CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: In Memoriam–Dawn Wells

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

The end of 2020 was met with the passing of a famous television actress from a popular 1960s sitcom with a character who survived in people’s minds and hearts for decades.

Dawn Elberta Wells was born on October 18, 1938 in Reno, Nevada.  

Wells attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she majored in chemistry.  She transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she graduated in 1960 with a degree in theater arts and design.

While in college, Wells entered and won the Miss Nevada beauty pageant and represented her state in the Miss America pageant in 1960.

Of course, her biggest break was being cast as Mary Ann for the cult TV classic, Gilligan’s Island, which ran for four seasons beginning in 1964, along with subsequent movies produced over the next 20 years. 

But Wells can be seen in projects both before and after she made a name for herself as a shipwrecked member of the doomed SS Minnow.

Dawn made her debut on the ABC Network’s The Roaring 20s and the movie The New Interns and was cast in early career roles in episodes of such television series as The Joey Bishop Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, Maverick, and Bonanza.

Over the course of the next 50 years, she starred in dozens of TV shows including appearances on Wagon Train, The Wild Wild West, Vegas, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Alf, Herman’s Head, Baywatch and Roseanne.

She also appeared in a few films and nearly a hundred theatrical productions, including Neil Simon’s Chapter 2 and had a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in the mid-1980s.  

She was quite busy throughout her life with many humanitarian projects and activities.  Wells was the founder of a non-for-profit educational organization with a vision of education, technical training and economic development.  Dawn lent her support to the charity, the Denver Foundation – in honor of her former TV co-star Bob Denver. She wrote a cookbook, with many recipes courtesy of her Gilligan’s Island cast mates (an example includes “the Skipper’s Goodbye Ribeyes”), with the proceeds going to charity.

One of the stories that Wells would recount for the rest of her life was boasting that people around the world know what the phrase “Ginger or Mary Ann” means, even for those who have not watched the TV show. According to her obituary posted in The Washington Post, Wells reportedly said that the majority of people has always favored her character over Ginger.

 

According to multiple sources, Wells had a very enjoyable experience on the “Island.”  She was particularly fond of the veteran actors like Alan Hale, Jr. (“the Skipper”) and Jim Backus (“the Millionaire”), saying that both were extremely gracious and very helpful in giving performance tips to the young actress.

 

There’s a story of a touching exchange between Wells and Backus that the two shared shortly before the latter’s death. We will share that story along with more little known secrets from Gilligan’s Island in an upcoming Showplace entry.  (Did you know that at one time Wells actually played Ginger?)

 

A few years before her death, Wells was named Marketing Ambassador to the MeTV Network (seen on RCN dial position 2) which had begun airing reruns of Gilligan’s Island.

 

Dawn Wells passed away on December 30, 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 virus.  She was 82.

 

You can see Wells in her famous role as Mary Ann Summers on Rescue From Gilligan’s Island on RCN TV.

 

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Sidney Poitier

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

By any standard, Sidney Poitier has been one of the most impactful entertainers of all time.

Portraying several of the most memorable characters ever seen on the silver screen while also mentoring some of the top contemporary performers, Portier has inspired countless actors over the last seven decades.

While his entire family lived in the Bahamas, Poitier was born unexpectedly in Miami while his parents were visiting for the weekend, which automatically granted him American citizenship. He grew up in the Bahamas, but moved back to Miami when he was 15 and to New York a year later.

According to his own autobiography, Poitier failed in his first attempt in the theater.  Despite being tone deaf and unable to carry a tune, he was given an opportunity to perform with the American Negro Theater in 1945.   At the early age of 18, Sidney’s thick Bermudian accent did not resonate well with audiences nor did they take his characters seriously on the stage.

Determined to lose his accent and improve his stature in the theater, Poitier spent the next six months training his voice and improving his acting skills.  On his second attempt at the theater, he earned a leading role in a small Broadway play.  Even though this show ran for just four days, Poitier received positive reviews along with an invitation to understudy for a bigger production, Anna Lucasta.

Soon, Sidney had to make difficult choices in choosing between starring roles on the stage or in the cinema.  Choosing the latter, Poitier began appearing in an impressive run of films through the 1950s.  Those movies include No Way Out, Blackboard Jungle, Mark of the Hawk and The Defiant Ones, which landed eight Academy Award nominations. Poitier earned a nomination for Best Actor, making him the first black male actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award in that category.

His landmark works of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, In The Heat Of The Night and many more classics would soon follow.  He would also author books, voice “spoken word” albums, march for justice, become an international ambassador and lay the foundation for many great actors, perhaps none bigger than Denzel Washington, to follow in Sidney’s footsteps.

