Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jon Hamm: Is he anything like Don Draper?

Jon Hamm 2008 photo
                                Photo Attribution: Rachel Sklar

Don Draper of Mad Men is a notorious bad boy.  The suave advertising executive has been adulterous and deceitful.  A hard-drinking, chain-smoking man of the 1960s, Draper is the founding partner and Creative Directive of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, a fictional New York advertising firm.  He is handsome and elegantly attired and women find him difficult to resist.

Actor Jon Hamm has been playing the role of Don Draper since 2007.  How different is heartthrob Ham from the character he portrays on the popular AMC television series? Well, first of all, both Jon and Don had difficult childhoods but Draper's was far worse.

Donald Francis "Don" Draper was born Richard "Dick" Whitman in 1926,  the child of a prostitute who died in childbirth.  His father, Archie Whitman, was a brutish drunk and Dick was raised by his father's wife, Abigail, a cold-hearted disciplinarian.  When Dick was ten, his father died after being kicked in the face by a horse.  His stepmother then hooked up with another man, Max, with whom she had a son.  To escape his unhappy family life, Dick enlisted in the army and served in the Korean War.  During the war, he assumed the identity of  Lieutenant Don Draper, who was killed in an explosion while the two were on duty at an isolated base.  Dick switched identification tags with the dead officer and took on his name.  He then returned to the U.S. and started a new life as Don Draper, cutting off all contact with his family.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper

Joanthan Daniel Hamm was born on March 10, 1971 in St. Louis, Missouri.  His parents divorced when he was just a toddler and he lived with his mother, Deborah, until her death of colon cancer.  Hamm was only 10 years old when his mother passed away.  From then on, the youngster was raised by his paternal grandmother and his father, Daniel Hamm.

Dan, nicknamed "Whale" due to his 6 foot 3 inch, 300 pound frame, ran the family trucking business.  Dan's elderly mother, Jon told GQ magazine in 2008, was "not the nicest person."  "We were three generations living under one roof, which is difficult in the best of circumstances,” he explained.. “She probably felt like I was this weird kid who’d come along and was taking her son’s attention away in the winter of her years. The blessing was that school started at 8 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., so I could spend a lot of time outside of the house.”

Jon Hamm first developed an interest in acting when he was asked to play Winnie the Pooh in grade school.  In 1988, during his firs year at John Burroughs Preperatory School in St. Louis, Jon portrayed Judas in the school's production of Godspell.  A fine athlete, he was also a linebacker on the school's football team.  In a January 2012 article in St. Louis Magazine, Ham's former drama teacher at Burroughs, Wayne Solomon, is quoted as saying, "I knew him as a football player and baseball player. It’s funny, but I think of him so much more when I see the football and baseball fields than when I go into the auditorium.”

Hamm as a high school football player

Nevertheless, Hamm's desire to act eventually won out over his athletic aspirations. He rejected offers to play football at several Ivy League universities and decided to attend the University of Texas instead.  After the deaths of his grandmother and his father, however, he returned home.  Jon's dad, who suffered from acute diabetes, had passed away on New Year's Day, 1991 and the 20-year-old chose to complete his studies at the University of Missouri.  The young man became very involved in the university's theatre program and spent two summers performing in the school's repertory company.  In 1993, he was awarded a bachelor's degree in English after which he found employment as a drama teacher at his old high school, John Burrroughs.  One of his students was actress Ellie Kemper.

In 1995, Jon Hamm packed his bags and headed for Hollywood to pursue an acting career.  In Los Angeles, the aspiring actor struggled at first, waiting on tables to make ends meet.  His first appearance on a television series was an uncredited cameo role as a good-looking guy at a bar in a 1997 episode of Ally McBeal entitled "Compromising Positions" (Season 1, Episode 2, Air Date: September 15, 1997).  Next came a guest appearance as Buzz on an episode of the sitcom The Hughleys ("Lies My Valentine Told Me," Season 2, Episode 15, Air Date: February 11, 2000).

Success came gradually for Jon but things started going his way when he won a small role as a pilot in the 2000 Clint Eastwood film, Space Cowboys.  From 2000 to 2001, he had a recurring role in 18 episodes of the NBC television drama Providence.  In the series, set in Rhode Island, Jon portrayed a firefighter named Burt Ridley.  Below is a photo of him with Paula Cole (as Joan "Joanie" Hansen) in a scene from the show.

From 2002 to 2004, Hamm had another recurring role, this time as Inspector Nate Basso in The Division, a police drama on Lifetime Television.  The series centred around the trials and tribulations of a team of female cops in the felony division of the San Francisco Police Department .  Below is a photo of the cast of The Division: (From Left) - Jon Hamm, Nancy McKeon, Bonnie Bedelia, Lisa Vidal, Tracey Needham and Taraji P. Henson.

