TelevisionWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert joins our roster of bloggers with this forum all about classic television, where anything from "Leave It to Beaver" to "Malcolm in the Middle" is fair game for discussion. Reunion specials, DVD releases of classic shows, vintage commercials -- anything that's ever been telecast is the hot topic here.
Time Life has released a "This Is Tom Jones" three-disc set featuring eight episodes from the 1969-71 ABC variety series.
It features a number of special guests including Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Leslie Uggams, the Who, Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, Anne Bancroft and Bob Hope.
Jones himself is a marvel in retrospect-dynamic and entertaining, with a superb voice and a commanding presence. All this, and he's only about 30! It's quite clear why the women in the studio audience are whipped into a frenzy when he concertizes at the close of each show.
Charles Lane, the veteran character actor, died Monday evening at age 102. He was in tons of movies and TV shows—he must have appeared on every sitcom in the 1960s and '70s—often playing a humorless clerk, bureaucrat or authority figure.
He had amazing longevity, and his dour countenance served him well in a career that spanned early talkies to "L.A. Law."
He appeared numerous times on "I Love Lucy"—the passport agent, the expectant father in the delivery room, the customs agent at the Mexican border—and was for a brief time a regular on Lucille Ball's subsequent series, "The Lucy Show," on which he played Mr. Barnsdahl, the stone-faced banker, a role Ball later insisted go to her old comrade from her radio days, Gale Gordon (famously, "Mr. Mooney").
Here's a career recap and a 100th-birthday celebration at the TV Land Awards a couple of years ago:
I had the occasion to interview Charlie for the book "Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz," which I co-wrote with Coyne Steven Sanders in 1993. I visited Charlie, then 87, at his home in Pacific Palisades and he led me to a small office in the back of the house, where I conducted the interview. I was a smoker then, and after 45 minutes was dying for a cigarette—but I certainly couldn't light up in a closed room with an octogenarian in it. Just as I was about to call for a bathroom break so I could go outside and light up, Charlie opened the desk drawer, pulled out a pack of Pall Malls and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke?" In three minutes the room was blue with smoke and we were getting on famously.
Although he went on to a bigger regular role as Homer Bedloe on "Petticoat Junction," Charlie expressed some residual sadness to me about losing his part on "The Lucy Show" to Gale Gordon. "Lucille was an extraordinary talent and I was madly in love with her. She had me doing this very big character part on a regular basis—and then Gale Gordon was again available, and she wanted him in the role. I was terribly disappointed, but I could understand perfectly."
The truth is that he made a better, more believable foil for Lucy than the affable but over-the-top Gordon ever did.
Charlie loved acting and was the very best at what he did-all other humorless bureaucrats pale by comparison. That's got to be why he lasted so long.
I hope he died knowing that he is forever part of Americana.
The first season (1957-58) of "The Real McCoys," the granddaddy of all rural situation comedies, will be released on DVD July 24 by Infinity Entertainment Group.
Pretty much dormant for decades, the series is notable for several reasons, not the least of which is triple Oscar winner Walter Brennan's outstanding characterization of Grandpappy Amos, the grouchy, meddling patriarch of a clan that relocates from West Virginia to California's San Fernando Valley after a relative dies and bequeaths them a farm.
The series, out of the Danny Thomas canon (as were "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Gomer Pyle, USMC"), was shot on black-and-white film by Desilu.
The first episode neatly sets things up: The McCoys—Amos, grandsons Luke (Richard Crenna) and Little Luke (Michael Winkleman), granddaughter Hassie (Lydia Reed) and Luke's new bride, Kate (Kathleen Nolan)—arrive at their newly inherited, broken-down farmhouse in the Valley and encounter Pepino (Tony Martinez), the Mexican farmhand who apparently comes with the place (Amos thinks he's Russian).
Pepino gets to the root of the Luke/Little Luke mystery right away by asking why there are two brothers with the same name; big Luke explains that his (now-deceased) parents were so excited when they had a second son that they forgot they already had the first one. Having never seen the initial episode before, I never realized the two were brothers and, owing to the vast age difference between the two, always assumed that Little Luke was big Luke's son by a previous marriage.
In its brief 23 minutes, the first show also manages to introduce Amos' neighbor and nemesis, George McMichael (Andy Clyde), and his spinster sister Flora (the inimitable Madge Blake, "Batman's" Aunt Harriet and Larry Mondello's mother on "Leave It to Beaver").
The show-which ran until 1963, five seasons on ABC and the sixth on CBS-is creaky here and there, and there's quite a bit of stereotyping (Amos thinks 13-year-old Hassie is an "old maid" because she isn't married yet, and Pepino is straight out of Central Casting), but Brennan's performance, with excellent support from Crenna and Nolan, makes it well worth watching.