Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I Love Alice

In the USC comedy class I’m teaching, the subject last week was early sitcoms from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Trying to be as thorough as I could I even mentioned I LOVE LUCY. But seriously, one of the points I made was that wives in ‘50s sitcoms were completely subservient to their husbands. This reflected American society at the time. Hubby went off to work and wifey stayed home, raised the kids, did the housework, and cooked the meals. And in most cases wearing dresses and pearls. June Cleaver always looked like she was on her way to a wedding as she stood over the kitchen sink making meat loaf. My mom never looked like that. No one’s mom ever looked like that.  How do you plunge a toilet in a chiffon dress?

Sitcom wives always bowed to their husbands. Even the titles of the shows reflected that. FATHER KNOWS BEST.

And generally the wives were not funny for a second. Jane Wyatt, Harriett Nelson, Barbara Billingsley got maybe three joke lines between them in 500 episodes. (Not that the husbands were much funnier.)

For a TV wife to be funny she had to be zany. Lucy was the best example. Then there was Joan Davis in I MARRIED JOAN, Cara Williams in PETE & GLADYS, and although her character wasn’t married – Gale Storm in MY LITTLE MARGIE. They excelled at getting into “jams,”  performing a lot of physical comedy, and only escaping serious repercussions when their stern but benevolent husbands let them off the hook.

In some cases, like with Lucy, the husband would occasionally put his wife over his knee and spank her.   Fellas, do not try this today.  

But there was one housewife who didn’t take any shit. Alice Kramden from THE HONEYMOONERS. I showed an episode to my students and they seemed to really enjoy it. (“Hey, it’s the FLINTSTONES!”) Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were brilliant as Ralph and Norton, but for my money the one element that made that show so special was Audrey Meadows as Alice.

What a revelation. A dead-pan wife who was clearly smarter than her husband, took no crap from him, and was incredibly funny without having to fall into a tar pit.

Ralph would rail and scream and even threaten to send her “to the moon,” but you knew it was just bluster and he was utterly harmless. He could raise a fist to her and she wouldn’t even blink. And at the end of the day, she ruled the roost.

When people talk about great TV comediennes, Audrey Meadows deserves to be right up there with Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Jean Stapleton, Roseanne, and Shelley Long. Alice Kramden empowered women and was way ahead of her time. (So was Wilma Flintstone but face it, all men were cavemen back then.)

There have been a million family sitcoms, but for my money there is still no better TV wife than Audrey Meadow’ Alice Kramden. She’s so far above it’s like everyone else is here on the ground and Alice is…well, to the moon.

Here’s just an example.


52 comments:

Jonathan said...

One of the many ways in which Ms. Meadows was so exceptional was her unbreakable courage in being able to stand perfectly still while Gleason ranted and raved until it was time for her to stop him cold. Very few performers can (or would) do that while still being fully in character.

And in addition to showing Alice's strength, Meadows could break your heart with a fleeting look at Alice's vulnerability. When Ralph does occasionally go too far and really does hurt Alice, her face just changes and he knows how wrong he is.

Jim Linzer said...

"Sitcom wives always bowed to their husbands. Even the titles of the shows reflected that. FATHER KNOWS BEST."

Was that really true in that particular case? I have never seen that series, but old time radio buff that I am, I have heard a few episodes of the original radio version. There, the title was clearly ironic. The mother, Margaret Anderson, was unambiguously in charge of the family, and had to force her husband Jim to act like an adult. A common plot had him team up with the children to get out of something she wanted them to do--for example, they would scheme to get away from a party she was throwing, to go instead to a baseball game.

Annemarie said...

Yucca Flats after the blast! I just love Audrey's voice. Must have been a pleasure to write for her. Very happy to see you recognize her like this, Ken! I used to wonder if Steve Allen somehow ended up with the wrong Meadows sister. He seemed very happy with Jaynie Bird and all, but still.

Dana King said...

"Ralph would rail and scream and even threaten to send her “to the moon,” but you knew it was just bluster and he was utterly harmless. He could raise a fist to her and she wouldn’t even blink. "

This is the money quote. I've read where THE HONEYMOONERS shows an abusive relationship by modern standards. Those people miss the point entirely; you got it.