In 2005, Jon appeared in two episodes of CSI: Miami as Dr. Brent Kessler.  The first episode, entitled "Thrree-Way," aired on October 17, 2005 (Season 4, Episode 5).  The second episode, "Payback," aired on December 19, 2005 (Season 4, Episode 11).  From 2006 until 2007, the actor had recurring roles in two  television series, What About Brian and The Unit.  He appeared in six episodes of the comedy/drama What About Brian in the role of Richard Povich.  He also portrayed Wilson James in five episodes of The Unit, an hour-long CBS action/drama series about a top-secret U.S. military unit.

Then came the role that rocketed Jon Hamm to television stardom, a role for which he didn't think he'd be chosen.  When Hamm auditioned for the part of Don Draper on Mad Men, he competed with more than 80 other hopefuls.  He didn't feel he had much of a chance of being selected for the role of the ruthless advertising executive.  In fact, he told David Wigg of the Daily Mail that he was "the complete outsider."  He was the least experienced and least known of the candidates.  "They'd said they wanted a sharp, stylish character to just play himself, and I thought I was too much of a nerd - and so did everyone else," stated Hamm.  To his astonishment, he was cast in the role of the 1960s advertising executive.

Jon Hamm is certainly more casual and laid-back than the impeccably-dressed Don Draper but does Hamm drink and smoke as much as his Draper character?  In a March 2012 interview in London's Daily Mail, Hamm, now 42, told reporter Elaine Lipworth that he doesn't drink as much as the martini-loving Don Draper.  "I would be unconscious if I did," he remarked.

In a 2010 episode of Mad Men, Jon's Draper character created quite a stir when he published a full-page anti-tobacco letter in the New York Times titled "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco."  The letter began with these words: "Recently my advertising company ended a long relationship with Lucky Strike, and I'm relieved."  Draper wrote his manifesto while puffing away on a cigarette in his Greenwich Village apartment.  As for John Hamm, he kicked the habit at the age of 24.

The cigarettes smoked on Mad Men are herbal cigarettes and they are nicotine-free. Yet, herbal cigarettes are not much better than tobacco because when burned, they produce carbon monoxide, tar and other potentially harmful chemicals.  Although the portrayal of smoking on the show has been greatly criticized,  Hamm has claimed that it is necessary because "we are going for verisimilitude." "People did smoke," he has argued."  "And it creates a mood on the show."

Draper smoking

Neither is Jon Hamm a philanderer like Draper, who repeatedly cheated on his first wife, Betty. Although not married, Jon has been in a long-term relationship with actress and filmmaker Jennifer Westfeldt since 1997.  Of his relationship with the 43-year-old Westfeldt, he told the New York Post's Page Six Magazine in 2007, "We may not have a piece of paper that says we're husband and wife, but after 10 years, Jennifer is more than just a girlfriend. What we have is much deeper and we both know that. To me, people [should] get married when they're ready to have kids, which I'm not ruling out."  

Jennifer Westfeldt


* As a native of St. Louis, John Hamm is an avid St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and an avid St. Louis Blues hockey fan.  He narrated The Official 2011 World Series Film, a DVD chronicling the St. Louis Cardinals' 2011 World Series victory.

* Hamm is good friends with actor Paul Rudd.

* In early June of 2012, Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt were robbed in the U.K.  The couple were in  London. to promote their film Friends With Kids when, according to Life & Style magazine, Jennifer's handbag was swiped by a thief while they were dining at a restaurant.  The purse contained the key to their hotel room with the name of the hotel on it.  When they returned to the room, they found it ransacked and robbed.

* Jon Hamm lives in a 1920s-style Mediterranean house in Los Feliz, California, a trendy area of Los Angeles.  He and Jennifer Westfeldt have a dog named Cora, a German Shepherd mix.  To view a photo of the couple with their beloved pooch, click on the link below.,,20576673_21130804,00.html

* Hamm is a fan of The Simpsons and provided the voice of an FBI investigator in an episode of the animated series entitled "Donnie Fatso" (Season 22, Episode 9, Air Date: December 12, 2010).

* Hamm has also appeared on three episodes of Saturday Night Live between 2011 and 2012.

* Today, June 23, 2013, AMC will air the finale of Mad Men's sixth and penultimate season.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE (December 27, 2015):  In September of 2015, the press reported that Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt had ended their relationship after 18 years together.  In a statement to People magazine, the couple said, "With great sadness, we have decided to separate, after 18 years of love and shared history.  We will continue to be supportive of each other in every way possible moving forward."  The separation occurred just months after Hamm had completed a stint in rehabilitation for alcoholism.

Monday, June 17, 2013

George Reeves: Superman's Ghost

I don't want to be like old George Reeves
Stuck in a Superman role.
I've got a long way to go in my career
And some day my (fate/fame) will make it clear
That I had to be a Superman
Lyrics by Don McLean
From the song "Superman's Ghost"

Many years ago, I attended a Don McLean concert at the old Forum at Ontario Place in Toronto. McLean sang a song he had written called "Superman's Ghost."  It is a tribute to actor George Reeves and McLean explained how Reeves was typecast as Superman.  Yesterday was the 54th anniversary of Reeves' death. He died under mysterious circumstances in the early hours of June 16, 1959 at the age of 45.

