News from the Archive

A Salute to 10 Classic TV Moms

May 8th, 2016
Florence Henderson

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

Happy Mothers' Day!

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PRODUCER’S POINTERS: Why I Became An Oral Historian And How You Can Be One, Too

May 6th, 2016
Archive of American Television

One night when I was ten years old, my parents brought their then-new video camera over to my grandparents’ house. My dad set up the briefcase-sized Panasonic on a tripod in the living room and aimed it at the dining table in the neighboring room. Around that table sat my three living grandparents. (My maternal grandfather passed away when I was five.) For the next hour, my parents recorded my grandparents telling the stories of how their families came to America, what their parents’ and grandparents’ names were, and other lore that had been passed down through the generations. 

That tape is now one of my most treasured keepsakes. (And I’ve had it digitized.)

My grandparents have now all passed away - the last one in 2008. It’s been eight years since my paternal grandfather last serenaded me (he was a sax and clarinet player), fourteen years since I’ve made cannoli with my paternal grandmother, twenty years since I’ve watched Jacques Pepin and Yan Can Cook with my maternal grandmother, and thirty-one years since I last made pancakes with my maternal grandfather. I miss them all terribly, but I’m grateful that my family took lots of pictures and videos over the years. Not only do I have my own cherished memories of my grandparents, I also have many visual reminders of wonderful moments spent with each of them. And that family history tape is the Hope Diamond of the collection.

At the time the tape was shot, I didn’t think much about what my parents were doing that night. I’m on the tape, bouncing around at the foot of the table, unable to sit still on the green shag carpet. Then my sister and I fight over who gets to operate the camera. (My dad let each of us have a turn.) But I paid almost no attention to the content being discussed around that table. Now, as an historian, and as a grandchild who misses her grandparents, the topics discussed are fascinating to me. I love watching my grandparents tell stories; I love learning about where I came from; I love seeing my grandmother correct my grandfather on the year HIS mother passed away. That tape captures not only a specific moment in time and the origin stories of my family, but also the dynamics between my three grandparents. I love it all.

Looking back, I think that tape had a lot to do with why I currently do what I do for a living. I’ve always loved stories and pictures from the past, particularly those of the 1940s. That era always fascinated me - the war years, young men becoming soldiers, women entering the workforce in new ways… And this thing called television starting to grow and gain in popularity. Early television is a remarkable topic to study. In graduate school I watched '40's and '50's programs and observed what the pacing was like back then, learned about the lighting that was used and the odd makeup that people wore to counteract the shadows of those harsh lights, studied which radio stars succeeded in the new medium and which didn’t. I delved into all of it, soaking up Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, Gertrude Berg and Dave Garroway, Milton Berle and Fred Allen.

And then, on an industry trip to Los Angeles during grad school, I learned about the Archive of American Television. This was a program dedicated to preserving the stories of television history, as told by the people who MADE television: an oral history collection of individuals talking about their early years and family influences, how they got started in show business, what contributions they made to various TV shows, how they honed their craft, and what advice they had to offer to future generations. I was hooked.

I’ve been involved with the Archive since 2008, and it’s likely not a coincidence that the year that I became a part of this oral history project is the year that I lost the last of my grandparents. Here’s the thing: watching someone on video somehow makes them present - that person is there talking to you. Even if he lives in another state, even if you’ve never met him, even if he's no longer walking around on this planet, he's there on that screen, chatting away, and that’s precious. I love the video of my grandparents talking about memorable people and moments in their lives, and I love the videos of Anderson Cooper, Carol Burnett, and Sid Caesar doing the same.

Over the holidays last year I realized that my parents are now the age that my grandfather was when he sat around that table misquoting the year his mother died. And that spurred me to conduct video interviews with each of my parents, and a couple sessions with them both together. (Those last ones were particularly entertaining.) If you are lucky enough to still have parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, and other cherished family members around, I highly recommend that you record their stories. You'll be happy you did. 

When I started this process, I can’t tell you how many people told me that they wished they had interviewed THEIR parents when they were still alive. I recently learned that Charlie Rose said it’s one of his biggest regrets. For those of us privileged to still have those we love around, don’t let it be a regret for you, too.

