Today on the tray: A Bicentennial 4th of July picnic

Thirty-nine years ago, on July 4, 1976, the U.S.A. celebrated the its bicentennial anniversary with great fanfare. In 1975 and ’76, evidence of the impending milestone was ubiquitous. Every sort of product packaged itself in Bicentennial-themed artwork. Even fire hydrants were painted red, white, and blue. On television, celebrities delivered 60-second bicentennial history lessons in nightly “Bicentennial Minutes.” (Here’s one starring Jessica Tandy, and here’s a Bicentennial Minute spoof from The Carol Burnett Show.)

If you were alive then, come reminisce—and if you weren’t, see what you missed. Let’s spread out our Bicentennial tablecloth and let the picnic begin!

bicentennial tablecloth

Are you a bit hazy about the Declaration of Independence and why we celebrate the anniversary of July 4, 1776? Not to worry: This Bicentennial-year Schoolhouse Rock video should bring you up to speed.

Schoolhouse Rock, “Fireworks” (1976)

Did all that learning make you thirsty? Which would you rather drink—cola or un-cola? Lucky for you, we have both.

First, “Coke Adds Life” to a 1976 Fourth of July parade and festival. It’s lots of fun, with Revolutionary War costumes, Uncle Sam on stilts, Paul Revere, Crispus Attucks, Betsy Ross, and a firehouse dalmatian. They even show someone painting a fire hydrant. The spot ends with fireworks spelling out “Coke Adds Life” in red, white, and blue. If this doesn’t make your chest swell with pride at being an American, I don’t know what will.

Coca-Cola, “Coke Adds Life” 4th of July commercial (1976)

“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but I prefer the fresh, clean taste of 7-Up.” Well, just for you, we have a 7-Up in a limited-edition Bicentennial bottle. (You can get one for real on eBay for $10.)

7-Up Bicentennial bottle commercial (1976)

Now that you’ve had a moment to wet your whistle, it’s time to join the party. Harry Reasoner is here, hosting The Great American Birthday Party live from “the American Broadcasting Company’s Bicentennial Center in New York City.” At least watch the first minute to experience the fantastic star-spangled set and the funky ’70s opening music. Harry Reasoner’s intro is delightful, as he marvels at the amazing speed of communications in 1976. Twitter would have made his head explode!

The Great American Birthday Party, ABC (July 4, 1976)

Harry Reasoner:

“My inclination was to open each of the three hour-long programs we have scheduled by setting off a four-inch firecracker. Cooler heads prevailed: It’s not only illegal, but we couldn’t figure out which union would have jurisdiction.

“That’s one of the things that is different from 200 years ago. Another is that we can sit here like a patriotic spider at the center of a national electronic web and look at things from East Eagle Jaw, Maine, to Falling Arches, Oregon. Two hundred years ago, it took until August for the word of independence to get to Georgia from Philadelphia.”

Have you had enough? Are you nice and full? Good. Now that our picnic is over, we’ll want to clean up.  Fortunately we have our “Summer of ’76 Survival Kit” from Reynolds Wrap to take care of the leftovers.

1976 reynolds wrap ad

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Today on the tray: Aunt Sally’s Pecan Pralines

pralinesJune 24 is National Pralines Day.

“Invented in France, pralines started out as sugared almonds,” says “Settlers in 18th-century Louisiana replaced the almonds with pecans and added cream—voila, the Southern praline was born.”

My first awareness of pralines came from the I Love Lucy episode “First Stop.” Driving through Ohio en route to Hollywood, the Ricardos and Mertzes repeatedly pass signs advertising Aunt Sally’s Pecan Pralines. “Fifty miles to Aunt Sally’s Pecan Pralines,” Lucy reads aloud from a sign.

“Well, we’re closing in on her. The first sign we saw said ‘Two hundred miles to Aunt Sally’s Pecan Pralines,'” says Ethel.

“I’m surprised she has time to make pralines—she’s so busy making signs,” Fred quips.

lucy driving

Traveling through Ohio en route to Hollywood, Lucy takes the wheel while the others sleep.

Lucy says, “I’ve just got to drop in on Aunt Sally. I feel like she’s an old friend.” By this time, the foursome is very hungry, having been on the road for quite a while with no food. Finally, they see a sign reading “One mile to Aunt Sally’s Pecan Pralines.”

“Three hundred yards to Aunt Sally’s!” reads Lucy. “Two hundred yards!” reads Ethel. “One hundred yards!” reads Fred. “Just around the bend!” reads Ricky.

“You have just passed Aunt Sally’s,” reads Lucy. Dismayed, they turn the car around to see if they can find it. But what they find is an old shed with a sign readling “Out of Business.” If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you can relate to their disappointment.

