All of us who grew up in the 60’s watched Hogan’s Heroes, the show that demonstrated just how hilarious life could be in a Nazi POW camp. The show ran for 6 seasons on CBS and then for decades more in syndication (even reaching German viewers in the early 90s’).
Here are a few things about the show that you may not know:
Even though she was the daughter of established screen actor Robert Montgomery, Elizabeth Montgomery had to work her way up the ladder of success in Hollywood the way many of her contemporary actresses did.
That meant posing for cheesecake photos while waiting for her big break. In this shot, we see the future Samantha Stevens creating magic by wiggling something other than her nose!
Anyone who knows TV history knows that Seinfeld pulled one of the biggest con jobs in American broadcasting history with their claim that they were “A show about nothing.” Every single episode had a main plot and secondary plot (A and B plots in TV jargon) – just like every episode of every sit-com on the air at the time.
The REAL “show about nothing?” Well, that was unquestionably The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Never has the word “adventure” been so misused!
A Summer Place (1959)
Want to see how much times have changed? Drag this one-time blockbuster from 1959 out of mothballs and give a spin!
There’s a reason A Summer Place is best-remembered for its musical theme and not for its plot or acting. The subject matter is sex… middle-age sex and teen-age sex. And like most films from that time period, it wants to give you all the dirty details with a heaping dose of hypocritical moralizing.
Those of us of a certain age can remember when TV didn't broadcast 24 hours a day. After the Blue Angels had gone screaming across the sky as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played in the background, most stations put up what was known as a "test pattern." The stations kept broadcasting these cards until they resumed programming the next morning. They were also displayed when networks or local stations lost their transmission signal from remote locations. These were cards designed to help technicians calibrate broadcasting equipment as well as home TV sets.
When color came to dominate television, the test pattern was replaced by color bars, although even those are no longer needed to tune contemporary broadcasting equipment or flat screen TVs.
The most famous test pattern was one of the first - developed by RCA in 1939. It's known as "the Indian head" test pattern because of its inclusion of a Native American in full headdress.
For a time, NBC (owned by RCA) created an additional test pattern, featuring the network's biggest star:
In the late 1960’s Establishment Hollywood was near panic. All of the old rules about making and marketing movies seemed to be going out the window.
While long-time stars like Gregory Peck and Bob Hope were no longer packing ‘em in, young upstarts like Mike Nichols (The Graduate) and Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde) were turning out blockbusters that their studios frankly thought should be playing the low rent drive-in circuit.
So in 1969, what did Hollywood think was a “can’t-miss” idea? Take a Broadway musical from 1951(!) and cast Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin(!!) as the singing leads!
The result is a spectacular mess of a film, Paint Your Wagon.
In November, 1956, NBC became the first network to build a variety show around a black headliner when they debuted The Nat “King” Cole Show.
Nat "King" Cole was already an extremely popular singer, with 17 Top 10 hits. His show was well-received an attracted big name talent like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald as guests. Yet, by December of 1957 the show was gone!
It wasn’t lack of ratings. Nat “King” Cole competed well. The problem was advertising. The New York agencies were afraid to place their sponsors on a show headlined by an African-American. They feared negative reaction to their clients’ products in the South. The show was only able to attract sponsors at the local level, like Reingold Beer in the New York area.
For a short time, Cole and his guests all agreed to work for AFTRA scale, the equivalent of minimum wage for TV performers. But after a year, Cole became disillusioned and quit, telling reporters, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
NBC kept trying, bringing Bill Cosby in to co-star in the hit spy series Ispy beginning in 1965. Three years later they would launch Julia, a sit-com that starred Diahann Carroll.
But it wasn’t until 1970 that the network was finally able to create a variety show starring a black entertainer that could attract national sponsors. That was The Flip Wilson Show.
When you mention the TV series Maverick to any Baby Boomer, the first name they are likely to mention is James Garner. Yet, here’s a fun fact. Garner starred in less than half of the Maverick episodes filmed!