Greg Ehrbar said...

The title of the Father Knows Best TV series was a little ironic, too, since Jim Anderson often didn't know nearly as much as Margaret.

But Father Knows Best on radio and on television is like the difference between The Andy Griffith Show in black and white and color. The radio version had more edge. Plus in some radio episodes, Margaret is played by Jean Vander Pyl, voice of Wilma.

Thanks, Ken, for using a shot from one of my favorite, yet generally underappreciated Honeymooners episodes, "Alice and The Blonde."

What a gem of an episode. Even Trixie gets some good lines! Infinitely quotable:

RITA: "What a husband you have Mrs, Kramden. He certainly is a TRAY-zure."
ALICE (after Rita leaves): "A 'TRAY-zure.' If he keeps this up much longer, he's going to be a BURIED 'tray-zure.'"


ALICE: "I won't be long, Killer. I call you 'Killer' because you slay me.'
RALPH: "And I'm callin' Bellevue, 'cause you're nuts!"


TRIXIE: "There are only two seats left on the bus, and who sits in them?"
ALICE: "Ralph."

Clearly Art Carney ad-libs "Leave it there, the cat'll get it" when he drops a cookie, but it turns into its own funny bit between Ralph and Alice.

It's the '50s, it doesn't always fit the tempo and tenets of today, but it's still artistry.

I love you Sheila, but oh my Audrey!

An (is my actual name) said...

I've always thought Ralph and Alice were a sort of precursor to the Sam and Diane dynamic in some respects. They're madly in love, but she's way smarter and drives him crazy because of it. His crazy yields a lot of yelling and a few ludicrous physical threats that you know will never ever manifest. She uses his bluster and momentum against him in conversational jujitsu and wins every time.

While different in a bunch of other ways, this particular idiom is a great go-to for both pairings. It only works because the characters are so developed and the actors so skilled that the audience feels safe in the knowledge that beneath all the sturm and drang they're nuts about each other.

And yes, Audrey Meadows definitely has a place in the comedy goddess pantheon.

John said...

It's interesting to watch some of the kinescopes from the Dumont Network-era Honeymooners, with Pert Kelton in the role. It may just be that it was early in the run and the characters were still being developed, or that I'm just more comfortable with Audrey's portrayal, but her Alice just has a little more sarcastic bubble-popping bite, playing off Ralph's wild schemes, than Pert's portrayal.

However, sarcastic wives/girlfriends do date back further than Alice Kramden -- Mary Livingston was one of the many supporting players to get shots in at Jack Benny's foibles on his radio and TV show, and Mary was able to hone in more on deflating Jack's ego one way or another just as much as Eddie Anderson (though, I suppose, not as much as Frank Nelson did...)

VincentS said...

Ditto, Ken. I'm reminded of Woody Allen's comment when he was writing BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. He was giving his co-writer all sorts of examples of great movie writing, then he said, "Of course, there was no really great comedy writing in television....except for THE HONEYMOONERS."

Michael said...

Have you seen any of the earlier Honeymooner sketches prior to the series where Alice was played by Pert Kelton? My understanding is the only reason Audrey Meadows got the part for the series was because Pert Kelton was blacklisted - wonder if the show would be still be considered a classic if the change was not made.

Tom Swofford said...

Shows like Father Knows Best seemed ridiculous to me even as a kid in the late 60's and early 70's. All my friends' mothers worked; in my case, my mother supported the family since dad was a deadbeat. Watching a show like Father Knows Best was like watching science fiction.

Family sitcoms haven't changed since the days of the Honeymooners or Lucy. Sure, you've added window dressing to the female characters (now they have careers), but sitcom writers still can't break out of the rut they've followed for 60 years. Dad is a lovable yet stupid man-child, while the wife is the long suffering mother figure who clearly outdoes the hubby in the brains department. Oh, and of course, the wife looks like a retired Miss America winner while the husband looks like a Jim Henson creation. I imagine it's always easier to break out the trope-manual than to actually write comedy about what a real marriage/family is like.

Rinaldo said...

