Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Lonesome Rhodes": "Andy Taylor's" Questionable Cousin

This is the first of what will be periodic guest essays from various members of the Classic TV Preservation Society. We begin with Lonesome Rhodes: Andy Taylor's Questionable Cousin by Charles Tranberg, who is the author of several books on classic media tie-in books, including biographies of Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), Marie Wilson, and Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons), and a chronicle of The Thin Man feature films.

In his essays, Charles will focus on classic TV stars who have also appeared in classic (or at times maybe not so classic) films. As Tranberg explains, "It used to be that if you were a film star and you went on to do television that it was a step-down. It was kind of a snobbish attitude regarding the new medium of TV that was taking a toll on box office receipts. Similarly if you were a TV star your dream might have been to break into films, but 40 or 50 years ago that was harder to do than today. Today a TV star can become a film star (John Hanks, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, George Clooney are examples). For my first installment I’ve chosen one of my favorite TV legends, Andy Griffith. Before he was Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, he played one of the most repulsive narcissistic personalities ever put on film — Lonesome Rhodes in the classic A Face In The Crowd."

Charles then commences his essay:

Andy Griffith became a TV legend by playing Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show (CBS, 1960-1968). If ever there was a part that fit the actor—this was it. In fact, Andy had a great deal of input into the development of the character and its setting—his hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina became the inspiration for the shows idealized small town, Mayberry, NC.

Yet just two years earlier he played a variation on this very same character in what is now regarded as a classic American film—Elia Kazan's A Face In The Crowd. Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, who on the face of it has several qualities in common with Andy Taylor—folksy, good-natured and a man who enjoyed chewing the breeze while strumming his guitar. But Lonesome had another side, too. He enjoyed his booze, he enjoyed women (Sheriff Taylor always had a steady girl friend—but one at a time), and where Andy Taylor guarded the jail—Lonesome Rhodes was often in it. Lonesome also had a mean streak and an ego that wouldn't quit. Could Lonesome Rhodes be Andy Taylor's meaner cousin?

Andy Griffith was born on June 1, 1926 (incidentally that's the same day and year that Marilyn Monroe was born) in the aforementioned Mount Airy, North Carolina. He was a sickly youngster and "wasn't much of a student and didn't have an aim until I was 14." His aim became music - which he majored in at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He eventually performed in several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. While driving 45-minutes between Chapel Hill and Raleigh he worked out in his mind a monologue about a country hick who had never seen a football game. The monologue was titled, "What It Was, Was Football, which became a hallmark of a night club act.

Capitol Records heard the monologue and hired Andy to do a recording of it (along with a country version of "Romeo and Juliet") and it became a huge seller. He was booked on The Ed Sullivan Show - and Andy Griffith was on his way.

In March, 1955 Andy starred as another country bumpkin who gets drafted into the U.S. Army in the television production of a popular comic novel, No Time for Sergeants. The TV program proved so popular that by November of that year it was a popular Broadway hit - and ran for 796 performances with Andy receiving a Tony nomination for his performance.

In 1958 Andy starred in the hit Warner Brothers film version of No Time For Sargents. It was actually his second film. His first film was a departure for him from the comedy realm – A Face In The Crowd, was also one of the most auspicious debut movies of any actor.

A Face In The Crowd was based on Budd Schulberg's short story Your Arkansas Traveler, from his book Some Faces in the Crowd. When it was made into a film, Elia Kazan was chosen to direct with Schulberg writing the screenplay. Kazan and Schulberg had previously collaborated four years earlier on the classic film On the Waterfront.

The theme of the film, as it had been in the short story was, according to Kazan, "our anticipation of the power TV would have in the political life of the nation."

A Face in the Crowd tells the story of an Arkansas radio producer, Marcia Jeffries, who, while visiting a small town jailhouse, discovers Larry Lonesome Rhodes strumming his guitar while paying his debt to society for drunken and disorderly behavior. She finds him a fascinating creature and believes that he has potential. A local show in Memphis leads to the big time in New York, where Rhodes easy-going, country charm (and he could pour it on when he wanted to) leads to a major sponsor and top ratings.

Fame has gone to his head and when the red eye of the camera is off he is a bully with the crew and staff who must cater to his every need. He develops an ego which could fill a room and he begins to treat Marcia, who had fallen in love with him, with callousness. Behind the scenes he is dismissive of his fans believing them gullible in believing everything he tells them.