George Reeves was born George Keefer Brewer on January 5, 1914 in the tiny farming community of Woodstock, Iowa,  He was the son of Helen Lescher and Don C. Brewer, a pharmacist.  Helen was raised in Galesburg, Illinois where her father, George Lescher, operated the Lescher Drug Store.  She met Don Brewer at her father's pharmacy and the couple wed in late 1913 when Helen was about four months pregnant. For this reason, she later claimed an April 6, 1914 birth date for her child.

Helen and Don moved to Woodstock, Iowa where George was born.  Helen soon divorced Brewer and returned to her hometown of Galesburg with her son.  Brewer remained in Iowa where he married another Helen - Helen C. Schultz - about 1925 and had two children.  Don Brewer died on February 18, 1969 at the age of 79 without seeing his first child, George, again.

George and his mother eventually relocated to Pasadena, California where she met and married Italian-American Frank Joseph Bessolo.   According to documentation compiled by Serena Enger (with the assistance of Gail Carter, the granddaughter of Frank's second wife, Althea "Alice" Weaver, whom he married in 1935 in San Francisco), Bessolo was a veteran of World War I. He was employed in the banking profession until the stock market crash and subsequently became a salesman for Bohemian Distributing and LA Brewing.

A television episode of A&E Biography, asserts that Frank Bessolo legally adopted young George in 1927. As a result, the 14-year-old took his stepfather's name and became known as George Bessolo.  Helen's marriage to Frank, however, did not last. She divorced him in 1932.

George became a heavyweight boxer in amateur matches for a time.  He later attended Pasadena Junior College where he developed an interest in acting.  While studying drama, George performed in many productions at Pasadena Playhouse.  It was there that he met actress Ellanora Robinson Needles who came from a well-known circus family.  She was to become his wife.

George and Ellanora wed on the evening of September 21, 1940 at the Church of Our Saviour in San Marino, California,. George's friend and fellow actor, John Wilcox, served as best man.  Ellanora's uncle, John Stevens, walked her down the aisle. After a decade of marriage, the couple divorced in October of 1950. They had no children.

In 1939, George received his first film credit for his performance in the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind.  With his hair dyed a bright red, he portrayed Stuart Tarleton, one of the Tarleton twins who, along with brother Brent (played by Fred Crane), was a suitor of Scarlett O'Hara. George was erroneously listed as Brent Tarleton in the credits and his role was very minor.  Nevertheless, his appearance in the epic film provided a boost for his fledgling movie career.  At the time, the future certainly looked bright for the handsome young actor but, as it turned out, stardom would have to wait a while.

Reeves as Stuart Tarleton
Soon after being cast in Gone with the Wind, George signed a contract with Warner Brothers studio. The studio changed his professional surname from Bessolo to the more Hollywood-sounding Reeves. During the early 1940s, while at Warner Brothers, Reeves was given parts in B-films and Hopalong Cassidy westerns. In 1942, however, he was cast in the lead male role in So Proudly We Hail!, directed by Mark Sandrich. So Proudly We Hail! chronicles the experiences of a group of nurses returning from the war in the Philippines. When the film was released in 1943, Reeves won acclaim for his performance as Lieutenant John Summers opposite such prominent female stars as Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard.

With World War II raging, Geroge Reeves was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He served in the Army Air Corps as a member of the Special Theatrical Unit and performed in the US Army Air Forces' Broadway show Winged Victory. He then appeared in training and recruiting films such as Last Will and Testament of Tom Smith (1943).  After completing his military service, George returned to Hollywood to resume his film career.  After the war, he found it difficult to find leading roles in quality films.  He was, however, cast as Sergeant Maylon Stark, in the Academy Award-winning blockbuster From Here to Eternity.  The classic film was released in 1953 but Reeves' role was only a minor one.

With a lack of good film roles, George went to New York in an attempt to find work in the burgeoning television industry. He was offered the part of Superman in a feature film titled Superman and the Mole Men.  Superman and the Mole Man served as a vehicle for launching one of the most popular American television shows of the 1950s.  At the time, the frustrated actor had no way of knowing that he was headed for TV stardom.

The Adventures of Superman, with George Reeves in the title role, began airing in 1952 and ran for six seasons, until 1958.  During those years, George enjoyed great fame for his portrayal of the Man of Steel and he was a favourite with children.  The syndicated series, sponsored by Kellogg's cereal, was extremely successful.  104 episodes were produced during its run.  By the way, George Reeves and other cast members appeared in commercials for Kellogg's.  Reeves appeared as Clark Kent in TV ads for Sugar Frosted Flakes.  Click on the link below to watch a video about the Kellogg's commercials and to view the commercials featuring Reeves.