Interestingly (to me at least), Lucy and the Mertzes pronounce it “praw-leen,” when, as New Yorkers, they would be more likely to say “pray-leen” as it is commonly pronounced in the Northeast.

aunt sally's pralinesThere actually is an Aunt Sally’s Pralines Shop, but it’s in New Orleans, not Ohio. I can’t determine which came first, the real Aunt Sally’s or the fictional one. This Aunt Sally’s offers a choice of creamy, Creole, chewy, prainette, sugar and spice, and lite original—and they’re even kosher. Incidentally, according to Aunt Sally’s website, it is pronounced “prah-leen” in New Orleans.

Below, meet Edna Mae, a candy maker at Aunt Sally’s who refuses to divulge the secret recipe.

Edna Mae refuses to divulge Aunt Sally's pralines recipe

Today on the tray: Onion rings

onion ring

With this ring, I thee wed…

June 22 is National Onion Ring Day.

The Huffington Post rated the onion rings at five casual dining chains in its Chain Food Showdown series. “There were high highs and low lows with this one,” they reported. “We loved the thinner ones that gave ample room for breading and spice. Crunch was the key factor to the stand-outs though—a soggy onion ring not only offers bad texture, but also never tastes as good.” The bottom line: Avoid the onion rings at The Cheesecake Factory, which were found to be soggy and flavorless. Your best bet is Chili’s, where the onion rings had a “nice, slightly sweet flavor.”

Never mind the flavor… Are the onion rings easy to digest? In this 1933 ad, Mrs. Tasker suggests frying them in Crisco to keep your stomach settled. During the Great Depression, people had to be satisfied with less. If it didn’t make you sick to your stomach, that was good enough.

crisco ad

Now, let’s travel to a 1977 home economics class, where Bob outshines Jane by making onion rings like Mrs. Paul’s does, the natural way. (But Jane probably built a better birdhouse than Bob in shop class.) I don’t know what school this is, but they have a pretty great teacher-student ratio—only two students in the class.

Vintage commercial, Mrs. Paul's Onion Rings (1977)

Hummingbird tongues and voracious ravenousitis: Inside “The Bewitched Continuum”

Bewitched Continuum Book CoverExactly how many times did Endora call Darrin “Durwood”? How come the Tates only occasionally remembered they had a son? How far away did Darrin’s parents live? If you’ve watched a lot of Bewitched, these questions may have crossed your mind.

So who has the answers? A continuity expert with a passion for Bewitched, that’s who. That expert is Adam-Michael James, whose book, The Bewitched Continuum: The Ultimate Linear Guide to the Classic TV Series, examines the consistency and logic of every single episode of the series’ eight seasons.

Adam-Michael  James

Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum

While other Bewitched books devote attention to behind-the-scenes information and actors’ bios, James’s book sticks to the fiction. It’s a hefty tome, packed full of details and insights that range from the observations about the arrangement of the Stephens living room furniture to questions about the appropriateness of the dialog between characters in the context of their evolving relationships.

If you like detail, there’s plenty to like in The Bewitched Continuum. The back section of the book provides a handy reference guide including indexes of who was transformed into what and who had what disease (both witch and mortal illnesses), a database of McMann & Tate’s clients, and other goodies.

I spent some time talking with James, whose enthusiasm for Bewitched comes across just as much in conversation as it does in his book.

Bewitched is one of my favorite shows, and when I got your book, it was very exciting to read it. It’s quiet a hefty volume!

We call it the Bewitched phone book now.

Well, I’m sure it took quite a bit of work to put that together, so I wanted to ask you: What inspired you to do that? And how long did it take?

Bewitched has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. Back in 1977 is when I discovered the show for the first time, and I remember everything about that moment. It’s really weird. I remember which episode it was, what the room looked like—it’s just the show had this effect on me from the very, very beginning, to the point that I recorded it on cassette tapes, because this was before VCRs, and eventually I started working with continuity in my adult life.

I did script coverage for Hollywood studios, and also I write opinion columns for, and I would analyze the soap The Bold and the Beautiful. So there’s things involved with that, analyzing continuity. And what else got me into continuity was this book that I read in the ’90s called The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers by Phil Farrand. That was the first time I’d seen somebody point out how things did or did not match up in episodes of a show, like, “Oh, well if you look, Tasha Yar is in the turbo lift waving at the camera,” and I never would have noticed that!

