The trivia question from last time was:
What was Mary Tyler Moore’s first TV series?
Most people would answer “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” where she played TV writer Rob Petrie’s wife, Laura Petrie. That show, incidentally, was critically acclaimed as one of the best TV shows ever. I have personal confirmation of that. My friend, the late L.A. Tarone, always said Dick Van Dyke was his favorite TV show. By the way, you can see it late Sunday nights on MeTV.
But Dick Van Dyke is not the answer.
The answer is “Richard Diamond, Private Detective,” a late 1950s private eye show starring “The Fugitive,” “O’Hara U.S. Treasury” and “Harry O” star David Janssen.
When the private eye would call into his answering service, they would show only the legs of the operator. They were Mary Tyler Moore’s legs. In case you didn’t know, before she was an actress, MTM was a dancer. She did a little dancing on Dick Van Dyke.
Her big TV series, other than Dick Van Dyke, was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” part of the famed Saturday night lineup on CBS, which also included “All in the Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” and the Carol Burnett variety show.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a groundbreaking television show, because its star was a single, unmarried, liberated — it was the ’70s, remember? — career woman. It showed women didn’t have to be married to be happy.
Which brings me to my topic for this installment — Norman Lear.
Anyone who managed not to nod off on a regular basis in front of the ol’ Boob Tube in the ’70s knew who this TV producer was, and what he stood for.
In the first installment, I told you how important Quinn Martin was. You might call Norman Lear the Quinn Martin of Sitcoms. Or maybe it should be Quinn Martin was the Norman Lear of Cop Shows.
Norman Lear was behind “All in the Family,” and its many spin-offs — “Maude,” who was first seen as Edith’s cousin; “The Jeffersons,” who were introduced as the Bunkers’ next-door neighbors; “Good Times,” which was introduced when Esther Rolle, Mrs. Florida Evans, was Maude’s housekeeper; and “Sanford and Son,” which was not a spin-off.
These shows brought controversial topics out into the light and up for discussion, making us laugh while giving us something to think about — hot-button ’70s topics such as women’s lib, abortion, single motherhood, women’s lib, poverty, crime, welfare and racial issues.
When “All in the Family” debuted, a big warning appeared on the TV screen stating none of the content should be taken seriously because it was a comedy. Lear said later the sitcom became successful because people knew Archie Bunker. To many people, Archie Bunker was their own father, as he was to Lear.
Archie was the atypical white guy with prejudices. He was a supporter of Richard Nixon, which really highlighted O’Connor’s acting ability, because in real life, he was a liberal, as many entertainers are. “All in the Family” highlighted many of the prejudices that still exist today.
Then there was the dim-witted Edith, who Archie occasionally called a “Dingbat”; His daughter Gloria, who he referred to as “Little Girl,” and his beloved son-in-law. Michael Stivic, “The Meathead.”
Sammy Davis Jr. also appeared in a hilarious cameo once.
“The Jeffersons” highlighted racial issues — an African-American businessman who had his own prejudices.
Louise Jefferson, called “Weezie” by her hubby, was always trying to reel George in. Their son, Lionel, also had his own ideas, a lot different from Dad sometimes, like “The Meathead” and Archie.
They had a built-in racial issue with their neighbors, white Tom and African-American Helen Willis. The mixed couple’s daughter, and Lionel, had a relationship that drove George into some comical situations, while still raising our awareness of race.
And don’t forget their wisecracking maid, Florence Johnston. The part would propel Marla Gibbs into playing the character in her own home, “227,” which also starred Jackee Harry.
“Good Times” and “Sanford and Son” showed the poor African-American. It was based on another story called Steptoe and Son. “Good Times” did, too.
“Good Times” had as its star Jimmy Walker, who played the oldest Evans son, J.J., He used to yell “Dyn-O-Mite.”
“Sanford and Son” were the misadventures of Fred Sanford, “‘Lizabeth, this is the big one, I’m coming to join you. honey,” as he clutched his chest for the fake heart attack he was hoping to use to get somebody to pity him, and his son, Lamont, the voice of reason. Don’t forget the exchanges between Fred and his sister-in-law, Aunt Esther, the Bible-thumping woman who was always calling Fred a “Heathen,” while Fred referred to her as ugly in every way anyone could think of.
“Maude” was the symbol of women’s lib. Bea Arthur would parlay her success as Maude into “The Golden Girls,” with her “Maude” next-door neighbor, Rue McClanahan.
I would like to see Archie and his African-American opposite number, George Jefferson — on TV today. With all of the misdirected energy put into politcal correctness, I would applaud the return of both.
But then, rearrange the word return — and you get rerun. Yes, both are in reruns.
Today’s trivia questions:
Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on “The Jeffersons,” has a famous son. Who is he?
True or false? Were the wives of Norman Lear’s two African-American comedies, “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times,” older than their TV husbands?
NEXT: Well-known TV role players.