Prior to the launch of the Superman television series, George Reeves began an affair with ex-Zigfeld Follies showgirl Toni Mannix, the wife of MGM studio's general manager Edgar Joseph "Eddie" Mannix. Toni, an actress and dancer in early talking films, was almost eight years Reeves' senior.  Her husband reportedly approved of the relationship. Eddie Mannix, it seems, had a Japanese mistress himself.  He was also allegedly linked to the mob.

Toni Mannix

When The Adventures of Superman ended, George Reeves was typecast and had difficulty finding good roles.   In 1959, however, his fortunes began to improve - at least on the surface. There were reports that the producers of the Superman series had decided to film another season of the show for syndication and that filming was to begin in 1960.  After breaking off his relationship with Toni Mannix, George had begun a new romance with New York socialite Leonore Lemmon. 

Leonore Lemmon, born May 11, 1923, was almost nine years younger than George. She was the daughter of well-to-do Broadway ticket broker Arthur Lemmon.  The flamboyant Leonore was known for frequenting nightclubs and had the dubious distinction of being the first woman kicked out of Manhatten's famed Stork Club for engaging in a fist fight. Her first husband, whom she married in 1941, was Jacob L. "Jakie" Webb, a great-great grandson of wealthy American industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt.  She left Webb after only eight days and later married and divorced musician Hamish Menzies.

On May 29, 1959, United Press International (UPI) reported in an article titled "Superman Takes A Bride" that George Reeves would soon marry Leonore Lemmon. Several sources reported that the wedding was set to take place on June 19, 1959 in Mexico, just three days after George's death.  Reeves was apparently scheduled on an international tour, including Mexico, to promote another season of The Adventures of Superman but wedding plans were never officially confirmed.

George and Leonore Lemmon

There were also reports that Reeves was scheduled to fight light-heavyweight boxing champion Archie Moore in an exhibition match.  George was quoted as telling reporters that the Moore fight "will be the biggest highlight of my life."   There was speculation, nevertheless, that it was all a publicity stunt.

Things seemed to be looking up for George Reeves until tragedy struck. The actor died of a gunshot wound to his head in the upstairs bedroom of his home at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills, a home Toni Mannix had purchased for him. Although his death was officially ruled a suicide, questions remain as to whether he actually took his own life. Was it really suicide or was the shooting accidental?  Was there foul play involved.?  Was Superman murdered?

On the fateful evening of July 15, 1959, George and Leonore and a few guests were partying at George's home until the early hours of the morning.  Reeves left the revellers and headed upstairs to his room.  A shot rang out and George's body was found sprawled out on his bed.  There was no evidence of an intruder or forced entry and no suicide note was discovered.  A drunken Leonore and the inebriated houseguests waited approximately 30 to 45 minutes before calling the police.

The Benedict Canyon Dr. home

A high level of alcohol  (.27 per cent) was found in George's blood, well above the level of intoxication. The alcohol had been combined with painkillers the actor had begun taking after sustaining injuries in a car accident.  Over the years, dating back to 1956, George had been involved in a series of car accidents. Those who believe that he was murdered, point to the fact that he was involved in an automobile mishap just weeks prior to his death.  The Los Angeles Mirror reported that on April 8, 1959 Reeves' sports car skidded into an abutment on Benedict Canyon Drive, near his home.  The actor collapsed at the scene and was rushed to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital where he underwent surgery and was ordered to rest.  Although he had a concussion, his condition was not considered serious.  According to the Mirror, "police said Reeves suffered a deep 5-in (12.7 cm.) gash in his forehead when he hurled forward against his rearview mirror."  A mechanic discovered that the brake fluid in George's Jaguar had drained away.

In a 1989 interview, Leonore Lemmon stated that George was a "drinker" but denied that he was a drug user.  She elaborated further by describing him as a "social drinker."  Leonore stressed that George was "not a down person" and attributed George's "suicide" to his inability to get work and not having any hobbies. She declared, "What made him commit suicide was Superman.  It's as simple as that . . . He was just typecast into a thing he couldn't get out of.  And he could not work. And that's the whole story."  She repeated several times that directors and producers loved him but would not give him roles because of his Superman image.

According to Leonore, George had been receiving 10 to 20 strange phone calls per day.  She said there was music on the line or the caller just hung up.  Although George had changed his phone number, the calls continued. When asked if she knew who was responsible for the calls, Leonore claimed that Toni Mannix was responsible for them.  She also claimed that Toni had given George his gun, a .30 calibre German Luger pistol. No fingerprints were found on the gun. The pistol was found on the floor between Reeves' feet.  There were no gunpowder burns on Reeves' head wound, which would suggest that the gun was held a fair distance from his head at the time it was fired. - unusual for a suicide.  There were also bruises on George's body. Furthermore, George's hands were never tested for gunpowder residue and the spent shell was discovered underneath his body.  The bullet that killed Reeves was recovered from the bedroom ceiling and two additional bullet holes were also found in the bedroom floor.  Leonore claimed that she had been playing with the gun several days earlier and it had been discharged.