You don’t need to let age be a determining factor in your interview subjects. I plan on interviewing my sister later this year and my dad wants to interview me. In thirty or forty years my memory of recent events may not be what it is now, so why not get me on video sharing some stories this year? (At the Archive we’ve interviewed ABC founder Leonard Goldenson and director Delbert Mann, but we’ve also interviewed actor Jon Hamm and journalist Gwen Ifill. It’s all a balance, and different perspectives from different points in people’s lives make for a varied and content-rich collection.)

Since I research and interview people for a living, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to compile a timeline of my parents’ lives and put together an interview guide of questions. But it doesn’t need to be a stretch for you either. I followed the basic model of what we do for interviews here at the Archive and just modified it slightly. If you’ve watched our interviews, you know we largely interview in chronological order, following an interviewee from birth to current day. I did something similar, but added a whole section about family history before asking about my parents’ lives. I asked what my parents know about their surnames at birth (I covered ancestry on both sides, family roots in other countries/how the family arrived in this country, asked about their great-grandparents, grandparents, parents) and then moved through the years up to now covering their childhoods and education, major life events, historical events, family traditions, meeting close friends, etc. Do a little research, set up a camera (there are some great, fairly inexpensive ones out there now and lots of rental options, too) and then go with your gut! You can do twenty minutes here and there, several hours at once - make it as formal or informal as you like. Just actually do it.

Over the next few months, keep an eye out for my PRODUCER’S POINTERS articles - I’ll be outlining how we do what we do here at the Archive, and offering some tips about how you at home can modify our procedures to conduct your own interviews with subjects near and dear to your heart. Whether here at the Archive, or in my interviews with family members, I’m looking to capture not only the stories and history people have to share, but also to capture their personality, their humor, their certain something that makes them unique. And I want to preserve all that good stuff not only for those of us around today to enjoy, but for future generations, too. 

So I guess I need to thank my parents. Thank you for insisting on gathering your parents around the table on that 1989 night, and for videotaping that delightful hour that ensued. Thank you for letting me operate the camera for a bit. (You can imagine the fun a ten-year-old had with the zoom button.) And thank you for agreeing to sit for interviews with me this past year. Maybe one day a future Faillace will watch them, see some magic, and discover that oral histories are a pretty wonderful art form. They’re time capsules, just waiting for you to crack them open and enjoy, kind of like good books. So go ahead - figure out what you want to put in your capsule, and go build one. Just don’t bury it when it’s completed. Play it. Play it again, and again, and again. Watch your grandmother hit your grandfather on the shoulder when he says the wrong date, and cherish it. 

- by Adrienne Faillace

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Remembering Ret Turner

May 4th, 2016
Ret Turner

We’re sad to learn that costume designer Ret Turner passed away on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at the age of 87. For twenty years, Turner worked as a costume designer and dresser at NBC on series including The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and The Andy Williams Show. The winner of five Emmy Awards, he also designed costumes for Donny & Marie and Mama's Family, and worked with stars from Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett to Cher and Neil Diamond.

Below are some selections from his 2003 interview: 

On his two decades at NBC:

On advice to aspiring costume designers:

Watch Ret Turner’s full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

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Tears, Dreams, and Blank Screens: A Brief History of the Series Finale

April 28th, 2016
Leave It To Beaver

Lucy accidently destroys a newly sculpted Revolutionary War statue in the town square. A grenade temporarily blinds Eliot Ness. Perry Mason successfully defends an eccentric actress in a murder case. These describe three episodes of the most successful shows of the ‘50s and ‘60s. What do they all have in common? They’re all the final episodes of their respective series. I Love Lucy, The Untouchables, and Perry Mason. Unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, and even subpar entries.

Why didn’t Lucy finally get to perform in Ricky’s show and become a huge star? Why didn’t Eliot Ness finally capture Frank Nitti? Why wasn’t Perry Mason in the fight of his life against Hamilton Burger? Because, at the time these episodes aired, the notion of a “series finale” hadn’t been conceived. In those days, shows just ended with no fanfare. It would be announced in the trades like Variety, but mostly viewers would look for their favorite show in the fall and find it had been replaced.

One of the reasons for this was the perceived value of the show in syndication. A show like Gilligan’s Island could run in perpetuity in syndication if the castaways never got off the island. This idea that any kind of finality might hurt syndication sales even carried over into the ‘90s, when it was rumored to be a chief reason that Tony Micelli didn’t marry Angela Bower in the series finale of Who’s the Boss? It was a financial decision rather than a creative one.

