Today is the birthday of Abe Vigoda (b. 1921) who is indeed still with us (aged 92). This is possible because he was much younger than he looked in The Godfather and on Barney Miller in the early and mid 70s. Being 50 and looking 70 was a mixed blessing for him, I’m sure! At any rate the date seems like a fitting time to talk about a favorite show of mine in the years 1977 and 1978: Fish.
Fish was of course a spin-off of Barney Miller, the aged detective now retired and running a home for wayward teenagers with his wife Bernice (Florence Stanley). Helping them with the kids is a psych student played by former child star Barry Gordon (A Thousand Clowns, The Spirit is Willing).
The kids were all around my age, so there was plenty to pull me in. There was a pre-Different Strokes Todd Bridges; John Cassisi (who also played the title role in the all-kid gangster musical Bugsy Malone); and Len Bari. But the real attraction for this twelve year old was the two girls Denise Miller (the vivacious foxier one), and Sarah Natoli (the shy one, who watched tv constantly). The latter gag was the most memorable part of the show for me, except for the fact that Fish was always arguing with the college student about how to raise the kids. An old man having to cope with five hyperactive urban teenagers is not a bad machine for comedy. The popular show ran for two seasons, ending only when Vigoda asked for a salary increase.
Here’s an old promo for the show someone dug up.
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc