Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Bonanza" Advice: Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Wed Cartwrights...

The Flaming Nose TV Blog is very happy to participate in a second article for the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon!  From our first outing detailing the intergalactic love affair (of sorts) between Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost in Space and the Girl from the Green Dimension, we are going back in time to visit the American frontier of the long-running classic western series Bonanza.  We've still got our minds on romance, though.

Unlike a lot of popular TV westerns which offered distaff characters as regular cast members -- The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, The High Chaparral come to mind as contemporaries -- Bonanza was devised as a series revolving around a man and his three sons as the main unit.  Not that ladies weren't found on the Ponderosa, but the masculine quartet was the foundation of the dynamic of the show.  In fact, the very mythology of Ben Cartwright himself and the establishment of the Ponderosa Ranch includes not one, not two, but three women who aided Ben in his quest for fulfillment of his dream even though none of them lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

It's not going far to say that generally Bonanza was tough on women.  With the absence of regular female characters, Bonanza relied instead on an impressive parade of wonderful lady guest stars, providing work for a generation of Hollywood actresses who got their chance to dress in crinoline and have their day in Virginia City. The list is truly amazing; for a fascinating look at the array season-by-season, visit the TV Gems Bonanza section by clicking here and you can select female (or male) guests stars, most illustrated with photos.  You will want to watch all the episodes.

As you can imagine, some played girlfriends of the Cartwrights, father and son, some were wives of townspeople, some were ladies captured by Native Americans, some were showgirls or actresses, some were gypsies, some schoolteachers and everything in between.  Most were hardworking, a few were floozies, and more than a few lost their lives, including the three characters who played the wives of Ben Cartwright and the mothers of his sons.  Even if Ben wasn't able to have a girl to call his own over the long haul, his marital outings offered important opportunities for a trio of terrific actresses to add an important dimension to the Cartwright family and Bonanza lore in general.

Ben's first wife was Elizabeth Stoddard, the daughter of a New England sea captain for whom Ben worked during his years as a sailor and for a short time as a ship's chandler.  Elizabeth was played by the extremely talented actress Geraldine Brooks, a Hollywood veteran who made her movie debut in 1947 starring with Errol Flynn in Cry Wolf and followed that up with a string of film roles.  She would really make her mark in television, working steadily in the early years of the medium and becoming by the 1960s one of the most sought after guest actresses in series TV.  Be sure to look at Geraldine Brooks' entire filmography by clicking here for IMDb.  Though often cast in super serious roles, Geraldine got the chance to play someone happily in love in her Bonanza episode "Elizabeth, My Love" which aired as one of the last episodes in season 2.

Not that Elizabeth had it easy; her out-of-a-job seagoing father lost his calling, was preyed upon by an unscrupulous slave merchant, and took to the bottle.  However, she and Ben were married -- not shown in the episode -- and quickly she was expecting his child.  But happiness was not to last, as Elizabeth had a hard time delivering Ben's first son Adam and expired soon after the birth.  A despondent Ben left to pursue his dream of finding himself in the West, taking along an old Irish nanny and his son and leaving his father-in-law sadder and more sober on the East Coast.

Several years went by before Ben found his second wife as he made his slow journey across the country to eventually end up in Nevada.  In a small town Ben met Inger Borgstrom, a Swedish shopkeeper who soon captivated him with her natural beauty and generous personality.  In "Inger, My Love" Inger was played by acclaimed American actress Inga Swenson, a veteran of stage and screen who in fact appeared in the major motion picture The Miracle Worker the same year -- 1962 -- that she first played the role of Inger on Bonanza.  Despite a jealous former suitor and a brother who didn't want to lose her, Inger cast her lot with her beloved Ben and his young son and they continued Ben's westward migration together.

Unlike any of the other wife stories, Ben's short life with Inger was continued in a follow-up episode two seasons later entitled "Journey Remembered".  Inger gave birth to Ben's second son Eric, forever to be known as "Hoss" which in her first episode her brother had explained meant a friendly man.  The happy family was destined not to last, however, as Inger took an arrow in the back during a brutal attack of Native Americans against the settlers. Two down, one to go for Ben.

In "Marie, My Love" Ben's third wife was the sparkling, captivating and extremely comely Marie DeMarigny, a New Orleans beauty with a tempestuous past, a previous (now dead) husband, and a supposedly (though a later episode would belie this) dead son.  Marie was played by the lovely actress Felicia Farr (once Mrs. Jack Lemmon).  All of her intrigue and scandal didn't stop Ben from falling for this most glamorous of women and she ended up being the longest lasting of Ben's three wives.  She gave birth to Joe -- Little Joe -- who inherited his mother's charm and winning personality.  Unfortunately, Marie would meet her demise some five years later in a horse riding accident on the nascent Ponderosa.  Yikes.

None of the deaths of Ben's wives were shown except for Inger's death by arrow.  Considering that the producers of Bonanza were backing into the telling of Ben's romantic past, needing to cast actresses who seemed believable as the mother of Adam, Hoss and Joe, they did a marvelous job. Geraldine Brooks seemed completely like she could have given birth to the querulous and intellectually strident Adam.  Inga Swenson would have been exactly the kind of woman to have produced the kind, strong and open-hearted Hoss.  Felicia Farr was the perfect choice to have been Little Joe's mother -- Joe the heart-breaker, Joe the prankster, Joe brimming with charisma and life.

In contrast to the sad fates of the Cartwright boys' mothers and Ben's wives, Bonanza the series is alive and well on TV, on DVD, and on the internet.  As a companion to MeTV's airings Mondays - Saturdays, you can visit several great Bonanza resources on the net.  Take a visit to the Bonanza Boomers site (click here), full of wonderful info, photos, original fiction and many other delight.  Another great place is Bonanza Brand (click here) similarly chock full of a bevy of Ponderosa treats and information.  Another great source is the Bonanza Wikia site (click here).

We also want to share one of Lorne Greene's songs that he recorded as an offshoot of his Bonanza fame. In "The Saga of the Ponderosa" he basically recounts Ben Cartwright's journey west and the story of his wives.  You can read the lyrics here while you watch the following video:

Bonanza is one of the great TV shows, full of entertainment, heart and characters who have managed to survive over a half century with no end in sight.  Just so long as you don't marry Ben Cartwright, of course...   (We didn't mention Little Joe's dead wife, either, but we know you were thinking about her.  The Cartwright Curse, perhaps?)

Be sure to read and enjoy all the other great articles in the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon!

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Lost in Space" - Of Green Girls and a Smitten Smith

The Flaming Nose TV Blog is proud to participate in the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon.  Be sure to check out the whole line-up at the home of the Classic TV Blog Association!

Her voice is a "mathematical progression" according to the Robot and Dr. Smith is "terribly flattered" by her attentions.  We're talking of course about Athena, the tantalizing extraterrestrial -- or might she be better described as "sextraterrestrial"? -- temptress who is introduced floating outside the Jupiter Two in the second season episode "Wild Adventure" on Irwin Allen's fabulous science fiction adventure series Lost in Space.  September 21, 1966 was the exact date of the pop culture debut of one of the most hilariously haunting characters from that show, a series filled with flamboyantly memorable characters writ large from producer Allen's vivid imagination, a stew where carrot men, space chimps, outer space Don Quixotes and the like merrily co-existed with but one mission -- pure audience entertainment.

From the first moment when our space Lorelei appears to Dr. Smith (as always played to feckless perfection by Jonathan Harris) on the Jupiter 2 viewscreen to the final moment -- at the end of the second episode to feature the very popular Athena character -- when Smith looks into the telescope and receives a farewell kiss from the Green Dimension, this space babe became TV legend.  Played by the alluring, extremely beautiful and undeniably exotic-looking (but Brooklyn-born) actress Vitina Marcus, Athena was unique, unusual, and unlike anything else audiences had ever experienced.  Marcus, a talented dancer as well as actress, had appeared on television and movie screens including a role in Irwin Allen's big screen version of The Lost World.  Allen brought her in to originate the guest role of Athena the Green Girl in "Wild Adventure" -- the character named after Vitina's own young daughter -- and the rest is TV history.  The response was so positive after her first appearance that Allen brought her back in "The Girl from the Green Dimension" later that same season.

Not only was Green Girl Athena mesmerizing for her special-hued looks but also for her captivating, sing-song musical vocal murmurings, especially so in the first episode.  She is nearly wordless in "Wild Adventure" yet manages expertly to get her point across via melodic cooings that not only entice Dr. Smith to near-mutiny but also draw the audience into her alien existence.  Her second appearance in "The Girl from the Green Dimension" puts her mostly on solid ground as she follows Smith and the Jupiter 2 to a planet where they are mining a substance precious to folks of her kind.  Here she communicates in a pidgin English dialect including the portentous phrase "Athena know much...many...everything" and of course the famous words she uses to describe the object of her affection, the unforgettable phrase "Handsome...pretty...handsome Dr. Smith."

