Monday, September 16, 2013

Mother-Henning an idea for a post

As part of my ClassicFlix duties, I whip up a few birthday shout-outs to celebrity notables of the past on both Facebook and Twitter—today, for instance, actress-singer Janis Paige turns ninety-one…and I wrote a mercilessly short bio, mentioning a few of the movies that were graced by her amazing presence.

Sometimes there are people that I’d like to single out for mention but they get lost in the cracks—either because I’ve already got too many birthdays or I can’t find a decent photo of them on the Internets or in my collection.  Case in point: writer-producer Paul Henning was born on this date today in 1911.  The name is no doubt familiar to TV fans, since Henning was a major-type mogul in the world of television with series like The Dennis Day Show and The Bob Cummings Show (a.k.a. Love That Bob) to his credit…and then in the 1960s, executive producing the bucolic trilogy of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.  Henning started out as a radio scribe; he cut his teeth assisting Don Quinn on Fibber McGee & Molly and then went to work for Joe E. Brown and Rudy Vallee before becoming Burns and Allen’s head writer in the 1940s (he also penned many of their TV scripts).

I bring up Paul Henning (and not just to make a bad pun in the title) because I got a pair of e-mails this weekend from announcing that the third season of Petticoat Junction and the fourth season of The Beverly Hillbillies are coming to DVD the first of October…in what are being termed “Walmart exclusives.”  Whether or not this means that the brick-and-mortar behemoth will be the only ones selling these sets I do not know; it may be one of those deals where the collections make their debut there before being released in a more inclusive fashion.  Still, I decided not to take a chance on this and so I ordered both sets, even though I will probably burn in a fiery hell for the rest of eternity shopping Walmart online.

Cultureshark proprietor Rick Brooks mentioned to me via Facebook that TSOD’s decision to announce the Hillbillies and Junction releases was influenced by a lively give-and-take at the Home Theater Forum, in which the webmasters from TSOD attempted to explain their decision not to give people a heads-up about the sets and were drowned out by loud cries of “Bullsh*t!”  I wasn’t aware of the fracas (any bulletin board that winds up driving Stephen Bowie away is probably not one I want to frequent) so I won’t labor over the details but I’m offering a doff of the TDOY chapeau to Messrs. Lacey and Lambert (The Men from T.S.O.D.) or TV Guide or whomever for changing their minds and letting folks know the news (again, I don’t frequent HTF as much as I did in the past because the administrator has a particularly annoying habit of curtailing people’s speech freedoms just when the conversation starts to get interesting).

There was a discussion on the HTF Beverly Hillbillies thread about the show itself and why it seems to have done so poorly with regards to DVD sales…particularly since it was the biggest thing to happen to CBS since they put I Love Lucy on the air.  There’s always been a stigma attached to the program—one I’ve never completely comprehended because I don’t think Hillbillies gets enough credit as being both a funny sitcom and a nice little slice of social satire.  My take on it is that if you’re familiar with George and Gracie’s radio show, you’re probably a fan of Beverly Hillbillies because the same “illogical logic” permeates both programs; the Clampetts, being the “fish out of water,” often take simple misunderstandings and make mountains out of them…and thereby producing classic comedy.  I think Green Acres also takes a lot from Burns & Allen (even though Henning was only the executive producer—Jay Sommers created it) as well—the character of Oliver Wendell Douglas is essentially a man trapped in a town populated by Gracies.

The other birthday I didn’t get to single out today is that of OTR actor Lawrence Dobkin, born on this date in 1918.  With Larry, it’s never a question of what did he do on radio…it’s more like “what didn’t he do.”  He’s best known as one of radio’s Ellery Queen’s—and for high-profile appearances on The Adventures of the Saint, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe and Gunsmoke—but he also worked on such series as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Broadway is My Beat, Escape, Family Theatre, Jeff Regan, Investigator, Let George Do It, The Lux Radio Theatre, The Man Called X, Night Beat, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Suspense, The Whistler and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Dobkin would later work in movies (Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest) and TV—he even became a noted small screen director with episodes of The Rifleman, 77 Sunset Strip, The Donna Reed Show and Star Trek to his credit (as well as a couple of episodes of the show featured here on the blog, The Doris Day Show).  Every Sunday night at 1am, I enjoy hearing Larry’s best-known TV gig on Me-TV—as narrator of the hour-long Naked City.  (“There are eight million stories in the naked city…this has been one of them.”)

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