Thursday, November 6, 2014

Happy November 6th Birthdays!

Everybody's wishing Happy Birthday to actress Sally Field today!  We will, too; she's been a reliable TV presence since her debut as Gidget and her days as The Flying Nun and let's not forget so many more great television moments including her riveting title role in the Sybil miniseries, either.  However, we like to feature some of the folks who may not always get the love so here we go.

First up, TV comedy wouldn't be the same if John Philip Sousa hadn't been born on November 6, 1854.  Sousa was known in his time as "The (American) March King" for his incredibly popular trademark compositions, and his 1893 march "The Liberty Bell" became the theme song for the classic British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus, clip below.  In case you've never heard the whole march you can listen to it here also, and we've also got the trailer to the highly romanticized 20th Century Fox 1952 biopic Stars and Stripes Forever starring Clifton Webb as Sousa.  Sousa passed away on March 6, 1932.

November 6, 1914 -- exactly one hundred years ago today -- saw the birth of a television legend who would become a genuine pop culture icon.  Jonathan Harris -- born Jonathan Charasuchin in the Bronx -- came from humble origins but a home where love of culture was always encouraged. His early exposure to the arts developed into an abiding love for theater.  Despite his love for performing, he studied to be a pharmacist and practiced for several years, but he had been bitten by the acting bug.  After dabbling in local repertory productions he made it to Broadway and started his dream career in the early 1940s.

Where Jonathan Harris really found his home was in the nascent medium of television.  From 1949 on Harris was a frequent performer in the live from New York dramas and later in countless Hollywood-produced series.  Primarily a character actor but often ascending to costar status, Harris and his unique persona were always memorable and as much in serious roles as in comedy.  In addition to his one-shot guest star roles he also became a regular on the 1959 espionage series The Third Man alongside star Michael Rennie and later on the sitcom The Bill Dana Show.  However, Harris got his TV Legend stripes playing Dr. Zachary Smith on the Irwin Allen space adventure turned cult classic Lost in Space which debuted in 1965.  During the three seasons of the show he brilliantly honed his portrayal of the fussy and feckless Dr. Smith -- "Oh, the pain!" -- to the eternal delight of science fiction fans everywhere.

Let's take a look at the credits from the third season of Lost in Space when John Williams' rollicking theme perfectly captured the rambunctious excitement of the show:

Jonathan Harris loved creating Dr. Smith and we all loved him for doing it.  You will definitely enjoy his one man show where he shares stories of his amazing show biz career; taped in 1994 in Australia:

Also, Jonathan Harris was the subject of an especially good edition of A&E's Biography series, full of wonderful footage, rare photos and terrific interviews.  Such a treat!

One of Harris' many wonderful guest roles was as Charles Dickens in the "A Passion for Justice" episode of Bonanza.  Here he is in a beautiful recitation:

Jonathan Harris passed away on November 3, 2002 at the age of eighty-seven.

For our second musical personality of the day, a brief Happy Birthday salute to the movie and television music arranger and popular bandleader Ray Conniff who was born on this date in 1916.  A huge talent with an enormous popular music footprint, Conniff and his troupe of singers had an iconic sound whose appeal transcends mere nostalgia.  There is an informative tribute website available by clicking here.  The Conniff legacy lives on even though Ray passed away in 2002.

Our last November 6th birthday is actor Lance Kerwin, born on this date in 1960 and remembered so fondly for playing the title role in the short-lived but memorable 1977 series James at 15/James at 16 along with countless other TV roles starting when he was a young teen.  Lance was the go-to kid actor at the time, getting plum roles and great reviews for his performances such as in Michael Landon's autobiographical 1976 TV movie The Loneliest Runner and co-starring opposite David Soul and James Mason in the acclaimed miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot from 1979.

There are lots of Lance's TV movies on YouTube and also many episodes of James at 15/James at 16.  Kerwin continued his busy career well into the 1990s but gradually eased out of the business for reasons including substance abuse problems.  He's now reportedly doing very well in his new life as a spiritual counselor/minister in Hawaii.  Kerwin's impressive acting career stands as a wonderful legacy to his talent even if he has turned to another calling.  The internet is a repository of Lance Kerwin material, including this page at Former Child Star Central, an out-of-date but still charming tribute site available by clicking here, and a great interview with him at Retrocrush from 2004, highly recommended for Kerwin's wonderful recollections.

Happy Birthday to all November 6th birthday boys and girls out there!

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