On the night of the tragedy, both Reeves and Leonore Lemmon not only drank heavily but argued openly. According to Lemmon, others present in the house at the time of George's death were William Bliss, Carol Van Ronkel, the wife of screenwriter Rip Van Ronkel, and author Robert Condon (Cordon was ghostwriting the memoirs of boxer Archie Moore). Lenore had neglected to turn the lights out and when Bliss arrived with Carol Van Ronkel, the pair were allowed into the house although Reeves had already gone to bed. Their late arrival disturbed George who came downstairs and complained about the noise. Lemmon admitted that when George stomped back upstairs, she remarked something to the effect of  "Oh, he'll probably go shoot himself now."


* Some sources state that George Reeves was told by his mother that his stepfather, Frank Bessolo, had committed suicide.  In fact, according to further extensive research and documentation provided by Serena Enger, Bessolo died on March 4, 1944.from multiple brain embolisms.

"Mr. Bessolo, who had been treated for hypertension by his doctor since February, 23, 1944, died of multiple brain embolisms in his brain stem with the possibility of a coronary embolism. No autopsy was conducted. He died in an ambulance on route to the hospital at 9:45 p.m. He was 51."  

At the time of his death, Bessolo was a resident of Manhattan Beach, California and his occupation was described as a "liquor store proprietor."

* Ellanora Needles married Beverly Hills attorney Edward M. Rose around 1950.  She and Rose had two daughters and remained together until his death in 1984.  Ellanora died on February 7, 2002 in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 83.

* Toni Mannix died in Beverly Hills of complications from Alzheimer's Disease on September 2, 1983.  She was 77 years old at the time of her passing.  Her husband Eddie died of a heart attack on August 30, 1963 at the age of 72.  In his will, George Reeves bequeathed his entire estate or the bulk of his estate to Toni Mannix.  Toni said that he must have intended the money and the Benedict Canyon house to be donated to the charities with which they were both involved.  Leonore complained to the press that Toni got a house for charity while all she got was a broken heart.

*  In 1999, a Los Angeles publicist named Edward Lozzi told E-Entertainment Television and Extra! that Toni had made a confession to a Catholic priest that she and her husband had arranged for a hit-man to murder George Reeves.  Lozzi, who had befriended Mannix, claimed to have overheard the confession while holding the hand of his bedridden friend. According to the publicist, the reason Toni had confessed was that she had been "absolutely terrified of going to hell." The priest, he alleged, had warned him not say anything about what he had witnessed or his life would be in danger. Although, Toni was suffering from Alzheimer's at the time.of her alleged confession, Lozzi claimed that she still had periods of lucidity.  In 2006, he repeated his story to the Los Angeles Times and the tabloid The Globe.

Lozzi, became a Whte House Press Advamce staffer during the George H.W. Bush administration.  He is an occasional contributor to CNN and The Huffington Post.

* Jack Larson, now 85 years old, portrayed cub reporter Jimmy Olsen on The Adverntures of Superman After George's passing, Toni Mannix decided to secretly visit the scene of George's death.  Larson accompanied her and was sickened by what he saw.  To watch a video of Jack Larson discussing the death of George Reeves on PBS, click on the link below.

* Noel Neill, who played reporter Lois Lane in The Adventures of Superman, stated she knew of no one who wanted George Reeves dead and that he always seemed happy to her.  Noel is now 92 years old.  She was the second actress to portray Lois Lane on the show, replacing Phyllis Coates who left after the first season.  On July 23, 2010, Noel had a devastating fall in her home in Tucson, Arizona and fractured her hip. According to Larry Ward, her friend and biographer, she has since relocated permanently to Metropolis, Illinois where a statue of her as Lois Lane was erected in 2010.

Reeves as Superman and  Noel as Lois

* According to U.S. Federal Census records, George Reeves' mother, Helen Bessolo, was born in Illinois in September of  1892.  She passed away in Pasadena, California on June 18, 1964 at the age of 71. In a September 2006 article in the Galesburg Register-Mail in his Tracking History column, local historian Tom Wilson states that Helen owned "several properties" in her hometown of Galesburg at the time of her death and that she willed her estate to her four dogs.  (Note: According to her birth date in U,S. Federal Census data, Helen was 21 years old when she gave birth to George since he was born in January of 1914. According to historian Tom Wilson, Helen was 65 when she died, which would make her about 16 years old when George was born.)

Helen refused to believe that her son had taken his own life and always maintained that George had been been murdered.  She had his body exhumed and a second autopsy took place.  The body was then cremated.  Helen also hired a private investigator, the Nick Harris Detective Agency, to probe the circumstances of her son's death and the investigator concluded that suicide was not the cause of death. Helen denied that George had been planning to marry Leonore Lemmon because he had never informed her.

