Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Room 222 Revisited

Lloyd Haynes (left) and Michael Constantine

Pete Dixon was the ideal history teacher.  He was patient, good-humoured, understanding and unflinchingly fair.  Since I am a history buff, I would have loved to have been a student in Mr. Dixon's American history class.  That would have been impossible, though, because Pete Dixon was the central character in the popular 1970s comedy-drama Room 222.  Room 222 aired from September 17, 1969 until January 11, 1974 on the ABC network.  112 episodes of the series were produced. The title of the show was derived from Pete's home room number at the fictional Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles, California.

There was, however, a sense of realism to the series because it was partially filmed at the 3,000-student Los Angeles High School.  L.A. High School was damaged by an earthquake during the run of the show and later scenes were filmed at Los Angeles University High School.  To watch a video of Room 222's opening theme, click on the link below.  Note: The Room 222 theme was composed by Jerry Goldsmith who also composed the themes for The Twilight Zone and The Waltons.  Goldsmith, who died of cancer in 2004, also scored many movies such as The Sand Pebbles (1966), The Planet of the Apes (1968) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).


Lloyd Haynes portrayed Pete Dixon, the dedicated African-American high school teacher who taught his students lessons in tolerance.  Born Samuel Lloyd Haynes in South Bend, Indiana, Haynes had a military career and fought in the Korean War prior to becoming an actor.  After serving in the U.S. Marines from 1952 until 1964, he studied acting at the Film Industries Workshop and Actors West in L.A.

Before his success on Room 222, Lloyd made guest appearances in several television series including The F.B.I. and the second Star Trek pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," both in 1966. He played "First Special Agent" in an episode of The F.B.I. entitled "The Spy-Master" (Season 1, Episode 21, air date February 6, 1966).  In the Star Trek pilot, he portrayed Lieutenant Alden.  In 1967, Lloyd appeared on back-to-back episodes of Batman as Lord Chancellor ("Batman's Waterloo" and "King Tut's Coup"). In 1968 and 1969, he appeared in two episodes of the Dihann Carroll sitcom Julia as Dick Privet.

After the cancellation of Room 222 in 1974, Lloyd appeared on such TV series as Marcus Welby in 1975 (as Paul Kirkland  in "The Strange Behavior of Paul Kirkland") and Dynasty in 1981.  On Dynasty, he portrayed Judge Horatio Quinlan for four episodes.  His  final role (1984-1986) was that of Mayor Ken Morgan on the daytime soap opera General Hospital.  Sadly, Lloyd Haynes died from lung cancer on January 1, 1987 in Coronado, California.  He was 52 years old at the time of his death. Haynes was married three times and divorced twice.  His third marriage to Carolyn Inglis, whom he married on March 20, 1983, produced one child.

Michael Constantine played Seymour Kaufman, the beleaguered principal of Walt Whitman High School. He won an Emmy Award in 1970 as Best Supporting actor for his portrayal of Kaufman.  Born on May 22, 1927 in Reading Pennsylvania, Constantine celebrates his 85th birthday today.  His original name was Constantine Ionnides and he is the son of Greek immigrants..  He played Kostas "Gus" Portokalos, the father of the bride, in the Nia Vardalos 2002 hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

On October 5, 1953, Constantine married Julianna McCarthy, an actress best known for her role as Liz Foster on the CBS soap The Young and the Restless.  They met in New York while in the cast of the stage version of Inherit the Wind (Michael was Paul Muni's understudy).  The marriage ended in divorce in 1969, the same year as Constantine rose to prominence on Rome 222.  They had two children.

Happy Birthday, Michael Constantine!

Karen Valentine with Lloyd  Haynes in 1970

Karen Valentine won an Emmy in 1970 for her role as Alice Johnson, the chirpy, idealistic young English teacher.  A student teacher when the show began,  Alice was promoted to a full-fledged faculty member during the second season.  Born in Sebastopol, California on May 25, 1947, Karen  turns 65 years old on Friday.

Karen made her professional debut on the Ed Sullivan Show when she was only 16 years old.  Sullivan phoned her after her appearance on a live broadcast on the Miss Teenage America Pageant and invited her to perform on his Sunday night variety show.  Although her role on Room 222 was her big breakthrough, Karen has appeared in numerous stage and television productions through the years.  She has made guest appearances on Starsky and Hutch, Love American Style (including a 1970 segment with the late Davy Jones called "Love and the Elopement"), Baretta, McMillan & Wife and Murder, She Wrote.  The actress was also a regular on Hollywood Squares where she matched wits with Paul Lynde.