I'll propose just a little recognition of Harriet Nelson's comedic chops. She wasn't always given the chance, and I'm not claiming that she was up there with the immortals you list at the end, but I recall an occasional episode where she was genuinely funny in her gentle way.

Len said...

Audrey Meadows was the glue that held it all together in much the same way that Patricia Heaton did on Raymond.

David Kruh said...

Great story I recall (Ken, correct me if I mis-remember) about Meadows' audition. She was a beautiful woman and showed up to her first audition dressed up and in full make-up. Gleason dismissed her as far too pretty for the role of working-class Alice. Meadows returned the next day sans makeup and in a working class frock, and Gleason almost fell off his chair. "That's Alice!" and Meadows got the part.

Wayne said...

Add to the list of zany TV funnywomen...
Gracie Allen.

Brian Phillips said...

To David: I think that she sent two headshots. One standard and when this was rejected, she sent him a "dowdy" one.

From the LA Times obituary:

"Originally, Gleason rejected Meadows for the role of Alice, considering her too young and pretty for the housewife he would regularly threaten to send "to the moon" only to acknowledge, "Baby, you're the greatest!"

So Meadows hired a photographer to shoot pictures of her at her contrived worst.

"I had no makeup, did my hair all funny, took an old blouse and an old apron, and posed in a kitchen with a frying pan," she told The Times in 1993.

When Gleason saw the photos, he exclaimed, "Oh, my God! That's Alice." Told she was the same young, pretty actress he had rejected shortly before, he laughed and said: "Hire her. Any dame with a sense of humor like that deserves the job."


There are partial roots of Alice's character in "The Bickersons". Blanche was a whiny nag at times, but she did hold her own in an argument.

Meadows, agreed, was great in the role of Alice Kramden.

DaveMB said...

Alice sounds awfully Southern to me in that clip, whereas Ms. Meadows grew up in NYC and went to boarding school in Massachusetts. Am I just hearing mid-century upper-class American as Southern?

McAlvie said...

Yes, Alice was a great character in her own right, but I think it helps to remember that in this show she was basically playing the straight man. And if you think about all those classic sitcoms, that was always true. You had the comedic star, but they were nothing without a great straight 'man'. Too often with sitcoms today it seems like every character is zany, and it ends up with there being no "normal" for the audience to relate to. Even I Love Lucy mostly worked because she had the rest of the cast to balance her out. Yes, they all had their comedic moments, they were all quite talented that way. But it was usually one or the other carrying the comedy that episode, while the others played support.

If you think about it, in all the great sitcoms, Cheers included, each character had a defining role. You had a straight man, a side kick, the oddball, etc. Each character has a personality. Sometimes I watch a new show and it's like the writers forgot that the shows are supposed to be about people. And, more importantly, the characters have to be likeable in some way. If your central character is just a shmuck, the audience won't have much sympathy for him. If your central character is too zany and the supporting cast not strong enough to balance that out, the audience will quickly tire of the character.

Wow, clearly this writing for tv thing is a lot more complicated than just stringing together one-liners!

Brian O. said...

She was funny, tough and beautiful; the straight-man's Judy Garland.

Mickey said...

Sheila MacRae played Alice in the 1960s Honeymooners sketches done on Gleason's variety show. Her Alice was just a shadow of what Audrey Meadows' Alice had been. By that time, Gleason had apparently changed his mind about Alice not being too young or too pretty, as MacRae was both.

Pert Kelton, the original Alice Kramden, turned up at least once in the 1960s as Alice's mothet.

Congrats on trying to introduce your students to these older sitcoms. They don't know them. Hell, these days even a sitcom no older than "Cheers" falls into the "Oh, yeah, I've heard of that" category for many of them.

Jim Linzer said...

"Gleason had apparently changed his mind about Alice not being too young or too pretty."

This was made obvious by MacRae's immediate predecessor in the role: Sue Ane Langdon, a bubbly sexpot who was twenty years younger than Gleason.

As William A. Henry wrote in his biography of Gleason, Ralph Kramden suddenly had a trophy wife.

Mark S said...

BTW, today is the 62nd ANNIVERSARY of the premiere of I LOVE LUCY.

