Posts Tagged ‘Phylicia Rashad’

A Salute to 10 Classic TV Moms

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Carol Brady was not going to wear an apron….Everyone wanted to be a Partridge….June Cleaver wore heels for a reason….and “Mrs. C” knows how to get what she wants! In honor of Mother’s Day, the Archive of American Television highlights quotes and clips from 10 interviewees best-known for their roles as iconic sitcom TV moms.

Jane Wyatt on playing Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best
I did understand wife and mother because I was a wife and mother. Margaret was much nicer than me. I can say that. But then she had all her lines written for her. I was much more independent than she was. She was a very nice person, I enjoyed playing her. And, she had a wonderful rapport with her children.

Barbara Billingsley on playing June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver
Some people think she was namby-pamby. But no, she used to get teed off with the children. She didn’t always refer to the father as far as punishing is concerned. She was a loving, happy, stay-at-home mom, which I think is great. I’m not for every woman having to be out in the workplace. I had two children at home and I was working. But I think the one that stays home, if she’s doing a good job, it is the best job she’ll ever have, the most important.

Interview clip: Barbara Billingsley on June Cleaver’s wardrobe, high-heels, and pearls

Marion Ross on playing 50s mom Marion “Mrs. C.” Cunningham on Happy Days
Between my childhood in Minnesota, and the 50’s, it’s easy for me to relate to the kind of woman who gets everything she wants, but in a very charming, feminine way, because it’s just easier! That’s kind of the way I was raised and that’s what I saw in my own childhood how women love their husbands and protects her husband from the children. “Be good to your father.” He’s the head of the family, but he really isn’t, of course. She is the head of the family. But that’s the artifice. This is all pre-women’s lib. Now, I still think it’s a kind of a handy way to get things done. We conceal our strength.

Florence Henderson on playing Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch
I know that there were certain things that I brought to the role. I think it was my experience as a young parent and the fact that I understood kids. I felt close to them. I was really the only one on the set that was married, that had children and an ongoing relationship…. I would never wear an apron. I wanted to wear sexy nightgowns. I wanted to make her as human as possible.

Interview clip: Florence Henderson on playing Carol Brady

Mary Tyler Moore on playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show
The sponsors had a good deal more to say back then. We had to sleep in twin beds even though we were a married couple. We had to wear pajamas with the little pockets and a shirt. We were not allowed to say pregnant. You had to say “expecting a child” or “expecting a baby.” The big objection was the pants that I wore in The Dick Van Dyke Show. I had seen too many housewives on television who were vacuuming in high heels and a floral printed frock. I said, wait a minute, that’s not the way it really is and I wanted to be real. I wanted to represent something of me. And I was married and a mother, and I’ve walked around barefoot as I still do, and wore pants. So I brought that to the show. I also brought my sense of honesty, my sense of truth.

Diahann Carroll on playing single-mother Julia Baker on Julia
On television, Julia was the first non-conventional, educated, single mother who was outspoken. She dated. She raised her child…But no Black male was the argument. No father. No image for the children to relate to a father. That was a very loud criticism. It’s not that Julia and her son didn’t talk about situations. It may not have been his life, but we did talk about situations. Also, mother dated, and we brought the male into the house to say hello to the son. And, usually it was another professional Black that the young man was exposed to. So, I think that as we look back, that we’re very proud of that, that piece of work. It represented a new thought. It represented something that was subject to a great deal of criticism.

Interview clip: Diahann Carroll discusses Julia

Jean Stapleton on her favorite Edith Bunker “mother” moment on All in the Family
The anniversary episode was one was one of my favorites. Edith was to give marital advice to her daughter. That was great. She and Gloria felt that they should have a mother and daughter talk now that Gloria’s getting married. So of course Edith said nothing. Gloria supplied all of the issues and answered them while Edith would nod in approval “yes, yes of course.” Edith was very, very shy, very timid about discussing such things. It is very funny and very much in character.