In 1969, the same year she began her role as Alice Johnson on Room 222, Karen played the title role of Francine "Gidget" Lawrence in the television movie Gidget Grows Up opposite Paul Petersen of The Donna Reed Show fame.  Petersen portrayed Gidget's beloved Jeff "Moondoggie" Griffen.  The plotline had Gidget trying to make a difference as youth worker at the United Nations in New York.

In 1975, Karen Valentine starred in her own television series, Karen, on ABC.  In the short-lived situation comedy, she played an intelligent, civic-minded single woman who worked for a Washington, D.C. citizens' action organization called Open America.

The twice-married Valentine does not have any children.  She wed her first husband, Carl MacLaughlin in 1969 and they divorced in 1973.  She has been married to musician and songwriter Gary Verna since 1977.

Denise Nicholas, who began her television career in 1968 with a role on It Takes a Thief, portrayed school guidance counsellor Liz McIntyre.  Liz was also Pete Dixon's love interest on the show.  Now 67 years old, Denise was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 12, 1944.  Married and divorced three times, Denise does not have any children.  Her first husband was Gilbert Moses, a director of stage, screen and television.  The marriage was brief (from 1964-1965) and Moses passed away in New York City on April 15, 1995 at the age of 52.

In 1973, while starring on Room 222, Denise wed her second husband, sing-songwriter Bill Withers of "Lean on Me" fame.  That marriage was also short-lived and the couple divorced in 1974.  Denise then married former football player turned sports anchor Jim Hill in 1981.  They divorced in 1984.

Denise Nicholas resides in Southern California and has written a critically acclaimed novel, Freshwater Road, published in August of 2005 by Agate Publishing.


* Room 222 won acclaim for dealing with social problems and racial issues and it received awards from educational and civil rights groups. Although the series tackled the topics of its days such as the Vietnam War and Watergate, it also explored themes that are still very current and relevant.  For example, a 1971 episode entitled "What is a Man?," centres on a student named Howard who becomes the target of anti-gay sentiment.

* Many actors who went on to become big stars appeared on the show.  The list includes Rob Reiner, Cindy Williams, Jamie Farr, Chuck Norris, Anthony Geary. Mark Hamill, Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss.

- Joanne

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Don't confuse KIRSTEN Nelson with KRISTIN Harmon Nelson

Kirsten Nelson

A reader asked me if Kirsten Nelson, who appears as Karen Vick on the USA Network's Psych, is the woman who married Ricky Nelson in 1963.  The answer is NO, absolutely not.  Look closely.  The names are similar but not the same.  Rick Nelson married Kristin Harmon, the sister of actor Mark Harmon.  Kristin Harmon Nelson is now 66 years old and is an artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  My thanks to the reader.


Here are some other commonly confused celebrity names.  The actress who appeared on Petticoat Junction was the late Meredith MacRae and NOT Meredith Baxter, star of Bridget Loves Bernie, Family and Family Ties.  The confusion undoubtedly occurs because the two women have blonde hair and they share the same first name.

Mredith MacRae played the role of Billie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction from 1966 until 1970. She was the third actress to portray Billie Jo and stayed with the show until its end in 1970. (Jeannine Riley was the first Billie Jo from 1963 to 1965 and Gunilla Hutton played the second from 1965 to 1966).  

Meredith MacRae, the daughter of actors Gordon and Sheila MacRae, died of a brain tumour on July 14, 2000.  Meredith was 56 years old at the time of her death.  She is also remembered for her role as Sally Ann Morrison Douglas from 1963 until 1965 on the long-running sitcom My Three Sons.  

By the way, Meredith's mother, Sheila MacRae, is now 87 years old.

- Joanne

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Perry Mason Quiz


How much do you know about Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr?  Test your knowledge of television's most famous lawyer with TV Banter's 12-question quiz.  Good luck.

1.  What was the name of Perry Mason's chief adversary, the hapless district attorney who lost case after case against him.