The Maverick TV series was very popular, running from the fall of 1957 through the summer of 1962 or 5 full seasons. But Garner left the show after Season 3 and even then, he shared the first 3 seasons with actor Jack Kelly, who played brother, Bart Maverick to Garner’s Brett.
What could be funnier than men having to discuss bras and panties, right? Ah, the much more innocent 1950’s came to an end at movie theaters with this extremely popular WWII-themed sex comedy.
Operation Petticoat was made at Universal Pictures in 1959, apparently because Navy veteran Tony Curtis really wanted to co-star in a submarine movie with his idol, Cary Grant.
In one of those ironic little twists, Curtis’ other big picture for 1959 was Some Like It Hot, which also involved women’s underwear (this time, him wearing it) and Curtis performing a hilarious impression of Cary Grant as part of that film’s plot.
The film was directed by Blake Edwards, who would go on to much greater fame with the Pink Panther series and so many more movies. Paul King, Joseph Stone, Stanley Shapiro, and Maurice Richlin wrote the script, incorporating many actual incidents from World War II (including the accidental torpedoing of a bus and women military members needing to be evacuated by submarine). Looking at this lightweight bit of fluff today it’s hard to see how their screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, but it was.
The granddaddy (or is that grandmommy) of all Spring Break films is Where the Boys Are! Released in December of 1960, this was an “A” picture for MGM, shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope.
The movie’s advertising billed it as “The HILARIOUS Inside Story of Those Rip-Roaring Spring Vacations!” Let’s look at the plot. We have a date rape (laughing yet?), a girl wandering out into traffic and getting hit by a car (a chuckle maybe?) and the film’s two leads going their separate ways at the end of the picture (side-splitting, right?).
Actually, this baby is pretty damn melodramatic. What few laughs there are belong to Frank Gorshin as a very nearsighted musician committed to “dialectic jazz.”
The film’s title allegedly came from a remark a college girl made when a reporter asked her why she came to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. The plot was based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout.
Mousketeer Roll Call: Darlene Gillespie
The story of Darlene Gillespie is not one that would lend itself to a Disney movie.
She was the daughter of a Canadian song and dance team. In 1943, her parents relocated to the Los Angeles area when Darlene was just two and began grooming her for a career in show business. By 1955, she was already an accomplished singer and dancer. She passed her audition for The Mickey Mouse Club and became one of the core cast members who stayed with the show during its entire first run.
What we at home never knew is that she was involved in an intense backstage rivalry with Annette Funicello. Dueling sets of stage parents put their friends and relatives up to flooding the Disney studio with fan mail for each of the respective girls. While Darlene did get to star in one of the Mousketeer serials (“Corky & White Shadow”) and play a major part in the second “Spin & Marty” serial, as the show progressed (along with Annette’s bustline), it became obvious who was the top Mousketeer.
Gillespie did cut a couple of albums for Disney, just like Funicello, but they didn’t receive the push from Disney’s marketing arm that Annette got.
When The Mouse Club ceased production, Disney kept Annette under contract, but Darlene had to go her own way. Her acting career quickly fizzled. Over the years, she made a few stabs at re-launching a singing career, but nothing really came of those.
Darlene worked for many years as a nurse and, in fact, greatly assisted her fellow Mousketeer Karen Pendleton when Karen had the car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Sadly, her last bit of notoriety came in 1998 when she was arrested in a securities fraud scheme that she cooked up with her husband. Darlene was sentenced to two years in prison, but wound up only doing 3 months. In 2005, she and her husband were back in court on charges of fraud. Those charges were eventually dropped. The husband who landed her in the slammer passed away in 2008.
Darlene is still with us, living in relative anonymity having finally reached a financial settlement with the Disney Company after a years-long battle over royalties she claimed she was owed for her work on that TV show. Sadly, that protracted legal battle led to an estrangement with the rest of the surviving Mousketeers.
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