That’s what got me down the road of continuity, and then, of course, the show—when I could videotape them in the ’90s, and when they came out on DVD. You start watching them back to back, and you do start noticing that things do match up, or they don’t match up. And as I said, I noticed that on The Bold and the Beautiful and other shows that I watch, and I thought: Back in the day they did not have to pay as much attention to the continuity because you had a show that would be on maybe once during a season, twice if it reran. It was on little 13-inch screens. Producers and writers of the TV shows knew that they could throw an actor that had been on a month before and have them play somebody different and the audience would not realize it.

They knew that they could change a rule that they had set up two years ago because the audience wasn’t going to remember it. That’s just how television was. And of course now, we’re live-tweeting during a show. We are picking things apart as it’s airing. We’re looking at spoilers and making our predictions even before show airs. It was kind of under that microscope that I thought it would be fun to go back and look at Bewitched that way and see how things did or did not match up. So the impetus was there, and I thought, “Oh, I don’t know, is anybody going to find this interesting?” And then when I realized the fiftieth anniversary of the show was coming up last year, I thought, “If I I’m going to do it, I’d better do it now.”

Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery as Darrin and Samantha

Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery

I sat down with the first season; I started taking my notes. All my notes were handwritten. I don’t know why I just didn’t use a laptop, but it felt better handwritten, and I guess it was more appropriate with the show, talking about a show that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. I would say the first draft took about eight or nine months where I just pretty much sat there and did almost nothing but, because there’s 254 episodes, and that’s why the book is so hefty.

Did you ever reach a saturation point where you thought, “Okay, as much as I love Bewitched, I’ve just had enough”?

Yes, and then not only a saturation point, but you get to a point where, how petty am I being? How much is too much? Yeah, usually, around the middle of the eighth season, “Okay, enough already.” Maybe that’s what they were feeling too with Bewitched, because sometimes some things in the episodes feel like they don’t have their heart in it as much. But then you would go back to the beginning and start editing and get all fired up again. And then, of course, you get back to eighth season and it’s like, “Oh geez.”

I heard you say in another interview that since it’s linear, by the time you get to the end of the series, you have so much data from the beginning to factor in—would you say that makes it harder to write about the later seasons?

Definitely, yeah, because when you’re in the first season or two there’s not as much to throw back to and by the time you’re at episode 250, you’ve got 249 episodes before that that you could potentially link back to, and your brain kind of … I think that’s why the saturation kicks in, because your brain just goes into overload, and it’s like, “What do I include?”

Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent as Samantha and Darrin

Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent

I do have a tendency to be a little verbose in my writing, and I’ve gotten progressively better at cutting, but I was very lucky—lucky and honored—because I got to work with Herbie J. Pilato, who started the whole Bewitched book thing in 1992, actually with The Bewitched Book. I had it in my shelf for 20 years before I even met him, and I had approached him to find out some other things, and it led to him obviously writing my foreword and also being a consultant. He came up with the title; I had such a hard time coming up with the title, and he just said, “How about The Bewitched Continuum?” and I went, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

And of course as an editor he was wonderful. I mean he wasn’t so much concerned about length; he was more concerned with tone, because with my soap opera columns, I can be kind of snarky. It’s fun to look at a show that way, and sometimes I was a little less forgiving with Darrin than I could have been, and Herbie just suggested that I kind of just kind of change that tone a little bit.

And that’s what led to editing a lot of other things out, not because they were snarky, but just because I kind of got into mercenary mode with my red pen and said, “Okay, well this is silly, let’s just cut that, nobody is going to care about that detail, let’s just cut it…” For as long as the book is, it could have been a lot longer!

What would you say most surprised you when you were doing this?

A lot of things surprised me. I tended to prefer Dick Sargent over Dick York, which is not the popular opinion, by the way. It was nothing against Dick York, it’s just I think because… I mean, I was born in 1969, that’s the year Dick Sargent took over from Dick York, and I think that world was more familiar to me because I was around then, and coincidentally Dick York’s world was before I was born so, so it seems a little more foreign, but, one of the things the I was surprised by was just by how much I like Dick York’s performance throughout his first few years. I mean, he did get—Darrin, not Dick York—get rather belligerent there for a while. I think that was a writing choice and a directing choice; I don’t think that had anything to do with Dick York. I thought that was interesting.

I was fascinated by the rules of witchcraft that they established—how they stuck to some and not others. For example, they couldn’t make up their mind at first over whether a witch could undo another witches’ spell, and then finally in the third season they established that a witch could not, and I thought that was a much more interesting device in terms of telling story rather than witches being able to undo spells randomly. Also the idea that in one episode, Endora said that Samantha could not use her powers going back in the past, and then you had seasons and seasons of witches using the power on the past, so that seemed to be the rule, and then they switched back and suddenly said you couldn’t.