One of his sponsors is promoting an extreme right-winger for the presidency and needs Lonesome’s help to win the man the presidential nomination—Lonesome soon comes to believe that he will be the real power behind the presidency and perhaps could have the office himself one day. Eventually his spite, ego and callousness catch up with him and it’s Marcia who betrays him.

It was clear that a character such as this would have to be performed by an actor of exceptional talent. The character, as written by Schulberg, was based on such personalities as Arthur Godfrey, Huey Long and evangelist Billy Graham. At first, Kazan considered Jackie Gleason, who himself was privately known to be a man with huge appetites— ego included— as well as a true star of television.

But when Kazan heard Andy's comedy album and saw him on television something clicked, "He was the real Native American country boy and that comes over in the picture." Patricia Neal was selected to play Marcia after Schulberg saw her perform in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Added to the cast was Walter Mathau, Anthony Franciosa (from TV's Longsreet and Doc Elliot) and, in her film debut, Lee Remick, who plays one of Lonesome's playmates.

Andy was very nervous with this his first film—and inexperienced. He was nervous when the camera rolled, so much so that Kazan eventually took him aside and told him, "Andy, the camera is an amazing piece of equipment. Just find what the character is feeling and thinking and allow it to come out of your eyes."

Andy took this advice to heart. He would later call Kazan, "a great teacher, but he would rather that you learned it on your own." Andy recalled that every morning Kazan would have him meet him in his office and Kazan would explain what was expected of him during that day of filming. The climactic scene of the film has Lonesome violently angry and shouting at the top of his lungs on a balcony.

"I had him drunk all through the last big scene because it ws the only way he could be violent," recalled Kazan. "In life he wants to be friends with everybody." Patricia Neal later recalled, "I think he got him (Andy) drunk once—but not really (all that drunk). But he tended to give him a little too much to drink sometimes."

Andy would recall A Face In The Crowd as an exhausting picture to make physically and emotionally. "It took three months to shoot," he later said, "and two months to get over."

When the film premiered in New York on May 28, 1957, Bosley Crowther, the venerable critic of The New York Times, and one of the most respected critics in the country, called the film "sizzling and cynical," and went on to praise Griffith:

"In a way, it is not surprising that this flamboyant Lonesome Rhodes dominates the other characters in the story and consequently the show. For Mr. Schulberg has penned a powerful person of the raw, vulgar, roughneck, cornball breed, and Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor, under the guidance of Mr. Kazan."

The film, while critically acclaimed, was not a success at the box office. Andy later said, "that movie didn't make a dime, and besides, roles like that don't come along often."

Still, as the years have gone by its reputation has grown—especially as television has become more of a force in influencing public opinion and creating instant television stars courtesy of so-called "reality shows."

The Oxford Companion to Film wrote of A Face in the Crowd, "the inherent dangers of personality-building, and the exploitation of the gullible viewing public, were exploited with humor, bitterness and sharp observation."

Magill's Survey of Cinema, in its entry on the film said, "If A Face in the Crowd ends in melodrama, it is nevertheless highly effective satire, exposing the actual workings of an industry which has continued to demand attention for sparse entertainment and high levels of abuse."

In three years time Andy Griffith would become Sheriff Andy Taylor for immortality. But Sheriff Taylor had an off-center cousin -Lonesome Rhodes - and only on a few occasions in the years that followed would he allow this inner beast to come out on screen.

Perhaps he had to ration it out to keep his sanity?

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Dissertation On "Perry Mason"

Perry Mason originally aired on CBS from 1957 to 1966, and starred the great Raymand Burr in the lead, with Barbara Hale as his trusted assistant, Della Street, William Hopper (son of Hollywood gossip legend Hedda Hopper) as detective Paul Drake, and William Talman as Hamilton Burger, the poor district attorney, who Mason always clobbered in court. Ray Collins, Wesley Lau, and Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) rounded out the additional law enforcement cast in various roles over the years.

Perry Mason was more than just a precurser to countless lawyer shows to follow, including LA Law, Law & Order, and Boston Legal, among many others.