Often lost among the accolades for Lucy's great comedic talent (or even the great writing) is recognition of the true genius of Desi Arnaz, who literally invented the filmed-before-a-live-audience three-camera sitcom.

Greg said...

The three-camera filmed-before-a-live-audience system existed prior to I LOVE LUCY. Desilu's innovation, or rather, the innovation of Karl Freund, was to come up with a system of flat lighting that freed up the three cameras to move around. Prior to that, the three cameras were fixed in place, as on early episodes of YOU BET YOUR LIFE, for example. One camera was on Groucho, another was on the two contestants, and the third was a wide shot capturing all of them. They never moved.

Jess Oppenheimer, I LOVE LUCY's producer and head writer, was determined to do the show with a live audience. He had filled those same roles on Lucille Ball's radio sitcom, MY FAVORITE HUSBAND, and knew that Ball was at her best with an audience. The choices CBS gave them were to do the show live, with an audience, or on film, without an audience and dub in a laugh track. Desi Arnaz approached Karl Freund about the possibility of his coming up with a way for them to do both: shoot on film with three cameras, but with a live audience, and with the cameras free to move around as needed. Freund, one of cinematography's legends, gave Arnaz a long list of reasons why what he wanted to do was impossible. Desi prepared to leave, telling Freund, "Well, if you can't do it, you can't do it." Freund stopped him. "I said it was impossible. I didn't say I couldn't do it."

benson said...

@Mark S, Thank you for bringing that up. As you pointed out, Desi doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves.

Also glad Brian Phillips posted the obit story. Somewhere in all this, "Baby, You're the Greatest" needed to be said.

Duncan Randall said...

#10 is Natalie Wood, Ken.

From Vanity Fair: Take a look at an un-seen collection of Hollywood icons snuggled up with some adorable on-screen pooches http://vnty.fr/1coKEL4

Jeffrey Mark said...

But what about Jean Stapelton as Edith as Archie's foil in so many episodes. Edith was always coming out with very droll comments that were hilarious. As much as she served Archie his beers, Edith in later seasons stood up for herself and stopped Archie cold in his tracks. She developed into someone who stopped taking Archie's shit and still made hilarious comments.

benson said...

Totally OT, but I thought of Levine & Isaacs' "Room Service" episode and some of the jokes in it when I saw this. God, some of you people in LA are odd.

http://la.eater.com/archives/2013/10/14/outrageously_themed_magic_restroom_cafe_soft_opens_serving_golden_poop_rice.php

The Mutt said...

I think Leave it to Beaver is a lot more subversive than people remember. June usually had a little dig or comment that let us know she recognized the absurdity of the role society required her to play. And I don't remember Ward ever being dismissive or domineering to her the way other sitcom dads of the era were.

I'd say Ward Cleaver was a more progressive husband than Rob Petrie.

Scott said...

I read a piece within the last few months about how Ralph and Alice Kramden have a "classic abusive relationship" and how the show should only be seen now when it's presented in that light.

Michael said...

Friday question: There appear to a large number of deals being signed for pilots this year being produced by actors for shows they will not appear in. Examples include Rashida Jones, Zooey Deschanel, and Kristen Ritter. Do they have an inherent advantage in being able to get meetings with network executives and/or more skilled at pitching projects?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I always think Alice and Dandy Nichol's character in TIL DEATH US DO PART - the British precursor of ALL IN THE FAMILY - were sisters.

wg

Gary said...

Then there are young people like one of my wive's students, who said in class one day, "If it was made before I was born, I don't care."

E. Yarber said...

One often overlooked aspect of Meadows' performances in The Honeymooners is that she had previously worked for two years as the female foil to Bob and Ray on their nightly NBC series. Since the team improvised their routines from a general outline, Audrey quickly developed the ability to wing comedy on live television with them. This was a skill that was particularly helpful later when having to keep a sketch moving opposite Gleason, who refused to rehearse ahead of a show and was apt to go up on his lines without warning (at which point he'd put both hands on his stomach to alert the other performers).

And she'd race every night from the Bob and Ray show to appear with Phil Silvers in "Top Banana" on Broadway, too!

Curt Alliaume said...

