Today we mark one year of the column with number 22. We are going to talk about four actors legendary each for their own reasons.
First up is Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” actually came about from a failed TV series pilot written by Reiner in 1959. “Man of the House”, was supposed to be about a writer, “Rob Petrie”, who balanced his family life with the demands of working as a writer for a comedy show headlined by an egotistical comedic genius modeled after Sid Caesar. It was Reiner writing about his experience as a writer for “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour”. Reiner regarded Caesar as a “benign despot” who lacked social skills.
The network didn’t pick up the pilot at first, because CBS executives wanted a comedian whom they felt would have a broader appeal. Van Dyke was in the smash Broadway musical, “Bye Bye Birdie”, for which he won a Tony Award. He got the part and another chapter of TV history was made.
Van Dyke was surrounded with what they would later call “an ensemble cast,” like Seinfeld, with Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam cast in leading roles. Reiner, himself, would eventually play the role of “Alan Brady”, the abrasive Sid Caesar-like comic convinced of his own genius, in the last few seasons of the series’ five-year run.
The show won a slew of Emmy awards, five for Reiner, three for writing and two as the producer of the series; Van Dyke won three, Moore two, writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff two, director John Rich two, and one for director Jerry Paris, who also played the Petrie’s next-door neighbor, dentist, Jerry Helper. Paris was also one of Eliot Ness’
“Untouchables” with Robert Stack. But Paris was really a director, having directed episodes of “The Munsters”, “Love American Style”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “The New Dick Van Dyke Show”, “The Odd Couple”, and almost the entire run of “Happy Days” from 1974 to 1984. He also directed the comedy films “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment” and “Police Academy 3: Back in Training”.
In 1966, Reiner, producer Sheldon Leonard and Van Dyke decided to end the series at the height of its popularity and critical acclaim.
Twenty-nine years after the show was ended, Reiner reprised the role of “Alan Brady” on Mad About You, winning his eighth Emmy Award, this time as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
Incidentally, I wrote this column abut a week before Reiner died. Up until then, he and Van Dyke and Reiner were the two survivors of the series. Reiner was 98, and Van Dyke is 94.
Sheldon Leonard was an actor who began a new career as a television producer in the 1950s and went on to become one of the most successful TV producer/directors of the 1950s and 1960s. Four of his productions, all on CBS network were – “The Danny Thomas Show”. “Gomer Pyle: USMC”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Andy Griffith Show” – were rated in the Top Ten.
At the end of the Dick Van Dyke run, Leonard – having had so much success at comedy – wanted to try his hand at drama.
He decided to do a spy show, since everybody and their brother were trying it because of the success of James Bond. Leonard asked himself who could move around the world without being noticed? The answer was tennis players. So he wrote ”I Spy” with a tennis player and his coach.
The series was notable for another reason. Leonard cast actor Robert Culp opposite a successful stand-up comedian of the time, Bill Cosby. It marked the first time an African-American had been cast in an equal co-starring dramatic role with a white actor. Leonard is also regarded as having invented the television spin-off.
Grammer is the first actor to appear as the same character in three TV series.
But before we discuss Frasier Crane, let’s talk about 1996’s “Down Periscope”, one of my favorite movies of all time.
Grammer stars as Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge, who is in line to captain his own boat. But the dilemma centering around Dodge is a tattoo he got — while drunk, of course — on an embarrassing part of his anatomy — as well as his unorthodox command style.
The tattoo has one admiral, played by Bruce Dern, dead set against Dodge getting his own boat.
The other admiral, played by the legendary Rip Torn, decides to give Dodge a chance to earn his own boat — by captaining a decommissioned, World War II-vintage diesel sub that has been in mothballs for years, in a war games exercise.
Dodge is reluctant at first, but then gets the admiral to agree to a bet — if he can achieve the objective he gets his own boat with a proper crew.
And he gives Dodge a crew of misfits — from an electrician who has absorbed way too many volts; to a sonar tech who can hear sounds from long distances; to a misfit sailor who won’t obey orders, to putting a woman on the all-male boat as second in command.
During the war games, Dern’s character sets an impossible situation for Dodge’s boat to meet — charge the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, and then sink a fictional boat at Norfolk, Va. But Dodge steers the sub underneath a large commercial freighter to avoid sonar detection, and achieves the objective — over the protests of Dern’s character, who changes the rules midway through the exercise to try to thwart Dodge’s maneuvers.
So Rip Torn’s character offers to pay off on the bet — but Dodge says he wants to keep the same crew. It was only then Dodge finds out the misfit is really Rip Torn’s character’s son.
The female dive officer, Lt. Emily Lake, played by Lauren Hutton, also appeared as
Jazz in the 1990 flick “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” with stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Her biggest role was as Maxine Steward in the TV series “Picket Fences” with Tom Skeritt. She also played Dr. Jeremy Hanlon in “Chicago Hope”, and Jenny Shepard in “NCIS”.