Mason was based on a series of best-selling mystery novels created by attorney-novelist Erle Stanley Gardner, which were transformed into a CBS radio show - with soap-opera elements - that aired from 1943 to 1955. When the radio series became the now iconic Raymon Burr show, the soap-opera slant was shelved. But in 1956 (two years before the Burr series debut), the original radio format was transplanted to the TV daytime serial, The Edge of Night (complete with the PM radio production staff and most of the cast, who were given new character names), where it remained until December 1984.

Meanwhile, in the Fall of 1973 - only a few years after the Burr's Perry Mason TV series was cancelled by CBS in 1966, the show was revived with Monte Markham in the lead, Sharon Acker as Della Street, Albert Stratton as Paul Drake, Dane Clark as Lt. Tragg, and Harry Guardino as Hamilton Burger. This edition was titled, The New Perry Mason and only lasted one sseason.

A little over ten years later, Raymund Burr and Barbara Hale returned to their famous roles in the 1985 hit TV-movie, Perry Mason Returns (this time for NBC), which also featured Hale's real life son, Willam Katt, as Paul Drake, Jr. (William Hopper had died in 1970). The Returns film was so successful it lead to an entire series of TV-movies that lasted even after Burr himself passed away.

In either "case," the original Perry Mason TV series was a stand-out. So very well written, directed and performed with precision, the show remains gripping and entertaining to this day.

Perry never lost a case, except for once - later in the series, when that verdict was then reversed. The chemistry between the main four actors, Burr, Hale, Hopper and Talman was solid. Over time, and especially in the show's later years, we came to observe and understand the respect between not only the characters on the show - but between the actors who played them.

Burr made certain to create a "family atmosphere" on the set, and that transferred to the screen when the cameras began to roll.

There was no gratutious violence on the series. Instead, the series catered to the intellect. Burr's Mason was intelligent, but compassionate - and always fair and honest. His objective for each case was justice and the truth - and not just based on technicalities. But on the heart - which is why it remains so popular today.

A "classic," in every sense of the word - and an inspiration to many, professionally - and personally.

Many viewers were inspired to become attorneys. And many viwers were inspired to treat each other with the highest regard of respect - as set on example by the characters - and cast - of Perry Mason.


Click on the link below for a video clip of Barbara Hale from the "extras" on the 50th Anniversary DVD of Perry Mason.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Special Event Planning Committee Meeting TONIGHT

The Special Event Planning Committee for the Classic TV Preservation Society meets TONIGHT at the El Torito in Burbank (across from NBC).

7 PM!


Friday, September 03, 2010

"Happy Days" Writer Fred Fox, Jr. Defends "Fonzie" and "Jumping the Shark"

Below is an article that was published in the September 3rd, 2010 issue of the Los Angeles Times. The article is written by "Happy Days" writer Fred Fox, Jr., as it addresses the "controversy" surrounding Fonzie's historic jump of the shark on Happy Days - and all to which it gave birth. Enjoy!

Herbie J Pilato


Contrary to pop culture belief, when Fonzie jumped the shark, it hardly marked the demise of the show.

By Fred Fox Jr.
(Special to the Los Angeles Times)

September 3, 2010

In 1987, Jon Hein and his roommates at the University of Michigan were drinking beer and had Nick at Nite playing in the background. They started talking about classic TV shows when someone asked, "What was the precise moment you knew it was downhill for your favorite show?" One said it was when Vicki came on board "The Love Boat." Another thought it was when the Great Gazoo appeared on "The Flintstones." Sean Connolly offered, "That's easy: It was when Fonzie jumped the shark." As Hein later recounted, there was silence in the room: "No explanation necessary, the phrase said it all."

Thus was born an expression that would quickly make its way into the pop culture mainstream, defined by Hein as "a moment. A defining moment when you know from now on … it's all downhill … it will never be the same." If I had been in the room, however, I would have broken that silence of self-assuredness, for I wrote that now infamous episode of "Happy Days."

And more than three decades later, I still don't believe that the series "jumped the shark" when Fonzie jumped the shark.

Little did the show's writers and producers know as we gathered in a conference room at Paramount Studios that spring day in 1977 that we would be creating a little piece of history. "Happy Days" was finishing the 1976-77 season as the most popular series on television, an accomplishment we were all proud of. That year had begun with a highly rated three-part story in which Fonzie ( Henry Winkler) rekindled the flame of a former love, Pinky Tuscadero. Because of this success, ABC and Paramount wanted us to open the next season, our fifth, with another three-part story.

