Monday, October 25, 2010

Bosley & Billingsley: Classic TV's Ultimate "Mom" And "Dad" Offered Hope

In recent weeks, the classic TV world lost performers who created two of the most influential characters in the genre:

Tom Bosley, who played Howard Cunningham (a.k.a. Mr. C on Happy Days) (ABC, 1973-1984) and Barbara Billingsley, who portrayed June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver (CBS, ABC, 1957-63).

In view of the massive media reports of their demise, from the four main broadcast television netorks, to Time Magazine, it was clear just how imbedded in our society - and in our combined psyches - these TV personalities (the actors plus their characters) had become.

No, Happy Days and Leave It To Beaver did not display reality. The 1950s and early 1960s (Days was set in the 50s and Beaver was filmed in 60s) were far from happy days. And families like the Cunninghams and the Cleavers, or for that matter, Robert Young and Jane Wyatt's Jim and Margaret Anderson from Father Knows Best (CBS, NBC, ABC, 1954-1963, did not exist. These thoughtful and entertaining programs did not showcase how families really were or are - but they certainly continue (in reruns and DVD form) to present how they should and could be.

In my reality, I was blessed to have a beautiful family. I grew up in the inner-city of Rochester, New York in a lower middle-class neighborhood. My Mom and Dad stay married - and when they became elderly, I served as their primary caregiver. Growing up, our relationship was far from perfect, and when the roles reversed, and I became THEIR parent, our relationship did not become any less challenging.

But it was rewarding.

Every second of it.

And that's the message that those like Tom Bosley's Mr. C and Barbara Billingley's Mrs. Cleaver leave behind:

Love and family, with its ups and downs, is far from perfect, as with everything in life. But when the interaction between family members is earnestly realistic (which Father Knows Best really did do best, more so than Happy Days and Leave It To Beaver), and when there is space allowed for a margin of error, the result is always rewarding.

I don't know anyone from y generation whose life, while growing up, was ever like Happy Days (certainly not the first few seasons, when it was a calmer, sweet little show, filmed without an audience), Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best.

And I certainly don't know of any new family today - in this complicated, cynical and edgy existence (on or off TV) - who has a flawless, TV-kind of family.

But the charming presence of Tom Bosley's Mr. C and Barbara Billingsley's Mrs. Cleaver, neck pearls and all, offer hope, just like they did on their first runs. They made a difference in the lives of millions of viewers around the world, for years in the past - and they will continue to do so, forever in reruns, for years yet to be.

And if even just one "TV child," like myself and so many others, is able to learn a little bit more compassion, or kindness, or to remain that more "hopeful" because of watching a sweetly idealized family TV show that presented sweetly-idealized TV parents, well, then...wer'e all the better for it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interviews with Kathy Garver, Alison Arngrim and Dawn Wells

Pop-Culture Passionistas Amy and Nancy Harrington hit the pop culture trifecta last week, scoring one night full of interviews with CTVPS Board Member Kathy Garver (Cissy Patterson-Davis from Family Affair), Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie), and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann Summers from Gilligan's Island). Three of television's icons all in the same room—signing books, autographing photos, and talking about the good old days. As the Passionistas relayed, it was "pop culture heaven."

The Classic TV Preservation Society is now proud to share the results of those interviews. Enjoy!


Three of Classic TV's Most Charming Women

by Amy and Nancy Harrington

Kathy Garver, Alison Arngrim and Dawn Wells, all three actresses-turned-authors, made an unusual in-store appearance together last Thursday night at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. Kathy has written The Family Affair Cookbook, filled with recipes from the show and anecdotes to go along with them. Dawn Wells (who wrote the Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook in 1993) wrote the forward for Kathy's book. And Alison has been touring in support of her book, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated.

They have become friends over the years, after meeting at various autograph conventions and TV reunion specials. And one thing that bonds them together is the appreciation they have for the characters that made them household names.

There were no jaded divas here. They recognize the value of their die hard fans and the TV shows that put them, and keep them, on the map.

Dawn Wells was the first to discuss the topic saying, "I have an attitude about that. If you sign up to do a television series, do you want everybody to say 'I don't remember who did that character?'"

Alison chimed in with a supportive, "Thank you!"