Now, we’ll talk about Frasier Crane, who was a psychiatrist who was a Harvard, Harvard Medical School and Oxford University graduate who, at first, played Diane Chambers love interest on “Cheers” from 1984 to 1993, then on “Frasier” after Dr. Crane moved from Boston to Seattle to reunite with his father, Martin, a retired Seattle police detective wounded in the leg and given a medical retirement, and his brother, Niles, also a psychiatrist educated at Yale and Cambridge University in Cambridge, England.
The actor who played Niles, David Hyde Pierce, won the role after someone noticed how much he looked like Grammer, Their mother, deceased, was also a psychiatrist.
For his portrayal in Cheers, Grammer was nominated twice — but did not win — as the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
For portraying the character in Frasier, Grammer won four Emmy Awards out of eleven nominations as the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and two Golden Globe Awards out of eight nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy.
Toward the end of the “Cheers” run, Grammer set the record by appearing as the character in a 1992 episode of the sitcom “Wings”, which was based on the people at a small airport on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts.
In the episode, Dr. Crane comes to the island to conduct a workshop. While conducting his workshop, Helen Chappel, the lunch counter chef played by actress Crystal Bernard, sees him and says he’s the man who ruined her life. It seems the good doctor had advised her to leave the island and go to New York. Frasier brings her on stage to talk and while he fails to convince her it was not his fault, he passes the buck to Joe Hackett, Helen’s boyfriend and later husband played by Tim Daly, who then stands up and says he did nothing.
Willam Shatner, now 89, has been acting for almost 70 years. His second appearance, in “Space Command” in 1953, a harbinger of things to come.
Other sci-fi shows he appeared in were “The Outer Limits”, “Thriller”, and the legendary 1963 episode of “The Twilight Zone” entitled “Nightmare at 2,000 feet”, in which he plays a character who just recovered from a nervous breakdown, who becomes convinced that a monster only he sees is damaging the plane he’s flying on.
Shatner has also appeared in a number of police and related shows, like “Hawaii 5-0”, “Barnaby Jones” , “77 Sunset Strip”, “Burke’s Law”, “Police Woman”, “Ironside” and the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
He was the star of “TJ Hooker” about cops in uniform, for four TV seasons with Heather Locklear and James Darren, and was also a western secret agent with Doug McClure in the one-season wonder “Barbary Coast” in 1975-76.
He was also the same character, a lawyer named Denny Crane, in two series, first “The Practice” in 2004, and then in “Boston Legal” from 2004 to 2008.
But, of course, his signature role was Captain James T. Kirk in the original TV series from 1966 to 1969, “Star Trek”, and about a dozen iterations after that.
My favorite Shatner role was in one of my favorite TV sitcoms, “Third Rock from the Sun”, in which he plays The Big Giant Head, the commander of the alien crew led by Dick Solomon, played by John Lithgow.
TRIVIA THIS TIME:
QUESTION: Which of Dick Van Dyke’s series lasted the longest?
Q. What big star did Van Dyke beat out to play Rob Petrie?
Q. Was Van Dyke in any other TV series?
Q. Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke, played assistant football coach Luther Van Dam in “Coach” from 1989 to 1996. Was Jerry in any other TV series?
Q. In what legendary movie did Sheldon Leonard appear?
Q. Actress Ann Morgan Guilbert played next-door neighbor and Laura Petrie’s best friend, Millie Helper, on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. In what other long-running TV series was she a regular?
TRIVIA QUESTIONS FROM LAST TIME
QUESTION: Which character has appeared the most on “General Hospital”?
ANSWER: Maurice Bernard has played mobster Sonny Corinthos for 2,540 episodes between 1993 and 2020.
Q. What series other than “Cagney and Lacey” has Tyne Daly starred in?
A. Judging Amy.
Q. What popular movie did Tyne Daly also play a cop?
A. Daly portrayed detective Kate Moore, who was promoted from being a file clerk because she was a woman, and draws homicide detective “Dirty Harry” Callahan as a partner in the third in the “Dirty Harry” movie franchise “The Enforcer” in 1976-77.
Q. True or false – Daly’s ex-husband played a cop on TV, too.
A. True. Georg Stanford Brown played patrol officer Terry Webster in “The Rookies” from 1972-76.
Q. In “Cagney and Lacey”, Sharon Gless was not the original Christine Cagney. Can you name the actress who was?
A. In the pilot, Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Hoolihan, Loretta Swit, played the role while she was still on M*A*S*H in 1981. She was replaced for six episodes by Reading-born Meg Foster, she of the very light blue eyes. But the show’s producers wanted a more feminine actress for the role, and settled on Gless.
Q, What was the name of Jack Wagner’s character on GH?
A. Frisco Jones.
Q. Here’s an oldie – who was Audrey Hardy’s sister, the nurse, on GH?
A. Lucille March
Q. Can you name the two popular mini-series Richard Chamberlain appeared in during the 1980s?
A. Shogun and the Thorn Birds.
Q. What TV and movie franchise was Leslie Nielsen best known for?
A. Nielsen, who did dramatic acting, including a lot on TV, said he always wanted to do comedy. His chance came in 1982 with “Police Squad”, which inspired the “Naked Gun” movie franchise.