For a show that lasted only a single season, a surprising number of Baby Boomers remember the situation comedy My Living Doll. Perhaps that’s because once seen, Julie Newmar cannot easily be forgotten.
The situation was simple. Newmar was a sophisticated robot (who would still be sophisticated by today’s standards). Originally label "AF 760," she was supposed to be a secret Air Force Project. But her creator decided he was not going to turn her over to themilitary. Instead, she was placed in the care of his friend, a psychiatrist (Bob Cummings) when her creator was transferred overseas. The doctor then tried to teach the robot, who he named Rhoda, how to emulate a human female while also keeping her true nature a secret. Along for the ride were the psychiatrist’s sister (Doris Dowling), who lived with the pair so the neighbors wouldn’t gossip (those were the days) and a horny neighbor and co-worker named Peter Robinson (Jack Mullaney) who had the hots for the robot without knowing she was just a machine.
Each week, Newmar’s robot was placed in situations like a blind date, a wedding proposal, a beauty pageant, etc. that threatened to expose her decidedly unhuman nature.
Julie's training as a dancer (and her 6-foot, leggy figure) helped audience believe she was the mechanical marvel she was portraying. Her acting ability turned a character who was supposed to be devoid of emotion into someone the audience rooted for.
(What was really unbelievable about the show was the fact that her caretaker was so much of a wolf in public, yet never even allowed the robot to strip naked in private.)
But with My Living Doll, the real drama was taking place off camera.
Here’s the back story:
CBS had wanted to star Ms. Newmar in a TV series for nearly 2 years prior to Living Doll’s debut. Producer Jack Chertok had just delivered the network a big hit with My Favorite Martian. So when Chertok came to them with a script for second sci-fi comedy, CBS gave the series a green light without ever shooting a pilot (a rarity then and now). Chertok was happy to cast Newmar in the title role.
That the part of psychiatrist Bob McDonald was filled by veteran actor Cummings may have been the problem with the show’s ultimate failure. Cummings was not their first choice. CBS and Chertok wanted the shrink to be played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. When they couldn’t get him, they settled for Cummings.
Cummings is best known for a long-running sitcom where he played a skirt-chasing glamor photographer. Unfortunately, that was nearly a decade before My Living Doll. When production started, Cummings was 54, 25 years older than Newmar. Any sexual tension the series should have had between the two co-stars seemed downright creepy as it was obvious that Cummings was old enough to be her father.
It didn’t help that Cummings always thought he should have been a movie star and wasn’t happy about his middling career on television. Exacerbating the problem was Cummings' long-term dependence on methamphetamines in an era when their destructive power was not fully understood. His moods were erratic, to say the least.
Although Newmar denies it now, there are stories about clashes between the two stars. Cummings also took scripts home and re-wrote them to give himself more screen time as he thought the show should be about him, something that drove the director to distraction. Tensions on the set escalated until…
Whether Cummings was fired or quit, no one today knows; but he abruptly left the show after 21 episodes. By then, CBS knew there wasn’t going to be a second season (ratings had been middling to poor throughout the show’s run), So, they never replaced him. For the final 5 episodes, horny neighbor Peter Robinson discovered Rhoda’s secret and became her caretaker. And then My Living Doll disappeared from TV.
Only 11 of the original 26 episodes are known to exist, although Chertok’s production company is actively trying to find copies of the remaining 15 episodes. The surviving episodes have been released on home video.
For Newmar, there was a much happier ending. Less than one year after My Living Doll’s cancellation, she was cast as Catwoman on the Batman TV series and finally found the fame she deserved.