"Do you think that it's all about you?" Dawn continued. "It's a million people working. Careers that are involved. Crew that's involved. They spend millions of dollars and then you bad rap it? Give it to another actor and say, 'No thank you' and let somebody else do it."

Alison agreed, adding, "I'm with you. I am so freakin' sick and tired of miserable, ungrateful whiny bitches."

"Say it like it is, Alison!" Kathy interjected.

Alison went on, "It's like .0001 of humans get to be on television or in a film. Millions of people all over the world would kill to be on TV for five minutes. We're on TV for several years, and people go 'Oh, I hated it.'" She pantomimes a slapping motion. "I am so tired of it."

Kathy held up one of her numerous head shots of her Family Affair alter ego and exclaimed, "I LOVE Cissy..."

Alison replied, "Look how many pictures she's got of her."

"Yes. Because I love Cissy," Garver continued. "The sexy Cissy... many Cissys...

Alison concluded, "And it was a cool show that people loved."

The women went on to talk more about how they got their roles and what part these shows played in molding their careers.

Kathy, who started working as a very small girl told her story saying, "I started in The Ten Commandments—not the silent version... But [Cissy] was kind of a break through role... She was a lovely part to play. I'm very proud to have played her and I'm trying to milk it as long as I can. I have the Family Affair Cookbook and the DVDs. My next book will be Surviving Cissy.

Alison recounted being a child star and feeling like her career was over at a young age. "I got my first job at six and then I did commercials and movies and a few different things," she explained.

She revealed, "Then I hadn't worked since I was ten. And I was eleven, pushing twelve, and my father actually sat me down and said I wasn't really getting a lot of work and that maybe I wouldn't work again until I was 18. I was basically told I was washed up at 11 and I should reconsider my career. And then I got Little House. I had a mid-life crisis at 11."

Dawn recalled that as a college student studying acting she decided to give herself two years to see if she could make it. She said, "I'll either go to New York or Los Angles. New York at that time was all singing and dancing and musical comedy which I don't do, so I thought, 'I'll try LA... I'll try LA for two years. If I don't get any work I'll go back to school and be a surgeon.'"

Within weeks she had a Warner Bros. contract and within two years was part of "the rest" on Gilligan's Island.

She acknowledged, "I am more than Mary Anne as an actress, but I embrace the fact that she gave me the opportunity of being able to make a living doing... a character that I find more of a challenge. And how can you not be grateful? How can you not be grateful for the fact that all over the world... I can't go to Beijing with out hearing 'Mary Anne, Mary Anne.' We're in thirty languages all over the world and we have never been off the air since 1964."

We are grateful for all three women and all three shows, and it's so nice to hear that they are as well.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

GUEST POST: "Our Hearts Belong to Florky" by Amy and Nancy Harrington (Pop Culture Passionistas)

Let's face it.

It's hard not to root for Jennifer Grey to win Dancing with the Stars.

After all, most of us feel like she's some long lost cousin that we haven't seen since that magical summer at Kellerman's Resort in the Catskills (via Dirty Dancing).

Since then, Baby's been in the corner but her struggles have only made her stronger (and infinitely more likeable). First, a botched nose job left her practically unrecognizable and pretty much destroyed her career. There was also that fatal car accident in Ireland that she and then-boyfriend Matthew Broderick survived but which left them emotionally wrecked. And, in the last few years, Grey has undergone several back surgeries and a bout with thyroid cancer.

Oh, and she's a really great dancer.

Still, if Jennifer Grey is like the cool cousin we wish we could be, her DWTS competitor Florence Henderson is practically our mom.

After all, we latchkey kids would come home and soak up the lessons of The Brady Bunch while our real mothers were at work.

And Henderson's Carol Brady taught us some critical info: sometimes when we lose we win, everyone can't be George Washington, and don't play ball in the house.

So our hearts are with team Florky for the win. Especially after this week's dance to Edelweiss from The Sound of Music - one of our all time favorite songs from one of the best movies ever.

Florence's story, dedicated to her late husband, John, made us cry - as only a very special episode of DWTS like story can do.

Technique-schmechnique, Len.

Florence danced from the heart and the standing O was well deserved.

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