Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“Count your friends and you don’t have a care…”

I hope everybody saved room for more cake because we’ve got two additional golden TV anniversaries to commemorate today.  The most important one—well, in terms of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear universe…plus it was the one for which I composed an essay at Edward Copeland on Film…and More—belongs to TV land’s favorite meddlesome maid, Hazel…which premiered over NBC-TV on this date fifty years ago and provided Shirley Booth with the iconic role that would bestow upon her back-to-back Emmy Awards for Best Actress in a Situation Comedy.

Based on the Saturday Evening Post cartoon character created by Ted Key, Hazel featured Booth as the “domestic engineer” in the House of Baxter; the head of the household, George (whom Hazel usually referred to as “Mr. B” and was played by the always spot-on Don “Thorny” DeFore), was a corporate lawyer who liked to think he was king of his castle but usually found himself demurring to the overpowering force that kept it clean.  His wife Dorothy (Whitney Blake, who later co-created One Day at a Time) had been looked after by Hazel since she was a little girl (Hazel affectionately called her “Missy”); poor George probably got the shock of his life when he discovered that asking for “Missy’s” hand in matrimony means he was also getting Hazel in the bargain.  The Baxters had a young son in Harold (Bobby Buntrock)—who I truly thought didn’t have much upstairs despite being a fairly decent sort—and Hazel looked after “Sport” like he was her own son.

Hazel was one of the shows rerun in my burgeoning couch potato days that always seemed to be broadcasting when I turned on the set…but I was positively gobsmacked when the reruns from the show’s fifth and final season on CBS went into rotation in syndication.  The Tiffany Network picked up the series after four seasons on NBC but in looking for “a younger demographic,” wrote George and Dorothy out of the show (it was explained that they went to Saudi Arabia) and kept Hazel and Harold (they apparently couldn’t take “Sport” with them).  (I never could wrap my mind around this—who leaves a kid with their maid, ferchrissake?  Suffice it to say, I made sure I knew where my parents were going at all times.)  Hazel went to work for Mr. B’s younger brother Steve (Ray Fulmer), also married to a hot blonde in Barbara (Lynn Borden) and father to young Susie (Julia Benjamin).  The revamped Hazel lasted just a single season and the reason why the show left the airwaves wasn’t because of poor ratings (or because other members in the audience believed that “Missy” and “Mr. B” hid in the Witness Protection Program just to get away from the overbearing Hazel)…Booth herself threw in the towel (hey, she owned a piece of the series—she was pretty well set) because of complications from her chronic bursitis.

When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the inaugural season of the show to DVD in August 2006, I lined up to grab a copy…and I watched the first thirty-five episodes (one of which was in color in an attempt to help RCA sell a few TV sets…the show made the switch to full NBC Peacock paint the following season), pleasantly surprised that the show from my TV-obsessed youth still holds up pretty well.  The titular maid played by Booth might be a little hard to take at times but the actress’ warm, sentimental approach to the character will eventually win you over…and her hilarious exchanges with DeFore (who has always impressed me as being talented enough to take a guy who was not one of TV’s sterling examples of fatherhood and infuse him with an endearing likeability) are among the show’s highlights (I love how DeFore’s Baxter never really stays mad too long, human enough to laugh out loud when he’s bested by the housekeeper).  But like many of the shows in the Sony catalog, Hazel’s continued presence on DVD stopped after Season One…and for the past five years I have been kvetching like a madman on this blog trying to get them to resume the releases, with little success.  (Don’t even get me started on Sony’s inexplicable inability to finish up series like The Flying Nun and Here Come the Brides.)  Fortunately, the DVD deity known as Shout! Factory managed to wangle the disc rights away from the disinterested Sony and plan to put the second season of the classic sitcom out this year.  Ain’t that a doozy?

When Hazel premiered in the fall of 1961 it was seen on NBC at 9:30 on Thursday nights…but before audiences would settle in for their weekly dose of the nosy housekeeper’s misadventures they spent the previous hour (starting at 8:30pm) at Blair General Hospital, where handsome and ambitious Dr. James Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) was serving his internship under the tutelage of Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Raymond Massey).  Dr. Kildare, the TV series based on Max Brand’s fictional physician (who had a previous presence in films and on radio…played by Lew Ayres, with Lionel Barrymore as the crusty Gillespie) also premiered on this date fifty years ago…in the same season as ABC’s competing medical drama, Ben CaseyKildare would also spend five years on the air (it went the distance on NBC…though the final season saw a revamping of the format in that two half-hour Kildare episodes were shown each week, creating serialized stories similar to Peyton Place) and you would think that with the popularity of the show (and the M-G-M films in particular) that Warner Home Video (who owns the rights to the series) would hustle this one out on DVD more quickly. But the only trace of the TV Kildare that you’ll find on disc is the inclusion of the Yuletide-themed episode “An Exchange of Gifts” (12/24/64) on the Warner Archive MOD set Classic TV Christmas Set.