Those kinds of things interested me. I think the thing that surprised me the most, and maybe it shouldn’t have, but just when you start in 1964, and you have this very black and white quaint kind of post-Leave-It-to-Beaver kind of environment, and then you go back to back to an episode that aired in 1972 and you have the long hair, no bras, you’ve got bell bottom pants, and plaid carpet, and just the sensibility was so much more liberated, a little more racy, and it’s wild to think how accurately the show represented the time period and what America and the world was like going through the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, and how fast it all happened. I think that’s the most surprising thing, because you don’t really think about it now all these years later, but this is just in an eight-year period, and it’s just worlds apart, and it’s fascinating.

So, as you know, Michael’s TV Tray is a classic TV and food blog. In your book, you provided all of that quantitative information about how many times Darrin was called “Durwood,” and who all the McMann & Tate clients were. So if you don’t mind, I want to test your knowledge: How many of McMann & Tate’s clients were food products or restaurants?

Oh my God, you mean just coming up with the number, or…

Well, a number—and then I’m going to see how many you can name.

Endora and Samantha wear sandwich boards to advertise Perfect PizzaOh, wow. I think I can probably name them easier than trying to count them. I know there was… I’m just going to rattle off. I know there was Perfect Pizza in first season, and also Mario’s Restaurant in the same episode. There was Colonel Brigham’s Spare Ribs seventh season. I was going to say Springer Pet Food, but that’s not human food.

We don’t want to count dog food.

There was Ah Fong’s in eighth season… Oh, I know there was more food than this.

Well, I’ll tell you: There were 31.

Oh nice. See, that’s one you should know. I feel kind of bad that I don’t know that, but I’m glad it was that many. I’m just surprised that I can only think of three off the top of my head.

It surprised me there were that many. My memory wasn’t that there were so many food clients. I remembered a few. I certainly remembered Bobbins Bonbons, because that was one of my favorites.

Hepzibah zaps up a witch's feast in the Stephens dining room.

Hepzibah zaps up a witch’s feast in the Stephens dining room.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking of that kind of food. Yeah, definitely, Bobbins Bonbons. Then, of course, there was the witch food. I mean that wasn’t clients, but every once in a while… like the episode in seventh season where Hepzibah comes to visit, and kind of lays down judgment on Darrin, and they’re serving hummingbird tongue parmesan, and tail of iguana bourguignon in neatsfeet oil. I don’t know if that counts as the kind of food you’d talk about on your blog but… It was interesting that they called it “ethnic food.” That was kind of a neat correlation.

So, in “Samantha’s Lost Weekend,” she mistakenly thinks she has voracious ravenousitis. Is that something mortals can get too? Because I think I have it.

I think that’s definitely possible… Anything fried… With me, my biggest vice is chocolate, so I think I definitely have voracious ravenousitis when it comes to chocolate.

Well I hope someone gives you a box of Bobbins Bonbons on Mother-in-Law’s Day.

“Because only the finest costliest ingredients are used!”

Maurice with giant martini glassLet’s talk for a minute about alcohol consumption, because they drank like fish on that show.

I hope you’re not going to ask me to count how many times they chugged!


We’d be here all day.

You know, Darrin would go out to the bar, Maurice had his giant martini glass… They even got the tooth fairy drunk on brandy. So what was up with that? Why do you think there was so much drinking?

I think it’s just kind of the world that they lived in, the smoking and the drinking. Smoking was fashionable. Both my parents still smoke; that’s how they got started, and that was the in thing to do. Alcohol, I think they didn’t realize how… I want to say to say toxic—I don’t drink, so that’s the word I would use—I don’t think they realized how harmful it could be. Now, as soon as a woman becomes pregnant, she is not supposed to drink the entire time she is carrying. When our parents were expecting us, they drank, and they smoked, and that’s just that’s what they did. They didn’t realize anything was wrong with it. So that obviously reflected onto Bewitched especially. I think I probably figured all advertising agencies had the booze flowing. That may or may not be the case, I’m not sure.

What else would you like the Michael TV Tray audience to know?

Well I think the thing with the book is, even though I spend however many hundreds of pages digging in and nitpicking at things, and maybe sometimes being petty, it’s all meant to be fun. As I said, they didn’t realize it back in the day that continuity was going to be such a big thing, so it’s just my way of celebrating the show, having fun with it, hoping that folks will obviously remember the show, but also that that book might inspire them to revisit the show and fall in love with it all over again, and look at it a whole new way. It’s meant to be respectful, and I hope that I pull that off. It was certainly my intention, and I kind of…actually it’s ironic because tomorrow, is the twentieth anniversary of Elizabeth Montgomery’s passing, and I’ll always regret that I didn’t get the chance to meet her.