There are many more great stories on Poitier’s continuing legacy as an actor, director and writer and as a shining beacon for change.  Check back to the Showplace in a few weeks as we spotlight Poitier and other pioneers in the entertainment industry as part of our celebration of Black History Month this February.

In the meantime, you can see Sidney Poitier starring in the 1957 drama Mark Of The Hawk on RCN TV this Monday, January 11th at 1:00 p.m.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

Classic Video Showplace: RCN Christmas Takeover 2020

It’s almost time for RCN TV’s annual Christmas Takeover, full of special holiday programming, classic shows and movies airing non-stop Christmas Eve through 9:00am on December 26.

In anticipation of this special event, we asked the RCN TV crew what show or movie they are most excited to see for this year’s “Takeover.”

Rick Geho: For me it is the Christmas Lights and the Steckel School “Holiday in Song” programs.

Patti Ditzel: Mine is “The Ditzel Sisters’ Christmas Special!”

Chris Popik: “Christmas Lights with Bill White 2020” since it is locally produced by RCN TV and features various homes every year.  Also, it will look different this year due to Covid-19 protocols requiring us to interview the homeowners via Zoom.

Jack Ebner: For both my wife and I, our favorite has to be the local production of “The Nutcracker.”

Paul Lewis: The new and older Christmas Lights shows, the Moravian Putz, and the Bacon “Yule Log.”

Chris Michael: My whole family always enjoys watching the “Christmas Shopping: 1955” edition of “The Jack Benny Show” as well as the very underrated movie, “The Christmas Wish.”

Merari Kingsley: The “Nuestro Valle” Christmas choral program.

Chris Zaia: All of the “Christmas Lights” episodes.  It is really exciting to see the changes to our TV production from year one until now.

Jim Frick: “The BASD Christmas Special” and the Seibert Church Christmas Cantata: “The Wonders of Christmas.”

 

What will be YOUR favorite? You and your loved ones have the opportunity to make your own holiday traditions by seeing favorite programs’ holiday adventures or enjoying shows and movies that you may have never seen before!

Be sure to catch this year’s RCN TV Christmas Takeover beginning Thursday morning, December 24!

To view the complete rundown of holiday and classic programming on RCN TV, check out the schedule and weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bing Crosby’s Innovations

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week we took a look at the early career of one of the most popular names and voices heard this time of year in radio, television and movies.

Today we look at the second half of Bing Crosby’s career and how he literally changed the way shows were presented.

During World War II, Crosby came across a reel-to-reel magnetic tape device used by the Germans to record messages. He invested $50,000 in a California electronics company and convinced ABC Radio, after much protest, to allow him to tape his shows. He became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings.

The decision was instrumental in changing the way that record companies, radio and then television shows were broadcast. No longer were networks mandated to do strictly live performances and having to repeat a brand new show for the west coast audiences. This allowed show producers to edit out “bad” portions and only keep certain parts of a show, change the order of the performances and provide various other benefits still used in broadcasting to this day.

Furthermore, this allowed for shows to be recorded and preserved, which paved the way for programs to be rebroadcast. Ultimately, this would revolutionize the industry as shows could be now re-released in syndication and find new life with whole new audiences.

Among Bing’s highlights during the second half of his career include starring in the holiday film classic, “White Christmas.” This was actually the second time that the yuletide traditional song was featured in a movie – the first being “Holiday Inn” over a decade earlier with Fred Astaire.

Crosby would continue to make movies, produce and star in semi-annual television specials, perform live in front of sell out crowds and record songs right up until his death.

A common misconception is that the popular holiday duet “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie recorded before, but airing after, his death was his last recording. However, three days before Bing’s passing, he recorded several songs for an album that was released posthumously. Ironically, the last song he recorded was an old standard called “Once In A While,” a tune asking and answering how he would like to be remembered.

Crosby was a leader in record sales, radio ratings, and motion picture grosses from 1930 to 1954. He made over seventy feature films appearances (his last film was that as a featured presenter in the 1974 star-studded blockbuster “That’s Entertainment”) and recorded more than 1,600 different songs.

Be on the lookout for Crosby’s appearances on various television shows and films on RCN TV and for his music to be featured prominently on the “Sounds of the Season” on RCN’s Music Choice channel 1944.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bing Crosby

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Just try to get through the holiday season without hearing a Bing Crosby classic tune like “White Christmas” or seeing a clip from the holiday film with the same name featuring this legendary crooner (go on, I DOUBLE-dog dare you!)

Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby became arguably the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, contributing to great successes in music, film and radio while producing television shows and even advancing technology in the recording and broadcasting industries.

