Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy birthday, Sherwood Schwartz!

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about how a medical student decided to chuck his studies to write comedy on the radio—because that’s exactly what today’s birthday boy did, resulting in a lengthy show business career that was responsible for creating two of the most popular sitcoms in TV history.  Sherwood Charles Schwartz was born ninety-four years ago on this date in Passaic, NJ, and was attending the University of Southern California when he got the chance to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Al, a scribe on radio’s The Bob Hope Show.  Sherwood never gave medicine a second thought after that; after serving his apprenticeship on Hope’s program (and doing his bit during WW2 at Armed Forces Radio) he found his services much in demand on radio series like The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, The Alan Young Show and Beulah.

It was television, however, where Schwartz would find his fortune.  He started out writing for I Married Joan, and then with brother Al was part of Red Skelton’s writing team for seven years (even winning an Emmy for his work).  When Skelton fired Al and then learned Sherwood was still working on the show, he gave Sherwood his walking papers, too, saying to the effect “I’m not going to have any more Schwartzes working on my show.”  Schwartz then conceived an idea for a series about a group of people marooned on a desert island and sold it to CBS in 1963—but the show barely managed to get on the air.  When it did, Gilligan’s Island lasted three seasons on the network (it would have ran for a fourth had CBS President William Paley’s wife not lobbied the network to keep Gunsmoke, which inherited its Monday night time slot) and despite being critically lambasted wound up as one of the biggest smashes in television syndication.  The same thing happened with Schwartz’s other creation, The Brady Bunch—a series he sold to ABC that, while never establishing a presence in the Top 30 lasted five seasons and went on to greater glory (like its brother Gilligan) in reruns.

Of course, Sherwood couldn’t always hit them out of the park; his series It’s About Time and Dusty’s Trail—two shows that make Gilligan look like Shakespeare—each lasted only one season, as did the Saturday morning sitcom Big John, Little John…and Together We Stand, a 1986 effort came and went in about six weeks.  But despite the critical brickbats, Schwartz’s television legacy was assured when he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in March 2008.  As a longtime Gilligan’s Island fan, I want to wish Sherwood Schwartz (whose name writer Hal Kanter once joked “sounds like Robin Hood’s rabbi”) the happiest of natal anniversaries today, as well as his fellow celebrants:

Robert Fulton (1765-1815) – Inventor of the steamboat

Claude Monet (1840-1926) – French impressionist painter

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) – First prime minister of India and fashion trendsetter

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) – American composer of concert and film music

Morton Downey (1901-1985) – “The Irish Nightingale”; pop music vocalist of the 30s/40s who was unfortunately responsible for fathering obnoxious talk show host Morton Downey, Jr.

Dick Powell (1904-1963) – TDOY fave who wore many hats: singer, actor, director, producer and studio head; his vehicles include Christmas in July and Murder My Sweet (movies), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (radio) and Zane Grey Theater (TV)

Budd Hulick (1905-1961) – One-half of the radio comedy team of Stoopnagle (Frederick Chase Taylor) and Budd

Louise Brooks (1906-1985) – TDOY actress goddess whose films include Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, Beggars of Life, Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl

Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) – Creator of Pippi Longstocking

Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) – Former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin and Ann Coulter idol currently residing in Hell

Rosemary DeCamp (1910-2001) – Stage, screen, radio and television actress who appeared on OTR’s Dr. Christian and later appeared on such TV shows as The Bob Cummings Show (Love That Bob), Petticoat Junction, That Girl and The Partridge Family

Barbara Hutton (1912-1979) – Poor little rich girl

Peggy Cartwright (1912-2001) – Silent movie moppet actress who co-starred with Harold Lloyd in 1919’s From Hand to Mouth and also appeared in the early Our Gang shorts

Martha Tilton (1915-2006) – Pop music vocalist of the 30s/40s who sang with Benny Goodman’s band before going solo; co-starred on radio’s Alka Seltzer Time with future husband Curt Massey

Johnny Desmond (1919-1985) – Singer-actor who was once a regular on Your Hit Parade in the 1950s

Irving Ravetch (1920-2010) – Motion picture screenwriter-producer who often wrote in tandem with wife Harriet Frank, Jr. and whose films include Hud, Hombre, The Reivers and Murphy’s Romance

John McCabe (1920-2005) – Shakespearean scholar and author who penned the first official biography on Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy in 1961, laying the groundwork for their critical acceptance; also founded the L&H organization Sons of the Desert

Brian Keith (1921-1997) – Stage, screen and television actor best remembered here at TDOY as civil engineer Bill Davis on the classic sitcom Family Affair; his other TV gigs include The Little People (The Brian Keith Show) and Hardcastle & McCormick

Dick Farney (1921-1987) – Brazilian pop music vocalist and pianist who appeared on Milton Berle’s radio show in the 1940s