A.  Paul Lawson

B.  Richard Hamilton

C.  Hamilton Burger

D.  Thomas Burger

E.  Lawson Reed

2.  What year did Perry Mason begin its run?

A.  1956

B.  1957

C.  1959

D.  1955

E.  1960

3.  What was the title of the very first episode of the show?

A.  The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece

B.  The Case of the Drowning Duck

C.  The Case of the Sulky Girl

D.  The Case of the Restless Redhead

E.  The Case of the Runaway Corpse

4.  Which of these female film stars made an guest appearance on Perry Mason?

A.  Bette Davis

B.  Loretta Young

C.  Debbie Reynolds

D.  Lauren Bacall

E.  Jane Fonda

5.  Who played Perry Mason's loyal secretary Della Street?

A.  Barbara Bel Geddes

B.  June Lockhart

C.  Barbara Hale

D.  Marjorie Lord

E.  Abby Dalton

6.  In which city did Perry Mason take place?

A.  New York City

B.  San Francisco, California

C.  Boston, Massachusetts

D.  San Diego, California

E.  Los Angeles, California

7.  Who played private investigator Paul Drake

A.  Robert Culp

B.  William Hopper

C.  Peter Graves

D.  James Garner

E.  Brian Keith

8.  What was Detective Paul Drake's pet name for Della Street? (This is your bonus question.  If you answer it correctly, give yourself an extra point.)

A.  Sweet Della

B.  Dandy Della

C.  Beautiful

D.  Strawberry

E.  Indispensable

9.  Were all the episodes of Perry Mason filmed in black and white?

A.  No, they were all filmed in colour.

B.  Yes, they were all filmed in black and white.

C.  Only the final season was filmed in colour.

D.  The final two seasons were filmed in colour.

E.  Only one episode was filmed in colour.

10. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, appeared in one episode of the TV series as a judge.  What was the significance of that episode?

A.  It was the final episode of the series.

B.  Gardner collapsed and died of a heart attack the day after filming of the episode was completed.

C.  It was the only episode in which Perry Mason lost a case.

D.  It was the beginning of a feud between Gardner and Raymond Burr. 

E.  After that episode, Gardner became severely depressed and moved to Europe.

11.  What is the name of Perry Mason's dramatic theme song?

A.  Courtroom Melody

B.  This is the Law

C.  Park Avenue Beat

D.  Lawyer's Theme

E.  Fifth Avenue Melody

12.  What was the name of the police homicide detective portrayed by Ray Collins?

A.  Lieutenant Harry Craig

B.  Lieutenant David Scott

C.  Lieutenant James Ross

D.  Lieutenant Arthur Tragg

E.  Lieutenant Alfred Saunders


1.  C
The hapless district attorney was Hamilton Burger.  Burger was portrayed by William Talman.  Talman, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer on August 30, 1968 at the age of 53.  It is interesting to note that he was the first Hollywood celebrity to film a non-smoking commercial.  Knowing he was dying, Talman made two ads for the American Cancer Society and requested that it not be aired until after his death.  To watch Bill Talman's second anti-smoking commercial, click on the link below.


2.  B
Perry Mason premiered on September 21, 1957 on CBS and it ran for nine seasons.  The final episode of the series aired on May 22, 1966.  A total of 271 hour-long episodes of the show were produced.  Only Raymond Burr as Perry and William Hopper as private detective Paul Drake appeared in all 271 episodes.

3.  D
The first episode of the series was entitled "The Case of the Restless Redhead."  In the episode, Perry's client claims she was chased by a hooded man near the same cliff where police had discovered the body of a man who had been shot and whose car had gone over the side of the mountain.  

4.  A

Bette Davis as Constant Doyle

Bette Davis appeared in an episode entitled "The Case of Constant Doyle.  Bette played Constant Doyle, a woman who takes on a case involving a young man who knew her late husband and law partner.  She seeks Perry's advice and guidance in the matter.  "The Case of Constant Doyle" (Season 6, Episode 16) aired on January 31, 1963.

5.  C
Barbara Hale played the role of Della Street, Perry Mason's devoted assistant.  Barbara, who was born on April 18, 1922, recently turned 90 years old.  She appeared in 270 of the 271 episodes of Perry Mason.  Here is some more trivia:  William Katt, who is best known for his starring role in The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983) is the son of Barbara Hale and her late husband, actor Bill Williams.  Williams' real name was Hermann Katt and he died in 1992.

6.  E
Perry Mason was set in Los Angeles, California.  Mason's office was located in the Brent Building, Suite 904.  His phone number was Madison 5-1190 (625-1190).