After a somewhat reckless early venture in the music industry (his drinking and temper nearly ended his career before it really began), Crosby traveled the country singing in various groups.  His great voice soon separated himself from working with a group to a solo act.  It wasn’t long before his tremendous singing style garnished a record contract…and a number of hit singles would soon follow.

In addition to his singing skills, Bing was the first to utilize the newfound technology of a microphone–instead of singers having to belt out tunes to large theaters so everyone could hear, the new amplification techniques allowed him to sing softer and more melodically, which opened up a brand new avenue for singers.

After being denied early film roles because one producer thought his ears were too big, Crosby slowly became a major film star with hits like The Big Broadcast, Anything Goes, Pennies From Heaven, Holiday Inn and the “Road To…” film series.

Crosby attempted–and succeeded–in advancing his credibility as an actor in the 1940s by winning the Academy Award for his leading role in the film, “Going My Way.” (He also was nominated for best actor in another holiday classic, “Bells of St. Mary.”)

Crosby continued to bang out number one hits while creating a new style for singing, coining the name “The Crooner”–a nickname Crosby reportedly felt was insulting. 

The tune “White Christmas” became so popular that the original disc containing the song broke from making so many copies.  Crosby, along with all the same members of his backing chorus and orchestra, came back to re-record the song and to try to perform it exactly in the same style as before to recreate the recording.  Although they used the same arrangement and musicians, there are actually slight differences in the recordings.

For example … to tell if it’s the first or second version, listen to the first few lines of the recording: “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.”

Crosby did an unscripted trill in the opening verse for the word “dreaming” in the first rendition, but, in the second, did the trill for the word “know.”  More often it’s the SECOND version of this song you will hear today on radio stations and on outlets like the “Music Choice: Sounds of the Season” channel (now available for RCN customers at dial position #1944).

The song held the record for the most sold records until Elton John’s 1997 tribute to Princess Diana with the reissue of “Candle in the Wind.”

But some of Crosby’s greatest contributions to the film, radio and television industries were yet to come, as he would revolutionize all of those mediums in a way that no one else had imagined before World War II.  Details on that and more coming in next week’s Showplace blog entry.

In the meantime, you can see Crosby’s work in films like Road to Bali, his guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program and more classic shows on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: James Stewart (Part 2)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week here at the Showplace we focused on the early years of James Stewart, leading to his decorated service as a fighter pilot in World War II.

The strain of the war and his leading of fight squadrons in tense battles showed on Stewart’s facade when he first returned from fighting in Europe.  Stewart appeared to age many more years than the three he was away, and film roles were few and far between upon his return.

Stars like Stewart, Clark Gable and other major box-office draws who left to fight in the war returned to find that a new generation of leading men had taken over their mantle.

Stewart relied on an old friend, Frank Capra, to star him in an independent film project, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” which initially was panned at the box office.  Other Stewart films, regarded as commercial “failures” (at that time) forced Jimmy into the Western genre, where his more weathered-features would fit better on the big screen.  This career decision led to successful movie-starring roles in classics like “Winchester ‘73,” “The Naked Spur,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “How The West Was Won” and “”The Man From Laramie.”  

Stewart shined in other non-color films like the gritty “Anatomy of a Murder,” light-hearted films like “Harvey” and the biographical “Glen Miller Story” and “The Spirit of St. Louis”.  Even in Cecille B. DeMille’s Academy Award-winning “The Greatest Show on Earth” filmed in glorious technicolor, Stewart’s entire face was covered by clown’s makeup through the entire picture (the reason why is cleverly revealed just before the climax and in the denouement of this epic film).  

Steward’s more weathered features were also “hidden” better in black and white television vehicles as well, starring in the teleplay, “Flashing Spikes.”  He also become a frequent guest on shows like “The Jack Benny Program” (now seen weekly on RCN TV) where he often guest-starred as himself.  This introduced him to a new audience that could “warm up” to the “real” Jimmy Stewart and give people a chance to know his genuine likeability that had already been known throughout Hollywood and in the film industry.

Stewart’s popularity would reach new heights as Alfred Hitchcock would star him in four feature-length films, including “Rear Window” and “Vertigo,” the latter film widely regarded by cinema experts as one of the greatest films of all time. 

In all, twelve of Stewart’s films have been inducted into the United States National Film Registry and five are currently featured in the American Film Institute’s list of the “100 Greatest Films” of all-time.

Be on the lookout for some of Stewart’s historic work from both the big and small screens on RCN TV.