But you know, when you’re doing a book like this and you’re talking about peoples’ work, you want to be respectful of them, and you want to hope that, maybe they might have liked what you have to say. I always see Elizabeth on the cover I feel like she’s been there the whole time, and I hope she would appreciate what I tried to do, because, I certainly appreciated what she did.

I don’t know if you feel this way, but I always feel really sad when I watch it thinking about how all the adult actors are gone except for Bernard Fox [Dr. Bombay].

He is still here; he just turned 88 this past week.

And yeah, it’s true, I do think about that sometimes too, and it is sad. But at the same time, look at the legacy that they left us. We’re still talking about their work 50 years later—and that’s not such a bad thing.

Today on the tray: Chocolate ice cream and a Brady life lesson

chocolate ice creamJune 7 is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day.

How much do you love chocolate ice cream? Think you could scarf it down fast enough to win an ice-cream-eating contest? Well, that’s what Bobby Brady thought, and [spoiler!] he was wrong.

In the episode titled “The Winner,” the youngest Brady boy feels bad about himself because he’s the only Brady kid who’s never won a trophy. (See, Jan isn’t the only Brady with self-esteem issues.) Ultimately, Bobby decides that his best bet for getting external validation is to enter an ice-cream-eating contest. He loses to a fat kid, which they play for laughs, because it’s always funny to stereotype fat kids as gluttons. Who cares about their self-esteem?

Bobby Brady with ice cream on his faceThen Mr. Brady says to Bobby, “You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” Oh wait, that was Homer’s advice to Bart and Lisa on The Simpsons. Mike Brady’s advice, given earlier in the episode, was “Find what you do best, and do your best with it.” Well, clearly that didn’t work.

So Carol and Mike take Bobby home, where the rest of the kids and Alice surprise him with a party. They present him with a makeshift trophy reading, “To our brother Bobby, for trying harder than anyone we know. We’re proud of him.” But then they thoughtlessly rub his noise in his failure by celebrating with chocolate ice cream, the instrument of his downfall. Talk about irony!

Watch Bobby try and fail in the video below. And remember, everyone’s a winner on National Chocolate Ice Cream Day!

Bobby competes in ice-cream-eating contest in “The Winner,” The Brady Bunch (Feb, 26, 1971)

An egg-zellent way to start your day

hard boiled eggsJune 3 is National Egg Day.

What is the origin of National Egg Day? Well, WikiAnswers claims the holiday is 2,000 years old (see below), but I’ll bet it was really invented by the American Egg Board.

National Egg Day was first declared a day of celebration by Claudius Nero Germanicus (b. 10 BC, d. 54 A.D.; emperor, 41-54 A.D.) who was the third emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Due to a severe poultry plague that devastated Europe at the beginning of the first millennium, chickens and particularly eggs were feared as a staple food source.

Three years after the plague had begun, Claudius challenged nobles within his realm to eat eggs to prove to the peasant population that it was indeed now safe to do so. None accepted the challenge except Augustus Antonius who invited all far and wide to witness his meal of boiled eggs. Showing no ill effects, the Roman populace once again embraced eggs and poultry. As a result, Claudius issued a royal proclamation dedicating the third day of June as the Holy Roman Day of Eggs. more

Now, on to the video eggs-travaganza:

Remember this PSA that said that doing drugs was like eating fried eggs, or something?

PSA, “This is your brain on drugs” (1987)

[Holds egg]
This is your brain.

[Points to frying pan]
This is drugs.

[Cracks egg into frying pan]
This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?

Don’t get too egg-cited, but here’s a collection of 1965 egg commercials starring English comedian and actor Tony Hancock. They’re egg-ceptionally funny.

Tony Hancock egg commercials (1965)

Ladies and gentlemen: Owing to the present state of the theatrical profession, I have with great reluctance been forced to accept a job as a supporting actor to a lady doing a commercial for eggs. Here she is now…

I don’t mean to egg you on, but it’s time to get cracking:

“Get cracking” egg commercial (1978)

Start your day sun-side up
Get cracking!
Light and fluffy or in a cup
Get cracking!
Breakfast is the proper way
To help you start up every day
No matter what you do
Eggs make good sense, so why don’t you
Get cracking, get cracking, get cracking!

Today on the tray: Rocky road

June 2 is National Rocky Road Day.

According to the holiday site Punchbowl, “In 1929 after the stock market crash, a man named William Dreyer (the founder of Dreyer Ice Cream) calmed his Black Thursday nerves by creating the original rocky road. He mixed chunky almonds, mini marshmallows, and delicious milk chocolate ice cream to create a new ice cream flavor that would make people smile despite the tough economic times.” (Dreyer, incidentally, hailed from the city in which I reside, Oakland, California; I live in the birthplace of rocky road!)