Video clip: watch the brilliant scene Jean Stapleton references here:

Shirley Jones on being TV music group mom Shirley Partridge on The Partridge Family
She was a working mom, but wanted her children to have values. The show business thing was secondary. And they made a point of that, because the first couple of shows, the pilot in particular, they were dealing very much with the show-business angle, “where are we going to perform? Let’s rehearse every day.” And finally [producer] Bob Claver said, “we’re going to tone down the show business angle. We’re going to make them real people. We’re going to have stories about teenage sweethearts in school, and we’re going to have stories about Shirley maybe dating one of the local guys. There will always be a song, but the show won’t be built around that performance.” I think that helped because it made us real people. And it also got every teenager in America thinking that they could do this. “We can go to school and we can have a band. And we can get a bus.” The sad part is that every once in a while, I would find some young 16, 15, 14-year-old, sitting on my lawn, just off a bus from Iowa or Michigan or someplace, saying, “I’ve come to be in The Partridge Family. I can play the instrument.” They’d literally run away from home. I just had to tell them the truth and say, “listen, this is a television show. We don’t have a band. It’s all make-believe.”

Interview clip: Shirley Jones on Shirley Partridge

Phylicia Rashad on playing Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show
She had a very normal relationship. She understood the difference in all their personalities. It was a very loving relationship, and there was discipline. She was very, very patient, but very disciplined. She understood the value of discipline. And they, as parents, understood the importance of being on the same page with those people.

Interview clip: Phylicia Rashad on working on The Cosby Show

Patricia Heaton on playing Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond
Debra’s a horrible homemaker, that was what was so wonderful about her is that she couldn’t cook, and a lot of times with the kids it was just like “whatever.” I think there’s a whole movement in our country since Martha Stewart came on the scene of being a perfect and making every small daily task a work of art, which there’s some benefit to trying to lift the mundane out of its mundaneness and making it something because every act of care that you do for your family is actually sort of a sacred thing. But when you’re packing a lunch every morning, you’re not going to cut the sandwich into smiley shapes and starfish, you just throw in that prepackaged crap in their bag and stick it in their backpack. So, I think she tried, but she was like every mom that has it up to here with everything. …But I think she was a good mother, yeah, definitely.

Interview clip: Patricia Heaton discusses the Everybody Loves Raymond family dynamic

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was A Trekkie

Monday, January 21st, 2013

(Reposted from MediaPost article by Archive Director Karen Herman with permission.)

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, it’s a good time to remember how television can play a critical role in challenging and changing public opinion. As the journalist Howard K. Smith said of the television news coverage of the Civil Rights movement in his Archive of American Television interview, “I think even people who were biased on civil rights saw these pictures every night at the dinner hour — people beating up blacks, siccing dogs onto them — and they said, ‘This has got to stop! Something must be done.’ I think that television really was a decisive fact. That and the powerful will of Lyndon Johnson to be a success in legislation and the wonderful eloquence of Martin Luther King.”

Not only did TV news bring the country (and the world) face to face with the day-to-day reality of the struggle, but entertainment television also played a subtle, yet important, role. One of my favorite stories in our archive is one that Nichelle Nichols,  famous for her role as Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek,” tells of her moving encounter with Dr. King. (See the full 12-minute interview excerpt here):

I was going to leave “Star Trek,” and [creator] Gene Roddenberry says, “You can’t do that. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to achieve? Take the weekend and think about it.” He took the resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer….

As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”

I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”

I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”

I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”

I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not abBlack role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said:  The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.

Come Monday morning, I went to Gene. He’s sitting behind that same dang desk. I told him what happened, and I said, “If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.” He looked at me, and said, “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.” I said, “That’s what he said.” And my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back. I never regretted it, because I understood the universe, that universal mind, had somehow put me there, and we have choices. Are we going to walk down this road or  the other? It was the right road for me.

As many programs have since shown (here’s a link to another of my other favorites  – Phylicia Rashad discussing how “The Cosby Show” broke barriers between Nelson Mandela and one of his guards on Robben Island ), television has the power to come into our homes and show people as they “should be seen every day.” A powerful and unforgettable message from perhaps the world’s most famous “trekkie.”

Phylicia Rashad Directs “A Raisin in the Sun”

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Phylicia Rashad is currently directing a production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, CA. Rashad is quite familiar with the play, which centers on the Younger family in post World War II Harlem: she won a Tony Award for playing “Lena Younger” and reprised the role for a 2008 Movie of the Week version of the play. She discusses the role in detail in her 2007 Archive interview, where you can sense both how much Rashad has reflected on the play’s characters, and how invested she would be as a director:

The Rashad-directed production ends this Sunday, February 19th. For more information and to purchase tickets for the the final weekend of “A Raisin in the Sun” click here.

To watch Rashad’s full two-hour Archive Interview, click here.