To view this week’s current listings as well as a complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the listings section here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: James Stewart

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

One familiar face on television screens this time of year is that of Jimmy Stewart in the annual holiday traditional airing of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

But many people do not know that this 1946 film was a commercial failure upon release and there were many other Stewart-led movies that received much greater attention.  The time period of the “Wonderful Life’s” release marked a low-point in this legendary actor’s career as he seriously considered retiring from film-making altogether, as Stewart found very few roles offered to him.

James Maitland Stewart, the son of a hardware store owner, initially did not want to become a movie star when he left home to attend Princeton University and was planning on returning to his hometown of Indiana Pennsylvania to take over the family business.

But future movie stars Margret Sullivan and Henry Fonda would play huge roles in his life and his decision to “play around” in the theatre while on the East Coast. 

According to his biography by Marc Eliot, Stewart had a crush on Sullivan and continued to pursue her from afar by continuing to act on stage with her in various theatrical productions.

Slowly, Stewart began the foundations of his lasting “everyman approach” to acting and started to get starring roles in the theatre.  This eventually led to a casting call in Hollywood. where he once-again roomed with Fonda and the two became life-long best friends.

Sullivan was well-aware of Jimmy’s shyness/lack of ego and desire for the spotlight, and would ask directors to cast Stewart opposite her in leading roles, in films like “The Shopworm Angel,” The Mortal Storm” and “The Shop Around The Corner” (later remade in the more contemporary “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan).

Other leading ladies like Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Deitrich and Ginger Rogers would also request the unassuming Stewart to play opposite of–guaranteeing them of top-billing.

But soon it was Jimmy that was becoming the major star, with featured performances in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You,”  “Destry Rides Again” and “The Philadelphia Story,” in which he won the Academy Award for Best Leading Actor.

Stewart was well on his way to earning the title of the third greatest American Male Actor of all time as ranked by the American Film Institute.

But that’s when World War II broke out.

Stewart enlisted in the Air Force as a pilot and led several successful bombing raids in defeating the Axis Powers.  He eventually was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and was awarded the United States Air Force Distinguished Service Medal.

After becoming a decorated war hero, Stewart was anxious for his triumphant return to Hollywood to resume his acting career…but Hollywood wasn’t quite ready for him after the war.  We’ll have more on the life of James Stewart next week here at the Showplace.

In the meantime, you can see Stewart’s early work in films like “Made for Each Other” and more on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Congratulations, It’s A Boy”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company. 

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

 

Congratulations, It’s A Boy may never be mentioned in the same breath as Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Vertigo or other all-time greats.

The plot is simple: a swinging bachelor has to grow up after his young 16-year-old illegitimate son he did not know about shows up and wants to spend time with him.

It is a light-hearted movie with some decent jokes and humorous moments and is a fine flick to watch if you’re in the mood for a feel-good film.

However, it is a significant vehicle to see five very special people involved in this production–three of them actors just before they embarked on other roles that would make them household names.

Bill Bixby plays the role of the bachelor and, prior to this film, was seen in small roles on some prominent television shows like My Favorite Martian.  He did have starring roles but on unsuccessful TV shows (The Magician), and had larger parts in rather mediocre film releases (The Apple Dumpling Gang.)

Shortly after starring in Congratulations, he would take over the role as Dr. Bruce Banner–the alter ego to the Incredible Hulk.  Bixby would end up playing this role throughout the remainder of his life, starring as the beaten down protagonist in search of a remedy for his experimentation with gamma ray radiation. His own “Hulk” television show and later television movies spanned three decades.

Congratulations also starred Jack Albertson, who had much greater success in films than Bixby at this point, but was a couple years away from starring in the role that he would be best remembered by – Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Tom Bosley was also featured in this film, just a few years before he would become “Mister C,” son to Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham on the long-running sitcom Happy Days.  Bosley would also continue to star in popular shows like Murder, She Wrote and The Father Dowling Mysteries and had other prominent television guest starring appearances.

Last but not least, the film stars Ann Southern who had already made a name for herself in comedic films and television performances.  So good, in fact, that the Queen of Comedy, Lucille Ball, once referred to Southern as the “best comedian in the business, bar none.”

One more prominent name associated with Congratulations was its producer, Aaron Spelling.  Later in this same decade, Spelling would embark on creating shows like Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, Dynasty and Hart to Hart and then Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Charmed, 7th Heaven and more.

To see the full listing of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Man With A Camera

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

In the early 1970s, Charles Bronson was THE biggest movie box office draw in the world (according to allmovies.com).

Just a handful of his starring roles include the “Death Wish” movie series, “The Magnificent Seven,” “Mr. Majesty”, “The Great Escape,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

He was also offered top billing in other iconic films including the lead role of Tuco in “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” before turning it down and asked for, but was eventually rejected for, the role of “Superman,” that eventually went to Christopher Reeve.