* After George's death, Leonore Lemmon left California (She never really liked California and referred to herself as a "New York girl."   Her body was discovered in her New York apartment on January 4, 1990. She was 66 years old.

* An urban myth has been circulating for years that George's role in From Here to Eternity was drastically edited when preview audiences reacted after recognizing him as TV's Superman.  Director Fred Zinnemann, screenwriter Daniel Taradash and assistant director Earl Bellamy have all denied that the rumour is true.

* A 2006 movie called Hollywoodland speculated about the death of George Reeves.  The film starred Ben Affleck in the lead Reeves and Diane Lane as Tonni Mannix.

* The Adventures of Superman was one of the first television series filmed in colour.

* On August 11, 1956, George Reeves sang and played guitar on the very first episode of NBC's The Tony Bennett Show in New York.  The day before George's appearance on the show, Hal Humphrey's column in the Mirror-News was entitled "Elvis, Look Out! Here Comes Superman!"  Humphrey declared that George was distressed because he was unable to find many film roles since he began playing Superman.  He quoted Reeves as saying. "That's why I was glad to get this spot with Tony Bennettt.  It will give me an opportunity to prove again that I haven't always been Superman."

* George appeared as Superman in a 1957 episode of I Love Lucy entitled "Lucy Meets Superman" (Season 6, Episode 13, Air Date: January 14, 1957).  In the episode, Lucy attempts to get Superman to entertain the children at Little Ricky's birthday party.  Believing that he is not going to show up, she dresses up in a Superman costume herself and manages to get caught on the ledge of her apartment building. Reeves, however, arrives in time to save her from the ledge.  It is one of my favourite episodes of I Love Lucy and Reeves delivers the best line in the episode when he wryly declares, "And they call me Superman!" in response to being told that Ricky Ricardo had been married to Lucy for 15 years.  It's a shame he didn't have more comedic roles

* Several books have been written about George Reeves including Serial to Cereal, by Gary Grossman; Speeding Bullet, by Jan Hendersen; and Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady, and the Death of Superman, by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger.

* Despite the forensic evidence suggesting that a suicide did not take place, no one was ever charged in connection with the death of George Reeves.

- Joanne

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mind Your Language starring Barry Evans: The politically incorrect show about an ESL teacher

There have been many American television series about schools and teachers, from Our Miss Brooks in the 1950s to Mr. Novak in the 1960s to Room 222 and Welcome Back, Kotter in the 1970s.  The British sitcom, Mind Your Language, was the first one I know that focused on a teacher of English as a second language.

Mind Your Language premiered on ITV in late 1977.  It starred Barry Evans as Jeremy Brown, a teacher of English to immigrants at an adult education college in London. The show was politically incorrect and it was highly criticized for its ethnic stereotyping.  Among  Jeremy's students, for example, were Giovanni Cupello, a macho Italian chef; Chung Su-Lee, a zealous Chinese communist; Taro Nagazumi; a Japanese businessman; Anna Schmidt, a dour German and Danielle Favre, an alluring French woman.  In addition to dealing with his motley crew of international students, Brown had to face the criticisms of Miss Dolores Courtney, the stiff, overbearing headmistress of the college, played by Zara Nutley.

Mind Your Language was cancelled in 1979 by Michael Grade, who was then Deputy Controller for London Weekend Television (now ITV London), which produced the show.  Grade considered its stereotyping of immigrants to be offensive.  Mind Your Language returned, however, in 1986 for another 13 episodes.  The show was extremely popular in the UK and around the world, particularly in the countries that the students represented.  Many dismiss Mind Your Language as racist and outdated. Its defenders argue that even the English characters on the show were stereotyped.and that it was good-natured satire.

As for Barry Evans, the show's star, he had a very sad demise.  Barry Joseph Evans was born in Guildford, Surrey, England. gives his birthdate as June 18, 1943 (According to Halliwell's Filmgoer's and Video Viewer's Companion, he was born in 1945 although his obituary in The Independent says 1943).  Abandoned as a baby, young Barry was raised in an orphanage at Twickenham, Middlesex.  He took an interest in theatre and won a John Gielgud Scholarship to train as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.  His first major role on television was that of  Michael Upton, a medical student on the British comedy Doctor in the House. Doctor in the House was produced by London Weekend Television and ran from 1969 to 1970.  The show was based on a series of novels by Richard Gordon and it centred on the mishaps of a group of medical students.  Barry Evans reprised his role as Upton in the 1971 sequel to the series, Doctor at Large.

Although in his forties when Mind Your Language ended its run, Evans was continually typecast due to his fresh-faced, boyish appearance.  To his frustration, he was not considered for more mature roles and his acting work diminished.   As a result, he switched to driving a taxi in order to earn a living.  He was, nevertheless, cast in the role of Bazzard in the 1993 film adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  The film, which did not make much of an impact, turned out to be Barry's last role.

