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July 1, 2013

Moms, girlfriends and wives of TV history

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The Daily Star

---- — I recently saw on TV a birthday salute to actress Betty White. It included many archival videos, celebrity interviews and reminisces from her early days on television. There is no doubt that Betty has found the magic pill. Into her 90s, she is still starring in a hit sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland!”

If you look up the word “durable” in the dictionary, it should say: “See White, Betty.”

This sentimental tribute to Ms. White really got me thinking about some of my own cherished TV shows from the past and made me wonder how many of my favorite ladies from that era are still around. Surprisingly, quite a few are.

Baby Boomers remember the great character actress Ann B. Davis long before she whipped the Brady kids into shape. As Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz, she was the go-to-Girl Friday to cad photographer Robert Cummings in “The Bob Cummings Show.” Yes, Davis is an Emmy Award winner. But for “The Bob Cummings Show,” not for “The Brady Bunch.”

June Lockhart made a career out of playing television moms. Folks my age will remember her first putting the kitchen apron on back in 1959 as Ruth Martin on “Lassie.” Although she was not the first mother on the show (Jan Clayton and Cloris Leachman preceded her) it was Lockhart we remember most vividly standing at the farmhouse door praying that Lassie would find that darn well that Timmy had fallen into. Later, Lockhart headed up the Robinson family in the series “Lost in Space”

I find it somehow quite comforting to know that Joyce Randolph is still with us. She is the last surviving member of my favorite television show of all time, “The Honeymooners.” Oh, what stories Trixie Norton could tell us today!

The biggest movie this week in theaters is “Superman: Man of Steel.” To me, Superman will always be George Reeves, the square, solid actor who essayed the caped hero in the 1950s television series. Noel Neill played the persistent and always flustered Lois Lane in the show. Both she and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen are still with us 60 years later. 

Dear Gloria Henry played Jay North’s mother on “Dennis the Menace” the entire run of the show, 1959 to 1963. Until recently, she was making appearances at movie and television memorabilia shows signing autographs and posing for photographs. As Mrs. Mitchell in the series, she had to keep track of her whirlwind son, Dennis, and her confused pipe-smoking husband, Henry, all the while keeping a wary eye out for that crusty pain in the butt next door, Mr. Wilson.

Kathy Williams was the glamorous wife of Danny Williams, the nightclub performer in the show “Make Room for Daddy.” Danny Thomas was the star, of course, but beautiful Marjorie Lord held her own as his Irish wife. Many forget that she replaced actress Jean Hagan on the program. Hagen was dissatisfied with her role and left the series three years in. Lord was hired to play a on the show. The Lebanese Danny eventually fell in love with his Irish nurse, married her and the rest was sitcom history. Lord is the mother of actress and Academy Award-nominee Anne Archer

Barbara Hale was a dark-haired beauty queen who co-starred as Della Street in the “Perry Mason” series. More than any other actress, Hale turned her role into a steady paycheck. As legal secretary Street, Hale handed Raymond Burr his hat, coat and briefcase in more than 250 episodes of the crime show.

There are other “great dames” from the television shows of my black and white youth but these legends are still here and continue to live on. Can you imagine a birthday party with all of these ladies getting together this summer for cocktails and gossip? There would have to be plenty of candles on their individual cakes. Ms. Davis will be 87 this year, both Randolph and Lockhart will be 88, Hale will be 91, Neill 92 and the beautiful Marjorie Lord will be 95!

I think the perfect way to end this imaginary birthday party for these stars of the Baby Boom generation would be to have them serenaded on “Happy Birthday” by a robust trio of handsome leading men from the day: Patrick Macnee (“The Avengers”) age 91, Alan Young (“Mr. Ed) age 93, and the Efrem Zimballist Jr. (“77 Sunset Strip” and “The F.B.I.”) with a full head of wavy hair at 94.

What a party that would be.

Why, Betty White would almost be the baby in the group.

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.