Before all of those flicks, Bronson played the lead role in the TV series “Man with a Camera.”

After receiving bit parts on both the big and small screens for almost a decade, “Camera” marked Bronson’s first-ever starring role.

Bronson portrayed the fictional Mike Kovac, a former war correspondent turned freelance photographer. His uncanny ability to get unique camera shots that no other photographer can match, leads him to finding out information which involves Kovac in a series of heart-pounding adventures.

“Man With A Camera” was produced by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Desilu Studios and aired for two seasons on ABC.  While most of the series’ storylines were set as occurring in New York City, all location shooting for the program was done in Hollywood.

After “Camera” was cancelled in 1960, Bronson did not stay idle for long. His very next project was “The Magnificent Seven,” which started an amazing run of top-tiered movies, and vaulted Bronson into the stratosphere among the industry’s most popular figures. He’s still regarded as one of the toughest on-screen action figures of all time to this day.

The show also marked some very early on-screen appearances by future stars like:

  • Yvonne Craig (“Batman,” “Kissin’ Cousins”)
  • Angie Dickinson (“Rio Bravo,” “Police Woman”)
  • Norma Crane (“Fiddler On The Roof, “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!”)
  • Harry Dean Stanton (“The Godfather Part II,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”)

…to name a few.

You can see “Man With A Camera,” every Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m. this fall on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Junction’s” Tragic Fates

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week here at the Showplace, we talked about the origins of Petticoat Junction, from its beginnings as the popular spin-off from The Beverly Hillbillies through a great amount of success in the ratings through the mid-1960s.

Despite numerous cast changes throughout the show’s run, Junction was a perennial ratings hit and posted big overall numbers right up until its final years.

But real life issues slowly started to creep in and affected life in even this most rural, fictional town of Hooterville.

Smiley Burnette, the former singing cowboy, western film star and longtime sidekick to Gene Autry had become arguably the most popular figure on the show. Around the middle of season four his health started to decline and his appearances became less frequent.  Shortly after season four wrapped, Burnette succumbed to leukemia just after celebrating his 56th birthday.

Burnett’s cohort operating the show’s popular train, The Cannonball, was Rufe Davis, who also started to have health issues.  He left the regular cast after season five, although he did return for a few guest appearances in season seven.

Davis was replaced by Byron Foulger, for two years before he too became too ill to finish out the show’s final season. (He passed away the same day the final episode of Petticoat Junction aired.)

But the show’s biggest loss was yet to come.  

Series star and veteran radio/television character actress Bea Benaderet, who portrayed the show’s matriarch Kate Bradley, was diagnosed with lung cancer during the show’s third season.

Initially, she tried to hide her condition from the crew and even her castmates. But slowly her weight loss became more apparent and she began making less frequent appearances on the show during season five — all due to her treatment for the cancer.  After initially looking much more frail when she returned to the show after a long hiatus, she appeared to begin to make a recovery by the end of season five. 

However, in the time between the end of season five and the beginning of shooting season six, the cancer returned…and it was spreading rapidly.

Show Creator and Executive Producer Paul Henning moved up the decision that one of Kate’s daughters would have a baby early in the sixth season so Benaderet could be part of that program.  However, because of the cancer’s advancement, she only appeared in that particular episode through a voice over.  Her character was either written out of the next several shows or a stand-in, who’s back would face the camera, would be on the set for a limited time with no lines.  

Benaderet never returned to the set again.  She passed away a short time after recording her last audio appearance–13 days prior to her final episode’s air date.

Following her real life death (and a time slot change from their familiar Tuesday evenings to the dreaded Saturday night lineup), the show fell out of the Nielsen Top 30 ratings for the first time.  Announcing a main character’s death on a show was non-existent for 1960’s television and so the surviving characters initially mentioned her briefly in plot lines but CBS insisted the scriptwriters say that Kate was simply “out of town.”

Ironically, the ratings later improved during the show’s final year.  June Lockhart took over as the program’s new female lead and other new cast members began connecting to and bringing back audience members to Hooterville once again.  However, after the seventh season (and despite solid ratings), the CBS Network canceled the show due to the now infamous “Rural Purge.”

There’s also great stories about the Bradley’s family dog, the hotel used as the show’s main setting, an interesting history of the train used on the program and how the Bradley daughters made history with ties to the Beatles … but we’ll save those stories for another Showplace entry in the future.

You can return to visit the Shady Rest and all the people of Hooterville by tuning in to Petticoat Junction on RCN TV as the show airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.