7.  B
William Hopper played the role of Detective Paul Drake.  Hopper, the son of legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, passed away on March 6, 1970 in Palm Springs, California at the age of 55.  While in hospital after suffering a stroke, he developed pneumonia.  He then died of a heart attack.

8.  C

Paul Drake (William Hopper) with Della Street (Barbara Hale)

Paul Drake's pet name for Della Street was "Beautiful."

9.  E
Only one episode of the original Perry Mason was filmed in colour.  It was "The Case of the Twice-Told Twist." (Season 9, Episode 21, Air date: February 27, 1966).  In the episode, strongly influenced by Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, a gang strips Perry Mason's car (a Lincoln Continental).  This gang of thieves entices a teenager to go along with them.  Oh yes, the leader of the car stripping ring is named "Bill Sikes."  Sound familiar?

10.  A

Gardner in 1966

Erle Stanley Gardner appeared as a judge in the final episode of the series entitled "The Case of the Final Fadeout."  Gardner was a lawyer who gave up his practice to devote himself to writing.  In 1968, after the death of his estranged wife Natalie, he wed his long-time secretary Agnes Bethell upon whom he had based his Della Street character.  He died in California at the age of 80 on March 11, 1970.  Note.  Dick Clark of American Bandstand fame guest-starred as a murder suspect in the "The Case of the Final Fadeout."

11.  C.
The name of the Perry Mason theme song is "Park Avenue Beat." It was written by the late Fred Steiner who died on June 23, 2011.  Steiner also composed the music for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and was one of the team of composers for the film The Color Purple.  To listen to the Perry Mason theme song, click on the link below.


12.  D
The name of the police homicide detective in the series was Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.  Due to illness, Ray Collins, who portrayed Tragg, appeared infrequently after the 1960 season.  Collins died of emphysema on July 11, 1965.  He was 75 years old at the time of his death.


* When asked why Perry Mason always won his cases, Raymond Burr jokingly replied, "But Madam, you see only the cases I try on Saturday."  Yet many people wonder if Mason did indeed win every case in the series.  CNN investigated the matter due to a statement made by Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 2009, Sotomayor declared that Perry Mason inspired her to seek a career in law.  During her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings that year, she told Senator Al Franklin that watching the show made her want to be a prosecutor.  When Franklin remarked that the prosecutor lost all but one case in the series, CNN decided to verify Franklin's statement.  The cable news network discovered that the prosecutor actually won two cases against Mason and that Mason lost in some manor in at least three cases.

Here is what CNN research found:

May the record show that Perry Mason did lose three cases of almost 300 - a record many lawyers would envy, especially since he got one of his losses reversed on appeal.  His losses were "The Case of the Witless Witness," "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" and "The Case of the Terrified Typist." 

In "The Case of the Deadly Verdict," Perry's client, Janice Barton, is convicted of murdering her aunt and is sentenced to death.  It isn't Mason's fault because Barton withheld the evidence needed to win the case.  Perry, however, investigates and discovers the real murderer.

Mason also loses a civil case in "The Case of the Dead Ringer" partly because he is framed for witness tampering.  He and his staff eventually prove his innocence and it is assumed that the verdict of the civil case is overturned or that a mistrial is declared.

* Raymond Burr died in Healdsburg, California on September 12, 1993.  His kidney cancer had spread to his liver.  He was 76 years old.  Burr was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada on May 21, 1917.

*  William Talman was actually fired from the series in 1960 due to a scandal.  The actor was a guest at a private party in Beverly Hills when it was raided by police on March 13, 1960.  A morals charge was laid against him.  Others at the party were charged with lewd conduct and vagrancy.  Talman denied any wrongdoing and the judge dismissed the case against him and the others for lack of evidence.  Nevertheless, there was a morals clause in his contract and CBS dismissed him.  He was later rehired.

*  From 1985 until Raymond Burr's death in 1993, NBC produced a series of Perry Mason television movies.  Burr and Barbara Hale reprised their roles as Perry and Della.  Barbara's son, William Katt played the role of Paul Drake, Jr. since William Hopper, the original Paul Drake, was deceased.

*  In late 1962, Raymond Burr underwent minor surgery.  As a result, there are four consecutive episodes in 1963 in which he only appears briefly.  Several guest attorneys (played by Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon, Hugh O'Brien and Michael Rennie) handle the case at hand.

- Joanne