And it also showed up in reruns in the daytime of late 1967-68.

It clear that creators Heatter and Quigley loved the concept, and finally were able to make it work, when, the next year, they hit the jackpot with nine-celebrity model in The Hollywood Squares.


*A $100-dollar top prize!

**This was before the classic Dick Van Dyke Show episode where, as Alan Brady, he appeared sans rug.

***Opposite Hazel and Peyton Place.