IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Loretta Young and The NEW Loretta Young Show - 1962-63


Today we’re going to talk about a TV show and its star.  The New Loretta Young Show (aka Christine’s Children) ran a single season, 1962-63.  It is a striking example of Loretta Young’s abilities both as an actress and as the CEO of her personal brand.  Few have displayed such a canny mastery in the managing of one’s career.

Reinventing oneself is probably one of the greatest assets to a long career and one of the most difficult to achieve. In the acting profession, where reputation is based on roles already played, it is especially confounding. Loretta Young’s career is remarkable. Longevity is only a part of her unique place in Hollywood.  This woman of sizzling Pre-Code films, polished 1930s dramas, an Oscar® for a comedy, and a long-running television anthology show, The Loretta Young Show, in the 1950s, was able to effectively change with the style of the current era and for what was suitable for her as she aged.

The New Loretta Young Show is unlike any other 1960s era family sitcom.  It is imaginative, gutsy, intense, and most refreshingly absent of trite templates of sitcoms before and since.  It is, most especially, a tribute to Loretta Young as an actress and a businesswoman in an industry famous for tossing out female stars once they hit a certain age.

Though I was familiar with her first series that ran for eight years from 1953 to 1961, I knew nothing about this second series until Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover posted her impressions of the show and interviewed one of its cast members, Beverly Washburn, in May 2015. That interview is here.




Beverly Washburn, whom we’ve mentioned from time to time in her various childhood roles, including here in Here Comes the Groom (1951) and Old Yeller (1957), is one of my favorite child actresses.  In The New Loretta Young Show, she plays the 15-year-old daughter of Loretta Young.  Loretta plays a widow with seven children.  Celia Kaye plays college student Marnie, twins Dirk and Dack Rambo play her 17-year old sons Peter and Paul, Carol Sydes plays the hyperkinetic Binkie, then Beverly Washburn as the sensitive, intellectual and shy Vickie; followed by Sandy Descher as 13 year-old Judy, and little Tracy Stratford as the youngest, six-year-old Maria.

I was, frankly, astounded by the show’s excellence – in terms of bold story ideas, scripts, acting, and directing.  Much of it looks like film cinematography – not the usual two-camera setup of sitcoms of the period.  In style and theme, many episodes really packed a punch.

The pilot episode – innovatively funny – introduces the cast and show by way of a live TV interview program such as was popular in that era with Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now and Charles Collingwood's Person to Person.  The living room is a mass of chaos with cameramen and this family standing in each other’s way, not knowing what to do, giving the most funny, off beat answers, looking for all like reality television.  Someone’s head in profile pops up in front of the camera, getting in the way.  The old town mayor, a feisty ancient Yankee, keeps getting his rehearsed speech interrupted.  From the start, Beverly Washburn stands out in a funny double take when the harried announcer, played by Ted Knight (later famous for playing anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) calls her name and she jerks her body with shock, as if wishing the floor would open up and swallow her.  She effectively, and without a word, establishes her character in only a moment. 

Here Loretta Young sets up the show by explaining her attitude toward her children and her role as a mother.  She does not believe in togetherness, which shocks and agitates the announcer, but rather she promotes individuality, confessing that her family do not always like each other.  It’s a breath of fresh air.

Throughout the series, an episode or two will focus on one of the children, but always in relation to how the other family members fit in with that character’s life.  As a twin myself, I can state that I like the depiction of the twin sons and their obvious bond with each other as blessedly positive.  The Rambo boys, and some of the other kids who were new to acting, are used very intelligently, according to their abilities and bringing them along carefully in the series.  It must have been a great learning environment for them.

Some of their experiences are harrowing.

The littlest one, Maria, wisely used sparingly, avoiding clichéd cuteness, has a strong episode towards the end of the season when she is nearly kidnapped in a bizarre and tense episode when a psychotic stranger enters the house, thinking the little girl is his deceased daughter, whose death he never accepted.  A nail biting episode.  What makes it especially poignant is that when this man tells her he is her father, she is enchanted, because her father died before she could form any memory of him.  She is the only one of the kids who cannot remember her father.