With his acting career in severe decline, Barry left London.  By the late 1990s, he had become a minicab driver in Leicestershire, England.  On February 9, 1997, he was found dead at his bungalow in the Leicestershire village of Claybrooke Magna.  Police discovered his body after his stolen car was traced to his home.  There was an empty whisky bottle and a spilled aspirin container beside him.

The circumstances of Barry's death remain shrouded in mystery.  An 18-year-old was charged with theft.  and attempted murder but the charges against him were dropped due to "lack of evidence."  The coroner's report ruled that Barry had died as a result of an alcohol overdose, suggesting suicide or accidental death.   According to coroner Martin Symington, however, there was insufficient evidence to prove Evans had intended to commit suicide.  "Was he perhaps contemplating taking the tablets and the alcohol together, but passed out, before he could use the tablets?" Symington asked.

Some sources list Barry Evans' age at the time of his passing as 53 while others say he was 52.  He never married and had no children.  To watch a video tribute to Barry, click on the link below.

Barry Evans


There was a 1986-1987 U.S. version of Mind Your Language entitled What a Country! What a Country! was set in Los Angeles where Taylor Brown (Garrett M. Brown) taught a night class for foreigners hoping to become American citizens.  The series was syndicated and only 26 episodes were produced.

What a Country! starred real-life Russian immigrant Yakov Smirnoff as Nikolai Rostapovich, a taxi driver and class member.  It revolved around the students' difficulties with language and customs in America.  It's interesting to note that Don Knotts of Andy Griffith Show fame, joined the cast in early 1987 as principal F, Jerry "Bud" McPherson.

- Joanne

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rose Marie: From child star to the Dick Van Dyke Show

Rose Marie is approaching her 90th birthday and has been in show business almost all her life.  She was born Rose Marie Mazzetta in New York City on August 15, 1923. Her father, Frank Mazzetta, was an Italian-American and her mother, Stella Gluszcak, was Polish-American.  Her parents never married because her father already had a wife and two children in Brooklyn.  Frank Mazzetta, also known as Frank Curley, was one-time vaudeville performer with criminal connections.

Although best known for her portrayal of television comedy writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie's career goes back to her early childhood when she was billed as "Baby Rose Marie."  She began performing at the age of three after winning an amateur talent contest at the Mecca Theatre on 14th St. in New York City.  The song she sang in the competition was "What Can I Say, Dear, After I Say I'm Sorry?"

Rose Marie's father brought her to Atlantic City and quickly took control of her career and her earnings.  Due to his underworld connections, the youngster was introduced to Al Capone in Chicago.  In her 2003 memoir, Hold the Roses, she writes that "Uncle Al"  picked her up, kissed her on the cheek and told her, "If you ever need me for anything, tell your father."

By the time she was five, Rose Marie was a radio star on NBC with her own coast-to-coast program.  She shunned conventional children's music and sang blues songs and romantic melodies instead.  Her voice was remarkable and she could belt out a song like Sophie Tucker.  Some skeptics thought her vocals sounded too mature and husky for a child singer.  NBC sent her on personal appearances across order to quell such rumours as the one that she was really a midget.  During her time as child star, she performed with many big name entertainers such as Rudee Vallee, Dick Powell and Milton Berle.

Baby Rose Marie appeared in some of the earliest talking films.  In 1927, she was so popular that she starred in the Vitaphone short film that opened Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, the first full length motion picture with synchronized sound.  As a four-year-old, she attended The Jazz Singer's premiere at the Warners' Theatre in New York City.  Rose Marie's first credited appearance, however, was in a 1929 short called Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder.  Her 15-minute shorts were shown in movie theatres prior to the feature film and they consisted of  Baby Rose Marie standing on stage, smiling at the camera and singing several songs.

Once she reached adolescence, Rose Marie dropped the "Baby" moniker.  At 15, she left show business to attend high school.  Soon after graduation, she returned to the stage, performing in nightclubs across the U.S., from New York to the Las Vegas Strip.

After World War II, Rose Marie married William Robert "Bobby" Guy, a trumpet player with the Kay Kyser Orchestra.  Although her overbearing father tried to end the relationship, they were wed in New York City on June 19, 1946 and their marriage was a happy one.  Bobby, who worked with such greats as Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carcmichael, eventually became the first trumpeter for NBC's Tonight Show orchestra.  The couple had one child, a daughter, Georgiana Marie Guy (nicknamed "Noop"), born on May 18, 1947.  Georgiana, now 66, is a successful horse breeder and businesswoman.  Bobby Guy died of a  blood infection on May 27,1964 and Rose Marie never remarried.   On May 12, 1964, just 15 days before his death, he and Rose Marie attended the Grammy Awards

When the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel and Casino opened in December of 1946, Rose Marie was one of its opening acts, along with Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat.  The Flamingo was the first luxury hotel-casino on the Strip and in the ensuing years, Rose Marie became a regular headliner in Vegas where she performed at the Riviera Hotel, Sahara, Thunderbird and Harrah's in Reno and Tahoe.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Rose Marie performed as a stand-up comic.  As part of her routine, she adopted the persona of a wise-cracking single woman seeking a husband, similar to her future Sally Rogers character on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  In the 1950s, Rose Marie also made her first foray into television.  In June of 1955, she appeared on The Red Skelton Show (also known as The Red Skelton Hour) as a dancer teacher.  She was also a guest star in a 1957 episode of the popular western series, Gunsmoke.  She played Mrs. Monger in an episode entitled "Twelfth Night" (Season 3, Episode 16, Air Date: December 28, 1957).

