How Bobby Scheerer Jived His Way to the Stars

Robert “Bobby” Scheerer (1929-2018) had many fine credits as a movie and TV director, but nonetheless I confess I was briefly muddled about why I’d put him on my calendar to write about this morning. After all, however it may seem, I don’t write about EVERY screen director on Travalanche (a prohibitively enormous task). I only write about the ones that speak to me in some way, usually directors of comedy or horror, or with some strong connection to the stage. I had probably put Scheerer on my “to do” list when he passed away in 2018, or when I wrote about this film last year. At any rate, a small amount of research rapidly refreshed my memory as to why I thought him relevant. The picture above, from the Dance History Project of Southern California, provides a hint.

Scheerer started out as a member of the Jivin’ Jacks and Jills, the youth dance company formed by Universal in 1942, and whose most famous alum were Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan. A local Santa Monica kid, Scheerer was a 13 year old veteran of tap classes when he joined at the time of its formation. Thus, unlike most, Scheerer was featured in films PRIOR to his stage work, appearing (usually dancing) in 14 movies between 1942 and 1946, beginning with What’s Cookin’? and ending with Margie. In 1948 he was cast in the Broadway show Lend an Ear, a hit that played over a year. His subsequent Broadway shows as a performer included Dance Me a Song (1950), Top Banana (1951-52) with Phil Silvers, and the original production of The Boy Friend (1954-55). He also performed on TV variety shows like the All Star Revue, The Morey Amsterdam Show, Penthouse Party, and The Kate Smith Hour. In the late ’50s he briefly took a stab at acting in live television dramas.

Starting in 1960 Scheerer began directing and producing for television. Quite naturally he cut on his teeth on variety shows like The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, Glenn Miller Time, The Andy Williams Show, and The Danny Kaye Show. In 1968 he directed a landmark Fred Astaire special, which must have been rewarding for him, given that he had auditioned for Astaire a quarter century earlier as a dancer (and hadn’t gotten the slot). That same year he directed A Happening in Central Park, a film of Barbra Streisand’s live free concert. In 1970 and 1971 he directed and produced a series of TV variety specials for Chevrolet called Changing Scene.

By then he had began to transition into directing narrative TV movies. In 1969 he did an updated TV version of Arsenic and Old Lace, with the unbelievable cast of Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Bob Crane, Fred Gwynne, Sue Lyon, Jack Gilford, Bob Dishy, David Wayne, Billy De Wolfe, Victor Kilian, Richard Deacon and a rock combo called The Two Dollar Bill. At the moment it is available on Youtube. If you are like me, it will fill you with rapture. Other TV movies included Hans Brinker (1971), Poor Devil (1973– with Sammy Davis Jr, Christopher Lee, Jack Klugman, and Adam West!), Target Risk (1975), and the horror movie Ants! a.k.a. It Happened at Lakewood Manor (1977). These enabled to him to direct two theatrical features, both of which are fairly well known: Disney’s The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973) with Kurt Russell, and the 1980 comedy How to Beat the High Cost of Living, which we wrote about here.

By this point, Scheerer’s directing career was so diverse it’s hard to wrap your arms around, for it includes both narrative and variety television. He directed 30 episodes of The Love Boat; 18 of Fame (a perfect platform for his talents!); 19 of the night time soaps Dynasty/ The Colbys/ Hotel/ Knots Landing and Falcon Crest; 17 of Matlock; 14 of the Star Trek shows Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager; as well as episodes of Ironside, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Police Story, Hawaii Five-O, Petrocelli, The Father Dowling Mysteries, Jake and the Fat Man, et al. In 1971 he directed the TV special of The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World — a pretty historic TV event. He also directed several episodes of Disney’s weekly TV series. TV variety work included the specials Hotel Ninety (1973, with Alan Alda, Diahann Caroll, Tim Conway, Sally Struthers, Jack Gilford, and Bread); A Couple of Dons (1973, hosted by Don Adams and Don Rickles); Shirley MacLaine: If They Could See Me Now (1974); and Hollywood’s Diamond Jubilee (1978, a huge star studded special which inexplicably marked the start of Hollywood as 1918?) He also directed most of the episodes of the short-lived variety program The Mary Tyler Moore Hour (1979). A 1997 episode of Star Trek: Voyager was his last credit, which means that he retired 21 years before he died.

At any rate, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a LOT of this guy’s work without knowing anything about him, so it has been rewarding to put these pieces together. I love it so much when there is a direct line from classic show biz to the modern era.

To learn more about the variety arts, including TV variety shows, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous

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