National Rocky Road Day is apparently intended to celebrate the ice cream flavor only. But why limit yourself? Other products also bear the name “rocky road” — such as rocky road fudge, Rocky Road candy bars, and, for a brief time in the 1980s, Rocky Road Cereal.

General Mills introduced the short-lived Rocky Road Cereal in 1986. In case “sweetened corn cereal with marshmallows covered with a chocolate-flavored coating and nuts” wasn’t enough to appeal to kids, the company also used a fun cartoon rock band to market it: Choco, a guitar-playing chocolate puff; Van, same thing, but vanilla; and singer Marsha Marshmallow. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

Rocky Road Cereal commercial (1980s)

If you still had a box of Rocky Road Cereal from the mid-’80s and opened it, what would it look like now? Well, Matt from the website Dinosaur Dracula wondered the same thing, and he found out. Watch him open it in the embedded video below. It beats watching Geraldo Rivera open Al Capone’s vault (an event that was broadcast live in 1986 — coincidentally, the same year that this box of cereal was manufactured).

Matt opens 26-year-old box of Rocky Road cereal.

And just because it would seem wrong not to include it, here is Weird Al Yankovic’s ode to rocky road ice cream, “I Love Rocky Road,” a parody of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Weird Al Yankovic, “I Love Rocky Road” (1983)

Today on the tray: Hazelnut cake

June 1 is National Hazelnut Cake Day. “Hazelnut adds a welcome nutty flavor to cake, upping the level of sophistication with a uniquely complex flavor,” says Slashfood.

I can’t hear “hazelnut” without thinking of that nut, Hazel, who worked as a housekeeper for Mr. B. on Hazel. The point of every episode of the series, which ran from 1961 to 1966, seemed to be “Let’s keep the servant in her place.” But she was such an obnoxious know-it-all that you couldn’t blame Mr. B. for trying to make her understand who was boss. Actress Shirley Booth won two Emmys for playing this annoying character.

In the final season, Mr. B. and his wife move to “the Middle East” to escape her. Supposedly, it’s for business reasons, but I find it suspicious that they don’t even specify what country they’re going to. Clearly they don’t want to be found. Hazel and little Harold move in with Mr. B.’s brother. That’s right, they leave their child behind—that’s how desperate they are to get away.

Below, Mr. B. is just trying to read the goddamn paper in peace, but Hazel won’t leave him alone.

Clip from Season 3, Hazel (1963-64)

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale

2015 Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon: Gilligan’s Island

When I decided to write about Gilligan’s Island for the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon, I wondered what I could say about the show that hasn’t already been said. After all, more people know the words to the Gilligan’s Island theme song than can name the vice president of the United States. (I just made that up, but I’m sure it’s true.) So I’m skipping the basics that everyone knows—the series premise, the characters—and going straight to fun facts and favorite moments.

The theme song

Did you know that the pilot (which wasn’t televised until 1992) had a completely different opening theme from the one we all know and love? That’s right, instead of singing “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” we might have been singing this calypso song, which, I think, is also very catchy.

Opening theme, Gilligan's Island pilot (1963)

Just imagine how different our world would be had the pilot remained unchanged. We’d have had a different Professor, a different Ginger, and a character named Bunny instead of Mary Ann. Also, there’d have been no movie star; this Ginger was a secretary. Their tour was twice as long—six hours instead of three—but still too short to justify all the clothing and other stuff the Howells brought with them. And I guess that instead of debating the relative attractiveness of Ginger and Mary Ann, people would be asking “Ginger or Bunny?”

The great Mary Ann/Ginger debate

Arguing whether Mary Ann or Ginger is more desirable has become a popular pastime—mostly among straight men. It boils down to whether you prefer a wholesome girl-next-door type or a seductive glamour girl. Is this question just the sitcom version of the Madonna-whore dichotomy? If you’re into guys, there’s no equivalent debate; no one asks, “Gilligan or the Professor?” It could be that the show’s male actors aren’t subject to the same kind of objectification because they aren’t as attractive, but I find the Professor sort of appealing, especially now that I’m older. Really, though, isn’t the whole discussion a bit ironic when you consider that we’re talking about an island where no one had sex?

Natalie Shafer as  Mrs. HowellAs a mature married woman, Mrs. Howell always gets left out of the hotness debate, but in the episode “Beauty is as Beauty Does,” she gets equal consideration as a contestant in the Miss Castaway pageant along with Ginger and Mary Ann. With Mr. Howell backing his wife, the Skipper backing Ginger, and the Professor backing Mary Ann, Gilligan gets to cast the sole vote—and casts it for an ape named Gladys. (Gladys, incidentally, is played by a male actor and stuntman named Janos Prohaska.)