Veronica Lake (1922-1973) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Sullivan’s Travels, This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia

Phyllis Avery (1924-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known for playing Peggy McNulty on Meet Mr. McNulty and George Gobel’s wife on his comedy-variety series

McLean Stevenson (1927-1996) – Stage, screen and television actor best remembered as Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake on the first three seasons of M*A*S*H; he left that sweet gig for a series of unsuccessful sitcoms including In the Beginning, Hello, Larry and Condo

Tom Hatten (1927-     ) – Cartoonist and television personality best known for his kiddie-show telecast on Los Angeles’ KTLA from the 1950s to the early 1980s

Kathleen Hughes (1928-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose movies include Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, It Came from Outer Space and Cult of the Cobra

Michael Robbins (1930-1992) – British comic actor of stage, screen and television remembered here as the sponging brother-in-law Arthur on the Britcom On the Buses

Don Stewart (1935-2006) – Stage, screen and television actor best remembered for his long-running role as Mike Bauer on the soap opera Guiding Light

Stephen Lewis (1936-     ) – Britcom icon whose gigs include On the Buses (and its spin-off, Don’t Drink the Water), Oh Doctor Beeching! and Last of the Summer Wine

Freddie Garrity (1936-2006) – Frontman for the Dreamers

P.J. O’Rourke (1947-     ) – Libertarian author and satirist whose books include Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance

Robert Ginty (1948-2009) – Stage, screen and television actor whose best remembered television gigs include Black Sheep Squadron and The Paper Chase

Charles Philip Arthur George (1948-     ) – Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall

Gary Grubbs (1949-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Silkwood, Nadine, JFK and TV’s Will & Grace

Yimou Zhang (1951-     ) – Chinese motion picture director whose oeuvre includes Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, To Live and Shanghai Triad

Stephen Bishop (1951-     ) – Pop music singer-songwriter whose guitar is smashed by John Belushi in the movie Animal House

Sandahl Bergman (1951-     ) – Cult/B-movie actress whose films include She, Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja

Ray Sharkey (1952-1993) – Film and television actor best remembered as Sonny Steelgrave on TV’s Wiseguy

Maggie Roswell (1952-     ) – Film and television actress who’s concentrated on voice work for most of her career including gigs on The Simpsons and The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse

Condoleezza Rice (1954-     ) One-time National Security Advisor/Secretary of State and George W. Bush groupie

Yanni (1954-     ) – New Age musician-composer who’s apparently sold a buttload of albums but I’ve yet to meet anyone who owns one

D.B. Sweeney (1961-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Eight Men Out, Fire in the Sky, Spawn and TV’s Strange Luck and The Event

Laura San Giacomo (1962-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Pretty Woman, Quigley Down Under, Havoc and TV’s Just Shoot Me and Saving Grace

Patrick Warburton (1964-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who played a funny handyman on the sitcom Dave’s World and then basically recycled the same character for the role of David Puddy on Seinfeld; his other TV gigs include Less Than Perfect and Rules of Engagement

Bill Hemmer (1964-     ) – CNN personality whom I tried to convince my mother was nothing more than a news whore but she didn’t believe me until he relocated to Fox

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Scott said...

Not to be picky, but I suffered through many an episode of Family Affair growing up, so this knowledge was hard-won. "Uncle Bill" was a civil engineer, rather than an architect, and trotted the globe building bridges and dams and such, which is why an apartment full of kids put such a kink in his lifestyle.

Now that I've bothered to point this miniscule distinction out, I can't believe how much even I don't care.

MST3K fans will also remember Robert Ginty ("he's the Gintiest!") from the classic Season 5 episode Warrior of the Lost World, although both the Mads and Joel & the Bots can't manage to remember his name, and throughout the show keep referring to him as "the Paper Chase Guy."

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Not to be picky, but I suffered through many an episode of Family Affair growing up, so this knowledge was hard-won. "Uncle Bill" was a civil engineer, rather than an architect, and trotted the globe building bridges and dams and such, which is why an apartment full of kids put such a kink in his lifestyle.

You're not being fact, I did the same amount of suffering as you did (my sister Kat loved the show--I mean loved the show--and I had to watch it back in those days before there was a TV in every room and a chicken in every pot). My brain was saying, of course, "Bill Davis was a civil engineer"...but my fingers were in open revolt, yelling: "Oh, but being an architect is much more glamorous."

I have made the necessary correction, and if you think that we've obsessed on this topic long enough, stop and think about the fact that I own the entire series run of Family Affair on DVD. If you thought "Mayberry Mondays" was bad, just wait until I unleash "Family Affair Fridays." Mwhahahahahahaha!!!

Scott said...

just wait until I unleash "Family Affair Fridays."

Just to give everyone here a heads-up, I'm about to start screaming, and I may never stop.