The very first primetime series finale came in 1963. In the Leave it to Beaver episode “Family Scrapbook,” the Cleavers reminisce over old times while we see flashbacks from previous classic episodes, thereby simultaneously creating the clip show. Beaver creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher returned to write the episode themselves, which revealed for the first time how Beaver got his nickname. Not much of an event, but the audience got a sense of closure, which hadn’t happened with other series.

The dawn of the big time, extravaganza series finale came on August 29, 1967 when “The Judgment: Part II,” the final episode of The Fugitive aired. Producer Leonard Goldberg can be credited with creating the “finale event.”

The finale of The Fugitive was the most-watched television series episode up to that time, with a remarkable 78 million people tuned in to see Richard Kimble finally confront the “one-armed-man.”

That viewership was topped in 1983 by the final episode of M*A*S*H, which aired as a two-and-a-half hour movie titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” In these days of 200 cable channels, the Internet, and fractured viewership, it would be hard for people who weren’t around then to fathom how that single event permeated the culture for weeks before it aired. It was talked about in school, in church, and at work. It was written about in newspapers and magazines, and it was a lead story on each of the three major network nightly newscasts. I remember vividly a New Yorker cartoon that showed a suburban street with rows of trashcans out. In each one, a television had been placed. The caption? “The morning after the final M*A*S*H.” That was how people felt. It was the end of quality television. 105.9 million viewers saw the episode. No other series finale has ever or will ever come close. Cheers’ finale “One For the Road” was seen by 80.4 million, Seinfeld’s “The Finale” by 76.3 million.

My personal favorite experience of a series finale came on May 21, 1990. I’d stopped watching Newhart a couple of years before, but I saw the New York Post review of the final episode that morning. It gave nothing away, but the review practically urged the reader to tune in that night. Same thing in the New York Daily News. Something was clearly up, and I was convinced. I was going to be out that night so I set my VCR to record “The Last Newhart.” I watched it on tape, well after midnight, and what I saw delighted me like nothing else I’d ever seen on television. I’ll let the great Bob Newhart take it from there.

Not all finales are as well received as “The Last Newhart.” The Seinfeld finale was criticized by fans and critics as being overlong and mean-spirited. As Bob Newhart pointed out, some fans of St. Elsewhere were upset that characters they’d followed for so long were revealed to be imaginary in “The Last One.” The reputation of that particular episode has grown since it first aired. For a fun afternoon, watch “The Tommy Westphall Universe” to see how St. Elsewhere basically places ALL of your favorite shows and characters in one universe. 

The most controversial remains The Sopranos’ “Made in America.” I recall watching it with friends on June 10, 2007. In the minutes after the screen blacked out, they expressed anger and disappointment that the show was cut off. Just stopped. I didn’t feel that way. I felt confused, but I also wanted to know more. The following days, months, and years have clarified in my mind exactly what was going on in that scene. To me, “Made in America” is the greatest series finale of all time because it was challenging, and the more you re-watched and related it back to earlier events in the series, the more was revealed to you. Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner gave us his take.

Sadly, I think the day of the entire-country-watching series finale is over. 10.3 million people tuned into the Breaking Bad finale “Felina.” Compare that with some of the earlier numbers discussed. It will be interesting to see what kind of buzz the Game of Thrones finale creates when it airs in a few years.

I would be remiss not to mention one more finale. In 1960, even before that Leave it to Beaver episode, the daytime children’s show Howdy Doody had one. For the first time, Clarabell the Clown spoke. In his Archive interview the creator of Clarabell, Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan, tells us how much he hated it! Here’s Bob’s page if you want to hear that and other bitter memories from the Captain himself.

For much more on dozens of series finales of all kinds, search the Archive!

- by John Dalton

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Remembering Doris Roberts

April 19th, 2016
Doris Roberts

We’re sad to hear that actress Doris Roberts passed away in her sleep during the night of Sunday, April 17, 2016. Comedian Lily Tomlin discovered Roberts in a Broadway play and brought her to Los Angeles to perform on The Lily Tomlin Comedy Hour. Roberts was a regular on two hit television series in the 1980s: Angie and Remington Steele. She won an Emmy for her guest appearance on St. Elsewhere, and is perhaps best known for playing "Marie Barone" on the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, a role for which she won an additional four Emmy awards.

Below is a clip reel from her 2005 Archive interview:

Visit Doris Roberts' interview page and read her obituary in BBC News.

 

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