It's a great credit to Vitina Marcus' ability and her own personality that Athena is so incredibly likable and a thoroughly charming though totally mysterious female.  Her first episode is rather serious territory -- the Jupiter 2 is thrown off-course and loses a chance to return to Earth because of her interference.  Her targeting of Dr. Smith is brilliant and he's a complete sucker for her hypnotic flattery.  When she reappears in her second episode, it's actually a genuine bedroom farce, with Athena declaring her love for the brave (she thinks) and handsome Smith (she also thinks, though there is some great dialogue when she is ascertaining that he is indeed not "a girl") and setting him up to do battle with an old boyfriend, the green and scary Urso, who has followed her to win her affections back.  Screams, chases, Will gets turned Green and other improbable though entertaining twists abound, and all through it Athena is friendly, delightful, flirtatious and entirely winning.  Were Dr. Smith able to fall for anyone except himself she could have been a lot of fun.

Seeing is believing in Athena's powers of persuasion. as seen here:

And in "The Girl from the Green Dimension" --

Lost in Space airs on the terrific MeTV channel Saturday nights at midnight after Svengoolie and before airings of Irwin Allen's other classic series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Here's their wonderful promo featuring actor Billy Mumy:

I will take this opportunity to tell my one interesting Lost in Space story.  When I was in Programming for Los Angeles independent channel KTLA back around 1980, I was pushing for adding Lost in Space to our line-up because of its inherent pop culture status -- perhaps not as cemented then as now but I know a legend when I see one -- and we began running it on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to solid ratings.  We had asked our 20th Century Fox sales rep if the Robot were still around and perhaps available for us to use in a promo or for display at the station.  He arranged for my colleague Dave and I to go to the Fox lot and look for it.  We did and were shown to a disassembled Robot in a big box, not only taken apart but also painted pink. Dave remembers that we did display it -- I sort of think we didn't -- but to see our beloved Robot in such a sorry state was a real glimpse into the impermanence of show biz fame!

Again, please visit the Classic TV Blog Association to find out about all the other great posts taking place this week at some terrific sites.  We will also be presenting a look at Bonanza this coming Thursday as part of the Blogathon!  And don't forget to watch MeTV 24 Hours a day during The Summer of MeTV!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jayne Meadows, 1919 - 2015: They Don't Make Them Like Her Anymore!

A little over two weeks ago the lovely and versatile actress Jayne Meadows passed away at the age of 95.  Jayne was part of that dwindling but oh-so-classy contingent of veteran performers who could do literally anything, appeared in all media from radio to screen to stage to television, and who embodied the "there's-no-business-like-show-business" spirit throughout their entire careers.

Active into her eighties, Jayne was a constant presence on TV for fifty years in her professional performing life but perhaps was best known for being the wife of the multi-talented Steve Allen.  Allen was forever a mighty voice in TV comedy beginning with his historic status as one of the early kings of late-night TV in the 1950s and he continued to be a much sought-after writer and performer throughout his entire career.  He and Jayne were famously and happily married from 1954 until his death in 2000.

When Jayne Meadows passed away on April 26th we lost one of the good ones, one of the special ones, one of those ladies who've done it all.  You should read some of the write-ups that followed her death to get a real idea of just how much she had done.  The New York Times obituary is available by clicking here, The Los Angeles Times can be accessed by clicking here, show business paper Variety has a nice story here, The Hollywood Reporter also covered her passing here, The Huffington Post had a write-up here,  Jayne Meadows also had an official website full of great information on her very interesting life and career; visit it by clicking here. She also did a wonderful three hour interview with the Archive of American Television which you can watch by visiting here.

There's no better way to salute a performer than to show them in action.  We've got a selection of Jayne Meadows moments for you to enjoy.  She was a fascinating personality, larger-than-life with a giddy flair that probably outshone her dramatic talents.  No matter -- she was a delight in everything and we are grateful for the entertaining moment that she gave us.

Jayne and her sister Audrey -- she originated the role of Alice on The Honeymooners -- singing a 1956 novelty song written by Steve Allen:

A clip from one of the episodes of Meeting of the Minds, the award-winning PBS series conceived and written by Steve Allen and frequently starring Jayne as one of history's famous females:

What's My Line from December 23, 1956


Jayne and Steve on The Hollywood Palace


More Steve and a very special Jayne performance on The Hollywood Palace

Jayne playing the Queen of Hearts in the elaborate 1985 Irwin Allen TV production of Alice in Wonderland, music and lyrics by Steve Allen.

Jayne was a regular on the popular CBS medical drama Medical Center starring Chad Everett.

Medical Center: The Complete First Season... by WarnerBrosOnline

More of Jayne and Steve from The Hollywood Palace

Jayne hilariously visits with Judy Garland in the January 11, 1964 episode of The Judy Garland Show:

Jayne in a 1970 episode of Here's Lucy:

Jayne and Steve singing "I Remember It Well" in a 1959 recording:

Jayne and Steve on a 1987 segment of The Will Shriner Show:

Another Jayne and Audrey Meadows duet "Hot Potato" from 1955: