I grew up in the era of reruns. It all started with the genius of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who instead of using a kinescope to film I Love Lucy, which was standard in the day, they used film and movie cameras. Kinescope programs were not well filmed and those that are left today are hard to watch. These were the early days of television and much that was, is now lost. An example of this would be the great character actress Mary Wickes who played Mary Poppins for television audiences in 1949.
When I was old enough to watch television, as I have told earlier, my mother sat me down in front of our black and white set to watch I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny program. Most people still know who Lucy was but many have forgotten Jack Benny and he was around for many years. His career as a comic began in Vaudville but he really made a name for himself on the Radio with a recurring cast of characters in his weekly show. His gravel-voiced butler Rochester, his girlfriend Mary Livingston, who was also his wife in real life, his friend, the golden-toned Dennis Day who sang regularly on the program, they all made the stories of the tight-fisted, violin playing comic very funny.
I was born in the early 60s and so the reruns of the shows from the 1950s and those first aired in the early 60s were brand new to me. I think the first on the list is Superman.
Superman aired from 1952 until 1958. The beginning seasons were filmed in black and white but the remaining seasons were filmed in color. This was well before color TV sets were readily available. Superman even made an appearance on I Love Lucy in the classic episode Lucy meets Superman. The episode was not Lucy Meets George Reeves the actor who portrayed Superman but Lucy Meets Superman. In the episode, Superman does not break character at all. I dearly loved television cross-overs which would set me up for comic book cross-overs years later. But I digress.
Superman was a half-hour adventure series that wrapped most stories up in one show, Superman was played by George Reeves, Lois Lane by Phyllis Coates at first but then Noelle Neal, Jimmy Olson by Jack Larson, and Perry White by John Hamilton. It was a perfectly crafted and well-written show. In my opinion, most of the stories still stand up pretty well today. They jammed a lot of adventure and action in a half-hour show. Well written and so well-acted that when George Reeves made a personal appearance as Superman a little boy showed up with a gun to see if he was really bulletproof. George talked him out of it and no one was hurt.
From 1963 to 1966 Patty Duke starred in her own self titled show. I was too young for the original run but not for the re-runs. I don’t know this for sure but my feeling is ABC got the idea from the Haley Mills classic movie The Parent Trap which debuted in 1961. In the Parent-Trap Mills played both Susan and Sharon who were twin sisters, who had been separated at birth. One went to California to live with dad and the other to Boston to live with mom. In the film the twins meet at summer camp. At first there is mutual dislike until they discover they are sisters and then they scheme to bring their parents back together and of course, all ends happily. The Patty Duke Show was a bit different. Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane. Not sisters but identical cousins. Cathy’s father is either a foreign correspondent or a diplomat. My guess is correspondent as Patty’s father was a newspaperman. Cathy has been brought up in England and has a cultured British accent. After the death of her mother Cathy goes to live with her Uncle Martin, Aunt Natalie, and her cousins Patty and Ross. When Cathy arrives it is much to both girl’s delight to find that they are exactly alike and the fun begins. This show was very much a Lucy and Ethel relationship. Patty had the schemes and innocent Cathy found herself dragged into them as often willing as not. It was a fun show. It portrayed a loving family with a wise father and a caring mom. If you haven’t seen this gem it is worth seeking out.
Next on my list is Gidget. Lets’ get this straight from the first Gidget is a nickname. Given to Frances Lawrence. It stands for girl midget, Gidget. The name was given to Francis as she showed off her surfing skills to the boys on the California beach. Gidget was played by Sally Field on television but the role was originated on the big screen by Sandra Dee. There would be a few Gidget movies made but the series only ran for one season in 1965.
There’s a story behind that too. Gidget ran its first season throughout the Fall and Winter. No one wanted to see a show based on the fun at the beach during those months. However in the summer when the show ran as reruns the ratings went through the roof. Unfortunately, the show had already been canceled and they could not bring everyone back again. The show is available on DVD and is fun to watch. Don Porter was cast perfectly as Gidget’s father a widower who cherishes his daughter despite her tomboy-like tendencies.
Sally Field didn’t keep still in 1967 she would make her next TV splash as Sister Bertrille The Flying Nun. The Flying Nun would run for three seasons until 1970. The show centered around sister Betrille who because of the shape of her wimple and her small size and light weight when the wind was right she became airborne. The show was a big hit, especially with catholic families. It was a comedy most of which centered around Sister Betrille getting in and out of trouble while airborne. It didn’t help that a long-suffering Reverend Mother did her best to keep Sister Bertrille’s feet on the ground. I loved this show and still do. I believe Sally Field has mixed feelings about it but considering all that she would eventually do these two series were a good foundation to start from.
One I never want to forget is Hazel. Hazel ran from 1961 to 1966 and starred Shirley Booth as the outspoken maid to the Baxter family. Hazel is funny and endearing. Watching the show is like curling up with a warm cup of cocoa on snowy night. Though Hazel is outspoken and her mouth gets her into more trouble than it ought to, she also really loves the family she works for and goes to all lengths possible to help and protect them. If Shirley Booth had lived she would have played an Angel in Touched by Angel because that’s what Hazel was an earth-bound Angel.
Petticoat Junction ran from 1963 to 1970. In some ways, it was a spin-off of The Beverly Hillbillies and a forerunner for Green Acres. Paul Henning produced all three shows and from time to time the characters would cross over making those episodes extra special. I don’t quite know the reason why but The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction cannot all be seen in reruns. The early shows are intact but for some reason the later seasons seem to have disappeared. I hope one day that all of the episodes of both shows will be made available.
Petticoat Junction centered around the life of Kate Bradley and her three daughters Billie Jo, Bobby-Jo, and Betty-Jo. They lived in a hotel called The Shady Rest along with the girl’s Uncle Joe Carson. The hotel was the only one on the railroad line that was dominated by The Cannonball Express. Actually, The Cannonball was the only train on the line and is in constant danger of being taken out of commission in the early episodes of the show. The engineer and conductor were show regulars, along with Sam Drucker who ran the general store. Sam would be the major link between Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. This show too was both funny and heartwarming. We see the girls grow into women and we see their mother played by Bea Benadarret pass away as the actress died of cancer during the run of the show. The mother was not replaced but a lady doctor played by June Lockhart who had recently come off playing the mother in Lost in Space as well as Timmy’s mother in the Lassie TV series. She brought just the right touch of gentle wisdom to the show to keep it going.
This blog is beginning to run long and there are so many other shows I want to reminisce about with you but they will have to wait. Shows like Room 222, Nanny and the Professor, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Magician, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy will have to wait for another time.
In the meantime keep tuning in to this blog. Until next time same bat time and same bat channel.