Another occasion where Mrs. Howell gets to be “one of the girls” is when she joins Mary Ann and Ginger as a singer in a girl group called the Honeybees, in the episode “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes.” You see, a rock group named the Mosquitoes lands on the island, and the castaways think that by forming their own band, they will encourage the Mosquitoes to take them back to civilization. The male castaways form a band that sucks, but then the women show their talent as the Honeybees, singing an original song, “You Need Me.” Did you miss it? Don’t worry, you can see the classic performance below. Mary Ann’s voice is dubbed. (Oh, and naturally, the idea backfires: The Mosquitoes leave them behind, convinced the Honeybees would be too much competition.)

“You Need Me,” from “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes,” Gilligan’s Island (Dec. 9, 1965)

The HoneybeesAll:
You need us—you need us.
Like a clam needs a shell.
Like a prisoner needs a cell.
Like a dingdong needs a bell.
You need us.

You need me—you need me.
Like a picture needs a star.
Like a golfer needs a par.
Like teenagers need a car.
You need me.

Mary Ann:
You need me—you need me.
Like a baby needs a toy.
Ginger as a member of The HoneybeesLike Hawaiians need their poi.
Like a girl needs a boy.
You need me.

You need me—you need me.
Like a diamond needs a ring.
Like a harp needs a string.
Like a queen needs a king.
You need me.

You need us—you need us.
Like a bee needs a buzz.
Like a peach needs its fuzz.
So that’s why you need us.

Some trivia

The Mosquitoes were my downfall one time in a Gilligan’s Island trivia incident. I was at a social gathering where I happened to hear another guest boasting of his Gilligan’s Island trivia expertise. Confident that I had superior knowledge, I challenged him to a contest. And he stumped me right out of the gate with this question: What were the names of the four Mosquitoes? I will tell you the answer now, so that this never happens to you: Bingo, Bango, Bongo, and Irving. I do think I deserve some credit for having known that three of the Mosquitoes were played by the Wellingtons, which is the trio that sings the theme song in Season 1.

Speaking of trivia and character’s names, do you know the real names of the Skipper, the Professor, and Gilligan? Yeah, they have names: Jonas Grumby, Roy Hinkley, and Willy Gilligan, respectively. Gilligan’s first name is never actually mentioned in the series, and most viewers must assume that Gilligan is his first name, but according to series creator Sherwood Schwartz, it’s Willy.

The Skipper, the Professor, and Gilligan

Jonas Grumby (the Skipper), Roy Hinkley (the Professor), and Willy Gilligan

By the way, Bob Denver was not the first actor approached to play Gilligan. That distinction goes to Jerry Van Dyke, who turned down the role. Who knows why? Maybe he thought the premise of the show was too absurd. Instead he chose to star in My Mother the Car.

Dawn Wells book coverHow about some coconut cream pie?

Since Michael’s TV Tray is a classic TV and food blog, I would be remiss if I failed to discuss that island delicacy, coconut cream pie. Remember how Mary Ann was always baking them? Mary Ann’s portrayer Dawn Wells actually published Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook, which includes 13 different recipes for coconut cream pie, as well as other recipes, plus some of Wells’s Gilligan’s Island memories. Here’s a video of Wells baking a coconut cream pie for Conan O’Brien while promoting the book.

And what good is a pie if it doesn’t get thrown in someone’s face? Someone did us the favor of editing together various Gilligan’s Island pie-in-face clips.

Pies in faces on Gilligan’s Island

Behind-the-scenes stuff

Dawn Wells isn’t the only one who published a Gilligan’s Island book; Bob Denver (Gilligan), Russell Johnson (the Professor) and Sherwood Schwartz also shared their stories. Denver’s book is Gilligan, Maynard & Me; Johnson’s is Here on Gilligan’s Isle; and Schwartz’s is Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication.

Dawn Wells with pies

Dawn Wells bakes coconut cream pies while narrating the 2001 docudrama, Surviving Gilligan’s Island.

The actors also share reminiscences in the 2001 docudrama Surviving Gilligan’s Island. It’s primarily from Wells’s point-of-view, but Denver and Johnson appear too. The docudrama is as cute as Wells herself, and it’s fun to see the behind-the-scenes drama reenacted by other performers. Wells is seen baking coconut cream pies when she interrupts the action to narrate. The full movie is on YouTube.

One thing that all the accounts have in common is that they uniformly portray Tina Louise (Ginger) as temperamental. Reportedly, she was under the impression when she signed on that she would be the star of a series about a movie star stranded on a desert island “along with some others.” Sherwood Schwartz has suggested in interviews that she might have gotten a clue from the name of the series.