From 1958 to 1959, Rose Marie appeared in seven episodes of The Bob Cummings Show (also known as Love That Bob).  In 1960, she was given her first regular role on a television sitcom.  She played Bertha, a co-worker of the Ruth Sherwood character (Elaine Stitch) on My Sister Eileen with Raymond Bailey as their boss, Mr. Beaumont, a publisher

Elaine Stitch and Rose Marie in My Sister Eileen

The Dick Van Dyke Show premiered on CBS on October 3, 1961.  Created by comedian Carl Reiner, the show's initial ratings were dismal.  Colgate, the program's sponsor, however, was willing to wait for the comedy to build a following.  By its second season, the sitcom had become a hit and the former Baby Rose Marie had suddenly risen to fame in the television age.  Below is a photo of Rose Marie with Dick Van Dyke cast members (from left to right) Dick Van Dyke (Rob Petrie), Mary Tyler Moore (Laura Petrie), Morey Amsterdam (Buddy Sorrell) and Richard Deacon (Mel Cooley).

Rose Marie's Sally Rogers character was one of the few career women on American television in the early 1960s.  Quick-witted Sally held her own with Rob Petrie and Buddy Sorrell, her male colleagues on the comedy writing team of the Alan Brady Show.  Her character is reputed to have been inspired by the late Selma Diamond, a Canadian-born, Brooklyn-raised comic actress and television writer.  Diamond, who portrayed Selma Hacker for two seasons on Night Court, had a raspy voice like Rose Marie's.

Bobby Guy's death occurred just before production was to begin on the fifth and final season of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Rose Marie was so overcome with grief that she almost didn't return to the show. John Rich, the show's staff director. succeeded in talking her out of leaving.

After The Dick Van Dyke Show left the air in 1966,  Rose Marie became a regular panelist on The Hollywood Squares and appeared on other game shows such as Password and I've Got a Secret.  She also guest-starred on two episodes of The Monkees, appearing in a 1966 episode entitled "Ghost Town" (Season 1, Episode 7, Air Date: October 24, 1966) and a 1967 episode entitled "Monkee Mother" (Season 1, Episode 27, Air Date: March 20, 1967).

Rose Marie with the Monkees

From 1969 until 1971, Rose Marie portrayed Myrna Gibbons on The Doris Day Show. She joined the cast at the beginning of the sitcom's second season in which Doris Martin (Doris Day) commuted from her farm to her job in San Francisco as a secretary  at Today's World magazine.  Rose Marie's character, Myrna, was another secretary at the magazine with whom Doris became friends.

Rose Marie and Doris Day on The Doris Day Show

In the early 1990s, Rose Marie had a recurring role as the mother of Frank Fontana on the popular sitcom Murphy Brown.  In 1996, she and Morey Amsterdam appeared together in an episode of the NBC sitcom Caroline in the City entitled "Caroline and the Watch" (Season 1, Episode 14, Air Date: February 1, 1996).  Rose Marie also performed in a 2004 Dick Van Dyke Show reunion special entitled The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.  Sadly, three cast members were unable to appear on that special. Not long after his appearance with Rose Marie on Caroline in the City, Morey Amsterdam died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on October 28, 1996.  He was 87 years old.  Richard Deacon, who played Mel Cooley, Alan Brady's brother in law and the producer of the Alan Brady Show, died of cardiovascular disease on October 8, 1984.  He was 63 years old.  Jerry Paris, who portrayed dentist Jerry Helper, the next-door-neighbour of Rob and Laura Petrie, passed away ion March 31, 1986 after brain cancer surgery. He was 60 years of age.


* Even in her earliest films, Rose Marie wore a bow in her hair.  Although her trademark hairbow has a special significance, the entertainer has not disclosed its meaning.

* On May 5, 2011, Rose Marie and Larry Matthews (Ritchie Petrie, son of Rob and Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show). They made a surprise appearance at the Barnes and Noble booking signing event for Dick Van Dyke.  Larry and Rose Marie share an August 15th birthday.  Matthews, born in 1955, is now 57 years old.  To view photos of Rose Marie at the book signing, click on the link below.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE:  (Rose Marie died on December 28, 2017 at the age of 94.