Monday, January 28, 2013

Early Classic TV Families Weren't All That Black & White

Father Knows Best.  Ozzie and Harriett.  The Donna Reed Show.  My Three Sons.  Leave It To Beaver.
These are the top five iconic television classics that were filmed in black and white.

However, contrary to popular opinion, from an organically-aesthetic perspective, each of these shows and their characters were not all that black and white. 
In fact, they were very colorful and multi-dimensional.

At times, and in retrospect, when any one of these programs are referenced in the spectrum of television in particular, and popular culture in general, they are too many times pidgin-holed as too sentimental or lacking depth, story and character development.
In reality, such an assessment could not be further from the truth.

The characters on each of these shows interacted with one another on very real terms; they treated each other as honestly as possible within the context of their time.  The shows may be products of their time; but they delivered as honest a portrayal of family life as was possible by the medium of their era (early 1950s-to early 1960s).
For example, on Father Knows Best (which began on radio) Jim and Margaret Anderson, as played by the elegant Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, on several occasions became legitimately and realistically upset with and disappointed in their children (played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin).  In fact, during one particularly startling moment from the series, when all three children were acting selfishly, Wyatt’s Margaret berated them as a group and actually called them brats!

On The Donna Reed Show, the iconic film star of big-screen classics like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), transferred to the small screen by portraying a character who fully embraced being a housewife and mother.  She cared for and adored her husband (played by Carl Betz) and children (Shelley Fabares, and real-life siblings Paul Peterson - a comedic genius from the word go - and Patti Peterson), but was always sure to correct them in very straight-forward terms if she believed they were off-track in any way, shape or form (particularly when it came to not displaying loving-kindness).
Fred McMurray, as the star of My Three Sons, was one of the first widowed parents on television, and always took an amiable, but firm hand in raising his trio of teens (Mike Considine, Don Grady, and more real-life siblings Barry Livingston and Stanley Livingston (the latter of whom joined the series after Considine left).

Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsly as Ward and June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver, watched over their two young sons (Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow) with a close but a respectful eye, making certain to allow their children the space that each human being deserves – at any age - for their own personal growth.  Leave it To Beaver, in fact, was one of the most mature family sitcoms in history, despite the fact that its stories were essentially told from the perspective of its youngest child.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which like Father Knows Best began on radio) displayed the king and queen of classic TV parentage raising their two sons, Ricky and David Nelson (who were in reality their real-life off-spring off-camera) with sound, spiritual hand; based on the very realistic stories of their very reality – as they were all playing themselves!

So, anytime anyone attacks these and other such family TV classics (even when they transferred into color) as being overtly-syrupy, I respond as did once the genius Michael Learned during an appearance on The Today Show.  Certain critics mistakenly attack The Waltons, the esteemed 1970s family series on which Ms. Learned starred as the matriarch, because, “Those who call our show too saccharine simply don’t watch it.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Classic TV Legends Gather to Share the “Love”

The worlds of classic TV and theatre are about to collide in a most amazing and hilarious way:

From February 1st to March 10th, The Greencourt Theatre In Los Angeles will present “When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish,” directed by Jason Alexander, written by Bob Booker, co-produced by Danny Gold and Joey Riback, and featuring a stellar cast, including Lynn Adrianna, Barry Gordon, Brian Herskowitz, Michael Pasternak, Ellen Ratner, Robert Shampain, Rena Strober, and Jay Brian Winnick.

Renaissance man Alexander, best known as George Constanza on Seinfeld, is one of Hollywood’s most talented and multi-faceted performers.  Booker clocks in with over 500 hours classic television that he has produced and written.  Gold is defined by his very name when it comes to productions from not only the classic world of TV (such as the acclaimed DVD release of Kung Fu), but new classics such as the Award-winning documentary, 100 Voices: A Journey Home (released theatrically and recently screened on KCET-TV in LA).  Riback has appeared on or written everything from The Merv Griffin Show to Murphy Brown to The Sweet Life of Zach & Cody.

Classically-trained actress Adrianna, whose background is as rich in culture as it is talent, has appeared on new classic TV shows like Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  The ever-affable Barry Gordon is best known in the classic TV world from his stints on The New Dick Van Dyke Show and Archie Bunker’s Place.  And the long-lasting career of Brian Herskowitz fondly traces back as far as Eight is Enough.

This versatile cast, production team, and their colleagues now combine to deliver “When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish,” the premise for which, according to its website, is this:

When a young Jewish boy decides he wants to marry his very gentile girlfriend, who knows nothing about Jewish customs or culture, he seeks the help of his Rabbi. The learned man then acts as a guide, taking the couple on a ride through the Jewish way of life, as a way of educating the young girl. This laugh-filled journey, incorporating twenty-five legendary comedy sketches and songs, covers every facet of Jewish life, from business and travel, to marriage and family, and is sure to appeal to all, because as the title of the show says, "When You're In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish."

The backstory?

In 1965, there was an innovative album that captured the public’s imagination, and it was titled “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish,” which was released by Kapp Records.  It featured the talented voices of additionally talented actors (and classic TV greats) like Lou Jacobi, Betty Walker, Jack Gilford, and Frank Gallop.

This collection of classic Jewish humor was written and produced by Bob Booker and George Foster, this collection of classic Jewish humor was, within weeks of its release, a Top 10 hit.  It also received a Grammy nomination as “Comedy Album of the Year.”

The following year a sequel was released, titled, “When You’re In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish,” once more produced Kapp Records, and featuring Jacobi, Walker, Gallop, who sang The ballad of Irving (which became a Top 10 hit).  This second album also featured a young actress from New York named Valerie Harper, who would go on to find classic TV fame of her own as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and then her own spin-off, Rhoda.

The forward story?

“When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish” - the play - is a MUST-SEE classic TV and musical theatre world event!


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