After discussing different scenarios, we decided to take the "Happy Days" gang to Hollywood, with Fonzie invited for a screen test. One of the plot lines would be Fonzie clashing with "The California Kid," a cocky local beach boy. Since Henry water skied in real life, it was suggested the characters race and then, as a tiebreaker, have to jump a shark in a netted area in the ocean.

Now, whose idea was it for Fonzie to jump the shark? Amazingly, I can't remember — which is frustrating, as I can usually watch a "Happy Days" episode from any season, hear a joke and recall who wrote it. My friend Brian Levant, then a talented new member of the writing staff, believes that Garry Marshall, the show's co-creator and executive producer, and Bob Brunner, the show runner at the time, made the suggestion. But what I definitely remember is that no one protested vehemently; not one of us said, "Fonzie, jump a shark? Are you out of your mind?"

After the stories for the three opening episodes were blocked out, it was time to see who would write them. Often the writer who came up with the story would write the teleplay, while other times the script assignments were given out by the show runner. Bob gave me the final part to write.

There were no objections from the cast, the studio or the network concerning "Hollywood 3," as it came to be titled. It aired Sept. 20, 1977, and was a huge hit, ranking No. 3 for the week with a 50-plus share (unheard of today) and an audience of more than 30 million viewers.

And that was that until Hein and his roommates appeared a decade later. Not long after their initial bull session, Hein launched, listing about 200 television shows and inviting visitors to suggest the moment they knew a show was on the decline. Incredibly, the three words took off like wildfire and over the years the phrase has been used in television shows, video games and countless newspapers, magazines and blogs — applied to practically anything: sports, music, celebrities, politics. It even found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as British journalists pondered whether Tony Blair had jumped the shark. I saw a post on a few weeks ago suggesting President Obama was about to do the same thing by appearing on "The View."

Which brings us to the question: Was the "Hollywood 3" episode of "Happy Days" deserving of its fate?

No, it wasn't. All successful shows eventually start to decline, but this was not "Happy Days'" time. Consider: It was the 91st episode and the fifth season. If this was really the beginning of a downward spiral, why did the show stay on the air for six more seasons and shoot an additional 164 episodes? Why did we rank among the Top 25 in five of those six seasons?

That's why, when I first heard the phrase and found out what it meant, I was incredulous. Then my incredulity turned into amazement. I started thinking about the thousands of television shows that had been on the air since the medium began. And out of all of those, the "Happy Days" episode in which Fonzie jumps over a shark is the one to be singled out? This made no sense.

Interestingly enough, nowhere in any discussions or articles on the subject of jump the shark did I ever find my name associated with it. So, really, the only people who knew I wrote the episode were those on the show and my friends and family. But I knew. I have to admit, there was a time I was embarrassed. I was Hester Prynne reincarnated, walking around with a scarlet "S" on the front of my shirt, facing accusing glances and stifled snickering. But this feeling passed quickly, and I likened the popularity to a new fad, where someone jumps on the proverbial bandwagon and soon everyone is doing it, for no rhyme or reason, like the riding the mechanical bull craze. It was ludicrous. All I could do was laugh.

Fortunately, my career didn't jump the shark after "jump the shark." When "Happy Days" ended, I went directly to the ABC Paramount hit show "Webster" and, after that, wrote and produced, among others, "It's Your Move," "He's the Mayor, "The New Leave It to Beaver" and "Family Matters." In 1987, Brian Levant and I created the action comedy "My Secret Identity," which won an International Emmy.

Now that so much time has passed, it's clear that "jump the shark" is no mere fad. It has become a part of the American lexicon. I often hear or read the phrase and run into people who know it. Some of them aren't even aware of the origin. It is unfathomable to me that the shark still has its bite.

But so does our show. The day after I started writing this article, my sister Jan was meeting our friend Vicki at a movie screening. Jan mentioned I had written the episode of "Happy Days" where Fonzie jumped the shark and was working on a piece about it for the Los Angeles Times. A young man in his 20s at the reception table overheard and looked at her in disbelief. "Your brother wrote the jump the shark episode?" he said. "Awesome!"

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Click below for the direct link to this article:,0,6800871.story

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"The Andy Griffith Show's" 50th Anniversary

Andy Griffith's hometown prepares to celebrate "Mayberry's" 50th Anniversary.

See the link below for the full article.,0,5701391.story