Louise also has stated the series caused her to be typecast and ruined her career as a serious actress. She is the only cast member who didn’t participate in the three TV movies. (More on those later.) The same year she declined to return as Ginger in Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, Louise took on the serious, dramatic role of a former sitcom star cursed with damp armpits. Yes, she played herself in a series of ads for Arrid Extra-Dry.

Arrid Extra-Dry commercial with Tina Louise (1978)

I snark, but Louise actually did give a great post-Gilligan performance as Charmaine, the tennis-loving trophy wife in The Stepford Wives. And she was a good enough sport to reunite with castmates Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, and Russell Johnson in a 1995 episode of Roseanne. (Roseanne must have been very powerful at that time to be able to make that happen.) In the closing tag, the Gilligan’s Island actors take on Roseanne roles that play against their Gilligan types: Tina Louise plays the decidedly unglamorous Roseanne, Dawn Wells plays surly Darlene, Russell Johnson plays dumb Mark, and Bob Denver plays Jackie—in drag.

Closing tag with Gilligan’s Island cast, “Sherwood Schwartz: A Loving Tribute,” Roseanne (May 24, 1995)

Getting off the island—and off the planet

Rescue from Gilligan's Island adWhen Gilligan’s Island was canceled in 1967 after three seasons, the characters were left stranded on the island. But that wasn’t the end. In 1978, they finally were rescued in the TV movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, only to be shipwrecked again on the same island at the end of that movie. Then, in the 1979 TV movie The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, they find a plane that they had previously overlooked on the island, and they manage to get it up in the air long enough to be spotted on radar, and are rescued again. And then, at last, the Gilligan’s Island saga comes to its logical conclusion, when they turn the island into a resort and are visited by the Harlem Globetrotters in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. I kid you not.

The second half of The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island sets the stage for what might have become a Fantasy Island copycat series. It even has Fantasy Island-type guest stars (Marcia Wallace and Tom Bosley). The Howells finance the transformation of the island into a resort, and all the other castaways work there—because why wouldn’t they want to spend the rest of their lives on the island they tried so hard to leave? And from whom did the Howell’s buy the property anyway? Did they steal it from the native headhunters who used to show up occasionally in the original series? What government has sovereignty over the island? Well, we’re not supposed to ask these questions, any more than we were supposed to ask why the Professor couldn’t build a boat in the original series.

Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligans Island adThe Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island continues the Fantasy Island format with Globetrotters appearing as themselves, and Barbara Bain and Martin Landau playing the movie’s villains. Jim Backus was at this point too ill to appear as Mr. Howell for more than one scene. Instead, we’ve got the Howells’ son, Thurston Howell IV, whom they missed so much that they never even mentioned him when they were shipwrecked.

You can watch all three TV movies on YouTube, at least until they get yanked down for copyright infringement. By the way, Ginger is played by Judith Baldwin in the first two movies and Constance Forslund in the third.

But wait, there’s more! The 1982-83 animated series Gilligan’s Planet takes the castaways and strands them on another planet! Find out how it happens in the opening credits:

Opening, Gilligan’s Planet (1982-83)

All the original cast lend their voices except, of course, Tina Louise. Dawn Wells voices both Mary Ann and Ginger, which truly renders the Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate moot, at least if you’re a cartoon character. But what’s up with animated Ginger having blonde hair? Supposedly, it was done to avoid trouble with Tina Louise, but it just seems wrong. Everyone knows gingers are redheads. Not only that, by this time, two other redheads had played Ginger in the TV movies, so I don’t get it.

Well, that about it wraps it up. I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry in the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon. Gilligan’s Island airs on MeTV’s summer schedule seven days a week.

This post is part of MeTV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to to learn more about MeTV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.

Today on the tray: Ladybug picnic

picnic basketApril 23 is National Picnic Day.

According to, “People have been eating their meals outside in the beauty of nature for centuries. In fact, our modern-day idea of a picnic evolved from Medieval hunting feasts and Victorian garden parties. These were usually quite sophisticated affairs, which involved multiple courses and elaborate preparations.”

ladybugPeople often think of insects, particularly ants, as picnic-spoiling pests—but ladybugs (coccinellidae) are a different story. Come picnic with the ladybugs in this Sesame Street classic, “Ladybugs’ Picnic.” The ladies have a grand old time—competing in sack races, telling knock-knock jokes, and toasting marshmallows.

Ladybugs’ Picnic is brought to you by the number 12.

“Ladybugs’ Picnic,” Sesame Street (1971)


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