I wish I still had my copy of Audrey Meadows' autobiography - which went into how she was cast (the obituary mentioned in Brian Phillips' comment is pretty accurate, from what I remember) and how she cut back on her work when she remarried in the 1960s. From what I recall, Gleason was okay with Sheila MacRae as Alice, less so with Sue Ann Langdon, who made occasional appearances in the early '60s.

On another topic: Ken, have you read Mary and Lou and Ted and Rhoda by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong? I'm about halfway through it, and I'd be interested in hearing your opinion (if you have indeed read it).

D. McEwan said...

"This reflected American society at the time. Hubby went off to work and wifey stayed home, raised the kids, did the housework, and cooked the meals."

Hello? Not at our house. I was born in 1950, and for 90% of my childhood (and 100% of the time after I grew up until she died) my mother ALWAYS worked. She only left a job when pregnant, and once I and/or my siblings were a year old, it was baby sitters (or older siblings) for us and back to work for her. Always.

She was "retired" for about a year and a half and then went back to work. Dad was okay sitting around reading and watching soaps and game shows, but Mother was bored out of her mind. She was usually employed as a switchboard operator, though later on, she became a bank officer. Her last job ended only 8 months before she died, and 5 of for those months she suffered severe dementia. She always said being stuck in the house would drive her insane, and it turned out she was right. Further, most of the teachers I had in school, from Kintergarten to my fourth year of college, were married, so were the telephone operators you dealt with if you were phoning someone more than 50 miles away, the women you met working in banks, in stores, and the ones I didn't meet who kept those wartime jobs in Airplane factories after the war ended. And so were Lucille Ball, Joan Davis, and all the other actresses you saw on TV and in movies.

Why did my Mom always work? Was it that we needed the money? It was the 1950s, not now; one person could make a very nice living back then. We lived in Palos Verdes Estates, very, very nice. (The Honeymooners seemed to me, as a kid, to take place on another planet. I could not imagine that people actually lived in a two-room apartment with bare walls and your neighbors practically living in your home. I was sheltered in that regard then. Amos 'n' Andy also seemed another planet. "Where were all the white people?" I wondered, without ever looking about all-white Palos Verdes and wondering why there were no black people.)

Mom worked because it was more interesting than staying home. She was bored at home. Housecleaning and chores? She had five kids she could order to clean the house for her. (And believe you me, she did. Once I was old enough to run the vaccuum cleaner, mother never vacuumed another rug. Never washed a dish, never did anything around the house that she could order us to do.) And once a month a maid came in and cleaned the house. (RE-cleaned the house. Mother always made us clean the house the night before the maid came, as she didn't want the maid thinking she kept a messy house, So she paid a very nice woman money to dust what was freshly dusted, vacuum what was freshly vacuumed, scour what had been scoured 10 hours before, etc.) The maid was the only black person I generally ever saw in person. (I intentionally chose a college where black students outnumbered 2-to-1 the white students because it was by then obvious to me that I needed to know some people who weren't white protestant Republicans.) Cooking? She had a husband who was always home from work earlier than she was, so HE did the cooking. (And Dad was a rotten cook.) (Continued below)

D. McEwan said...

(Continued from above)

Mother never became a big supporter of Women's Lib. On questioning, I learned it was because she never felt in need of liberating. She was liberated. She certainly wore the pants in our house. I'd have liked to see Dad try to give her a spanking like Ricky Ricardo. He'd have found himself in divorce court with a broken nose and a black eye. (Her first husband, NOT my dad, who would never have dared, once punched her hard enough to knock her down when she was 8 months pregnant. He found himself single again quite quickly, and no man was EVER going to lay a violent hand on her again!) For 40 years she cancelled out Dad's votes with hers (He was a Democrat; she a Republican), and gave all the orders.

1950s TV had as little to do with real life then, at least in my home, and I don't see how we could be unique in this, as 1950s TV does to real-life now.

Paul Duca said...

Meadows was just as smart off-screen, getting wise council (her lawyer brothers)and winding up with royalties from THE HONEYMOONERS "forever" (whether that truly in perpetuity or simply her lifetime, I'm not sure)...far-sighted thinking for the time.

normadesmond said...

yes, i too raise a glass to audrey....
and gracie allen.