One of the other series with an episode on that set (I am positively giddy at how smoothly this segueway is going) is The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, whose first season has just been released to MOD DVD today courtesy of the Archive.  The sitcom, which starred Bill “My Favorite Martian” Bixby and Brandon Cruz as a widower and his entirely-too-inquisitive son, will be welcomed by the show’s fans…but I have to confess, I caught a few of the reruns on the last cable channel it was featured on (I think it was ALN…formerly AmericanLife TV…formerly GoodLife TV…formerly Nostalgia Television…the fact that they changed their name again yesterday to Youtoo TV would seem to suggest they’re on the run from creditors) and I found it sort of banal.  (A co-worker of mine at the Landmark Inn in Savannah when I worked night audit often referred to my mom as “Mr. Ivan’s mother,” which reminded me of housekeeper Mrs. Livingston on the show, played by actress Miyoshi Umeki.)

The news about Courtship came to me through a Warner Archive e-mail but there’s also a blurb about the release at…not to mention a correction on the number of shows featured on the Medic box set that will be released by Timeless Media Video in November.  The collection will contain 44 shows, and not the fifty mentioned in the original post.

Well, I’m going to put nose to grindstone so I can whip up an entry for the Darling Deborah Blogathon that will take place at Waitin’ on a Sunny Day this Friday (September 30) but I did want to give a shout-out to another blogathon (smooth as glass, I tells ya) that’s a way off but one that TDOY will definitely participate in.  Forever Classics has announced a Humphrey Bogart Blogathon for December 23-25, and I thought I’d let the lovely Meredith tell you what it’s all about:

As most of you probably know by now, Humphrey Bogart is my favorite actor.  In honor of his 112th birthday on December 25th, I've decided to host my first blogathon, which will run from December 23-December 25th.  I realize that's it's three months away, but if you'd like to participate, I ask that you let me know by December 22nd.  Your post can be about his films, his life or anything else Bogie-related.

(Putting down sandwich) Sorry about that…I thought the announcement was going to be longer.  Since Bogie is held in such high regard here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, you can betcha bottom dollah that I’ll be good for an essay…I’ll just have to turn a few ideas over in my head and see what I want to come up with.

So let’s close this out with a medley of Richard Chamberlain’s hit…he turned the Dr. Kildare theme song into a Top Ten pop smash in 1962, Three Stars Will Shine Tonight:

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Caftan Woman said...

Okay. This 50 year stuff has got to stop. It makes me feel older than when I watch a baseball game and I remember all the bench coaches when they were rookies!

SPEEDbit said...

We love Hazel and actually still watch reruns from time to time. Did you know that Booth was just a stage name and her birth name was Marjory Ford, She grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Thanks for the great post! Keep blogging!

ClassicBecky said...

I'm with Caftan Woman - quit rubbing it in! LOL! I read and commented on your Hazel article on the Copeland blog, but just to reiterate here, it is really fascinating. As for the Courtship of Eddie's Father---Naaahh! I never liked that one. However, Medic was a favorite! I'm excited about the Bogart blogathon too. I'd love to participate, and will have to put on my thinking cap about what to write about that won't echo a hundred others!

Earline said...

Finally someone has printed the day and time that "HAZEL" first aired, before it went to CBS, moving to a different day and time slot. Sure, I knew that Actress Shirley Booth's name was her "Stage Name". I found it out from "Wikipedia". And okay, so we keep discussing shows that first aired Fifty or more years ago. I think people talk about them because those were feel good shows. They made people laugh and forget their troubles for a few hours a week. Those shows were and still are so contagious. They were funny and well written. Most of those shows came on when I was very young. Only a handful that I liked and saw came on before I was born. Among those: "Perry Mason", "THE Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet", and "Father Knows Best". Even after I were born the Cast Members were all older than I am. Most of those shows I didn't see until years later. All we've got are memories about that time. Ain't it a doozy?