Archive for All in the Family

Bob Hastings: From Christmasland to Character Man

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2017 by travsd

Well, here’s a wonderful surprise: familiar character actor Bob Hastings (1925-2014) had an old school show biz background as a kiddie performer.

First: you recognize him, right? The first place I can be sure I saw him was in The Poseidon Adventure (1972). He has a small but memorable and highly visible part as the master of ceremonies of the New Year’s Party — he’s the guy who leads the count-down to midnight.

But he also played Lt. Carpenter on McHale’s Navy (1962-1966), which I watched in re-runs as a kid.

And he was also Kelsey the bartender, a recurring role, on All in the Family (1971-1976). These were pretty much his peak visibility years. He was also in several films during these years, like Disney’s The Boatniks (1970) and the Don Knotts movies The Love God (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971).

So I totally know who that guy is!  But then he turns up in a 1938 Vitaphone musical short called Toyland Casino as 13 year old Bobby Hastings in rustic highland clothes and sings “In the Gloaming”!

Hastings had started out on NBC children’s radio program Coast to Coast on a Bus with such fellow stars as Ann Blyth, Walter Tetley, and Jackie Kelk. After bomber service in World War II, he returned to radio, and perhaps his greatest stardom in the part of Archie in the radio version of Archie comics, which ran from 1945 to 1953.

Publicity still: Hastings as Archie

One of his first recurring tv roles was on Sgt. Bilko, establishing a recurring theme in his career: his characters were frequently in uniform. After the 1980s, most of his acting gigs were voice-overs for animated cartoon series. For example he voiced Batman’s Commissioner Gordon in the 1990s:

Bob Hastings passed away just a couple of years ago! Today is his birthday.

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see 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

The Many Roles of Melvin Allan, I Mean, Allan Melvin

Posted in Sit Coms, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of tv character actor and voice-over artist Allan Melvin (1923-2008). Don’t shout out just yet where you know him from — the odds are quite good that you know him from more than you are remembering where you know him from.

After attending Columbia University and fighting in World War Two, Melvin won first place on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (he was skilled at impressions, among other things.) His break was a role in the original Broadway production of Stalag 17 (1951-1952), which lead to his getting cast as Henshaw on Sgt. Bilko (1955-1959) with Phil Silvers:

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Then he was the voice of Sgt. Snorkle on the short-lived 1963 Beetle Bailey cartoon show (and wrote two episodes!):

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He provided the voice of Magilla Gorilla on various Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows from 1963 through 1994. Can you match the voice with the visage?

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Then he found himself back on another service comedy, as a semi-regular on Gomer Pyle USMC (1964-1969), playing Charlie Hacker, Sgt. Carter’s rival:

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In 1969 he provided the voice of Drooper (the lion) on The Banana Splits:

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Next he was Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), which I’ll just bet is his best known character nowadays:

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And also he was Barney Hefner on All in the Family (1971-1979) and Archie Bunker’s Place (1979-1983).

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This must be some kind of record for being a series regular, right? (I ask rhetorically, I’m uninterested in learning the factual truth about who the record holder might be). And we haven’t even gotten to all the shows on which he (or his voice) did frequent guest shots (The Flintstones, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style), and dozens more. And all the tv commercials.

He just had the perfect face and voice — “ordinary” is what they used to call it, but that’s wrong, because actually his persona was far more memorable than so many so-called “leading man” types.  If you’re bland and forgettable, isn’t that ordinary? Anyway, you know his face and voice. You should know his name: Melvin Allan — I mean, Allan Melvin.

Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #92: Maude

Posted in Broadway, Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Jews/ Show Biz, Sit Coms, Television, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the late Bea Arthur (Bernice Frankel, 1922-2009). Her sit-com Maude (1972-1978) was a big hit of course; I’m sure no one my age or older has forgotten it. And yet you will admit it has been largely overshadowed by her even bigger hit The Golden Girls (1985-1992). The Golden Girls is undeniably awesome — sit-com magic and ground-breaking in its way. Yet in retrospect Maude was even more ground-breaking (and personally it played a much larger role in my life. I was a kid when it came out. I’ve probably seen every Maude episode, but only a few Golden Girls episodes, as much as I enjoy it).