Mike McCann said...

Two other sitcom wives need to be brought up -- Marion Kerby (Anne Jeffreys) from TOPPER and Molly (Getrude Berg) of THE GOLDBERGS. Marion was THE sexiest woman on TV in the '50s -- flirty and flippant and oh-so-fashionable. Sure, she was in the "other couple" of the plot -- since Cosmo was married to the dowdy, boring and unimaginative Henrietta (I mean, you just knew from the name, right)? That character may have (technically) been dead, but she was having more fun -- and with less angst (the way Lucy lived) than any female on TV that decade. She would make a great subject for your class -- there was no one else on television doing what Marion (Anne) did. And I'll bet she never was nominated for an Emmy.

Then, we look at Gertrude Berg's portrayal of a post-WW2 Jewish mother. Watching her on those scratchy kine's, she makes me so incredibly uncomfortable (and, despite the stage name, I am 100% Jewish-American). Neither of my grandmothers spoke with an over-the-top accent like hers. Neither of them were as meddling or awkward. Who did Ms Berg think she was portraying? Not any Jewish matriarch I ever knew. She was a bad parody of the comic's stereotype -- and probably did more harm to the Jewish-American image at a time when barriers to a lot of ethnic groups were beginning to fall.

E. Yarber said...

I haven't seen much of the Goldbergs TV series of the 50s, but the 15-minute radio serial written by Gertrude Berg in the 30s and 40s is actually very impressive compared to the other soap operas of the time. Perhaps the long-form storylines gave the characters more room to develop past stereotypes that carried the sitcom. Berg herself is one of the major soap auteurs of the radio period, along with Goodman "Easy Aces" Ace and Paul "Vic and Sade" Rhymer.

Mark Potash said...

Ward Cleaver (reading a note): "Hope to see you back on your feet again. Cornelia Rayburn.

June Cleaver: "Who's Cornelia Rayburn? And when did she see you off your feet?"

That's one for Barbara Billingsley. And pretty good for 1957.

Jake Mabe said...

I'd take Roseanne off that list. That series should have been called "The John Goodman Show."

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I read that the title was supposed to be Father Knows Best? But, the sponsor balked at the question mark.

Mike in Seattle said...

An exception to the no spanking rule. If she greets you at the front door wearing the apron and not much else, gives you a wink and a smile, it might be okay if you turn her over and give her...a spanking.

Barry Traylor said...

Thanks for reminding me just how good she was.

Canda said...

I disagree somewhat with your assessment of Harriet Nelson. She often put down Ozzie for his off-beat schemes, and had a pretty good delivery.

chuckcd said...

Ah, that Barney Rubble...what an actor!

Bob Sassone said...

Yeah, I have to disagree with you Ken on Leave It To Beaver. Watch it again. It's a remarkably clever (and wise) show, and Barbara Billingsly and Hugh Beaumont were the funniest things on it. Their little talks are always a highlight, and I think pretty modern and sharp.

I think 50s sitcoms in general were more even in the husband and wife dept than people remember, whether it was June Cleaver, Alice Kramden, or Margaret Anderson. (I also happen to think I Love Lucy is still a great show - there's an odd revisionist history going on lately regards to what that show was like.)

D. McEwan said...

"Mike McCann said...
Two other sitcom wives need to be brought up -- Marion Kerby (Anne Jeffreys) from TOPPER... Marion was THE sexiest woman on TV in the '50s -- flirty and flippant and oh-so-fashionable. Sure, she was in the 'other couple' of the plot -- since Cosmo was married to the dowdy, boring and unimaginative Henrietta."


I 100% agree about the magnificent Anne Jeffreys. And she still looked pretty darn great and charming 30 years later on Falcon Crest. Anne is 90 and still very much alive.

However, I must take issue with your dissing of Henrietta Topper, played by the wonderful Lee Patrick. "Dowdy"? Hardly. She was playing the wife of a bank vice president and dressed well. "Unimaginative"? Yes, that was part of the point of the character. "Boring"? No! No! No! No! No! No! Lee's portrayel of the dithering, befuddled, scatterbrained Henrietta Topper (First played, let us not forget, in the movies by beloved Billie Burke) was one of the truly funny women of 1950s and '60s TV.

Lee Patrick is one of my favorite actresses, one who always delivered. No one would have called her dowdy as Effie, Sam Spade's sexy secratary in The Maltese Falcon, a role she reprised 34 years later in The Black Bird. (Her final performance, and she steals the film.)

No one could call her boring, more likely "Hilarious," as the jolly snobby bigot Doris Upson in Auntie Mame.

In her 46 year career in movies and TV she was an asset in every movie an dTV show she graced, whether in tiny roles as in Vertigo (Where James Stewart mistakes her for Kim Novak. Oh yes, dowdy. So dowdy she was mistaken for Kim Novak!), or in large juicy roles, like my favorite of her roles, Mrs. Howard T. Cassin, in one of my all-time favorite movies, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, where she plays a flighty, deluded widow (Who turns out to have been deserted, not widowed) who is hilarious for most of the movie, and then turns on a dime and breaks your heart in her great scene with the fortune teller, which came, word-for-word out of the novel.

She was known primarily as a superb comic actress, yet she had hidden depths. Check out her scary, tough, Lesbainic female inmate in the women's prison movie Caged. But most often she was making us laugh, in Visit to a Small Planet, I Married Joan, Mr. Adams and Eve, The Adventures of Hiram Holliday, Pillow Talk, Pete & Gladys, The Alvin Show (Voice acting many characters in that animated series), The Real McCoy, Wives and Lovers, The Farmer's Daughter, Hazel, The Donna Reed Show, and many others, in between dramatic roles in The Rifleman, Summer & Smoke, 77 Sunset Strip, The Lawman, The Untouchables, Hawaiian Eye, Wagon Train, King's Row, Racket Squad, The Snake Pit, Mildred Pierce, and many, many others.

Lee Patrick, comic foil for Abbott & Costello and also for Laurel & Hardy, was one of the great comic actresses of the era (The "Era" being 1929 to 1975), when not being one of the great dramatic actresses of the era. Nobody disses Lee on my watch.

VP81955 said...

I believe Anne Jeffreys is still with us, She was a continuation of the sexy Marion Kerby ghost character Constance Bennett portrayed in "Topper" and the underrated "Topper Takes A Trip." The latter featured Skippy, aka "Asta" from the "Thin Man" films and "George" from "The Awful Truth," as "ghost dog" Mr. Atlas. (The TV series also had a ghostly canine, but transformed it from a wire terrier to a St. Bernard, as the TV Kerbys transitioned into the afterlife via an avalanche, not a car accident. I'm guessing an automobile company sponsored the series.) The TV "Topper" was popular in syndication for decades -- WABC-TV in New York ran it on late night weekends as late as the '90s -- and I suppose some episodes are available on YouTube and DVD.

And speaking of Connie Bennett, Pert Kelton was her sidekick as a wisecracking riverboat prostitute (yes, that's what I wrote) in "Bed Of Roses," a 1933 pre-Code that UCLA will run later this year as part of a retrospective of Gregory La Cava, director of "My Man Godfrey," the greatest screwball comedy ever made. Learn more about the event at http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2013-11-08/our-man-gregory-la-cava.

A_Homer said...

When it comes to TV wives, or husband/wife partnering in sitcoms, it's good to recall Gracie Allen's important comedic role alongside George Burns first on radio then tv. She didn't do slaptstick zany but kept up a dizzying logic that George played the straight man to.

D. McEwan said...

Yes, VP81955, as I said in the comment immediately before yours, Anne Jeffreys is 90, and very much alive.

Gracie Allen was a comedy goddess. I was in love with her by the time I was 3, and always ever since. I was 14 when she died, and I cried. Last year I read George Burns's book Gracie: A Love Story, and after laughing all the way through, the last two pages had me crying again. It's been half a century, and I'm still not over losing Gracie.

Ike Iszany said...

I saw an interview with Gleason and when Sheila McRae was playing Alice she cried in a scene and he told her that Alice can't cry. If Ralph makes her cry then he's a monster. Alice has to give it right back to him.