That scowl! That scarf!

That scowl! That scarf!

Maude was a spin off of the monster hit All in the Family (1971-1979), which will undoubtedly get a huge post here before long, it was a big influence on me. The character of Maude Findlay was introduced on an All in the Family episode in 1971. Maude was Edith Bunker’s liberal feminist cousin from suburban Westchester. Stage veteran Arthur made a splash as the latest of Archie Bunker’s foils and so was given her own show the following year.

with Zero Mostel in "Ulysses in Night Town". Note to the rest of the human race: you can go home now

with Zero Mostel in “Ulysses in Night Town”. Note to the rest of the human race: you can go home now

Arthur’s Broadway credits included Threepenny Opera (the cast recording is one of my favorite soundtrack albums), Mame and Fiddler on the Roof. I think of her as a giant. Not just because she was a very tall, stately woman but because she was a “big” performer. I study every performance of her’s intensely, and I often call her performances on Maude a master class in comedy acting. Her timing is exquisite — music. Her comic mask is a gift from God. Look at those eye-brows. She’s like a Muppet! I often think (like the best sit com actors) the joy is often in the reaction, the pause just before she speaks. You just know what she is about to say will be arch and cutting and funny. Comparing her to a drag performer is inevitable but perhaps a little unfortunate — I can’t imagine not hating such comparisons if I were a woman. But nonetheless she went for it. That GRANDIOSITY. She owns the space. She is a dynamo.

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And on Maude she had just a terrific cast supporting her. Bill Macy (whose name made me much confused when William H. Macy came on the scene) plays Maude’s much shorter, noisier husband, Walter who owns an appliance store. It is Macy’s presence that brings a certain ethnic confusion to the show. Are the Findlays Jews or WASPs? Well, Maude has to be a WASP, I guess, she’s Edith’s cousin, but Arthur and Macy (not to mention all the writers and producers) are Jewish, and the Brooklyn raised Macy certainly doesn’t behave like a WASP. And we have the unambiguous WASPs next door to demonstrate that behavior, for contrast. There’s Arthur, played by Conrad Bain, who is hilarious here prior to his talents being wasted in the lame, inexplicable Different Strokes a few years later. And the always sexy Rue McLanahan plays Maude’s friend Vivian, who marries Arthur. McLanahan also came to the show via All in the Family, where she played a swinger in a notorious episode. And she also was a key member of the ensemble on The Golden Girls. Adrienne Barbeau played Maude’s sexually liberated daughter Carol. (Barbeau’s capacious mammaries were to become two of the biggest stars on the show). In the first season, Esther Rolle played the maid Florida, a sort of a post Civil Rights updating of the 50s character Beulah that put Maude’s theoretical liberalism to the test. Florida, in turn, got her own spin-off series Good Times, which we wrote about here. Rolle was replaced on Maude by Hermione Baddeley, as the rebellious, lazy Cockney Mrs. Naugatuck (who named herself after the town in Connecticut).

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I don’t think I’m off the mark when I say Maude was more ground-breaking than The Golden Girls. The Golden Girls is awesome for capturing a demographic who’d only appeared at the fringes of most television, senior citizens, and exploring their perspectives and issues. But Maude brought to American living rooms serious hot button issues that had never been talked about such a forum, as well as some facts of life that had never been broached on television either. And since I was a very young child at the time, the show was my introduction to these topics as well. I think it’s quite accurate to say that (for better or worse)  I learned about such things as abortion, menopause, depression, psychiatry, vasectomies, feminism, extra-marital sex, infidelity, “working things out in a marriage” and much else from Maude. It was all done with an upper middle class sophistication which was a bit exotic to me with my working class upbringing and values. And I need hardly add that Maude has one of the best (funniest, hippest, catchiest) sit-com theme songs of all time. I’m sure to be singing it all day now.

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