Another episode where Beverly Washburn, (unlike some of the other kids, a veteran actress of many years) wanting life experience as a budding writer, detours from her New York City trip to the eye doctor to investigate Greenwich Village and a beatnik coffee house.  But what we might expect to be a funny episode full of humorous oddballs turns quickly sinister as she is unwittingly involved in a drug deal, and is arrested for passing marijuana.  She spends the night in jail with a couple of hard customers not very much older than she, living desperate lives.  One is a streetwalker—not the kind with the funny quip and the heart of gold, but a tough young girl who makes no disguise of her trade and throws it in Beverly’s face. 

Drugs and prostitution on an early 1960s sitcom?  This show is unique not only for its subject matter for a situation comedy, but for the intelligent, sensitive, and classy way it tackles these subjects and these characters.  The topics are not tackled for shock appeal, but as real-life news encroaching upon this suburban family.

Most especially classy, forthright, and intriguing is how Loretta pursues not only a writing career, but a romance with a New York magazine publisher.


Their relationship is developed slowly, leaving no room for the audience to take them for granted, to assume where it’s going.  We really don’t know.  He could be written out next week.  He has to get used to the kids.  They have to get used to him.   But mostly, it's about the relationship between him and Loretta and their adult romance.  Toward the end of the series, his ulcer, due to stress from his job – a plot device introduced in the first few episodes  – ruptures.  Loretta finds him on the floor, passed out, blood dripping from his mouth. He is rushed to the hospital, and she pretends to be his wife so she can be at his bedside.  The doctors wink at it.  He is in critical condition and suffers a kind of stroke so that his speech is impaired.  She knows he has finally come out his coma because there are tears in his eyes, he is crying.  We see his agony and hers.  She takes him home after his release from the hospital to care for him, scandalizing the neighbors.

This is new for a sitcom.

She smokes.  She drinks.  After a particularly bad day, she confesses to her gentleman friend of not liking her children at that moment, ready to scream if they call, “Mom!” one more time.  Their romance is sensual.  They kiss, not a chaste peck on the cheek, but deeply and passionately.  They cuddle and they ache to be alone, and they leave the kids to fend for themselves more than once to accomplish this. Loretta can barely keep her hands off him.

A 1960s sitcom.  You won’t see this on Donna Reed or Leave It to Beaver, none of the shows whose living rooms we came to know as well as our own.

But the 1960s is the real-life background.  There are references to the space race, and they mention it is 1962.  The littlest girl announces she is Caroline Kennedy, at the latest in her game of changing her name.  Loretta spoofs Mrs. Kennedy’s White House Tour television special in the pilot.  It’s a period full of optimism and energy, and we can see it in this show.

Usually on sitcoms of the era, even today, we see a cast positioned precisely around a set the way a little kid might place dolls in a dollhouse – carefully, consciously, serving a purpose to the plot.  The New Loretta Young Show has a casual feel, the characters are randomly everywhere, though this is obviously skillfully orchestrated.  It’s only meant to look casual.  We see her and the kids in the kitchen one chaotic morning, then the camera pulls back and we see what we did not expect – her love, Paul Belzer, the gruff, man’s man editor, sitting off in the distance in the living room, reading the newspaper by himself.  The shot tells us he has spent the night.  He is not quite part of the family yet (though he sleeps in the boys’ room when he stays overnight), and we wonder how they will bridge the gap between them.  I really like James Philbrook in this role.  He is as strong and interesting an individual as she is.

And I like his young assistant at the magazine, played by Allen Emerson, his hard New York accent, with his goatee, very 1962, like Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary.  He is the image of urban and hip, but with the hint of stickball in his speech.

Another surprising episode where she invites her love’s boss to dinner could have ended up the typical 1950s-60s blustering boss charmed by a home-cooked meal routine.  Instead, it’s a riveting drama where the big cheese, played by Leif Erikson, is an ass, so overbearing and mean, that his longsuffering wife has become an alcoholic.  Loretta, displaying compassion for her, sneaks vodka to her to steady herself under the evening’s onslaught of dinner conversation.  The boss is bullying to Paul, and their combative relationship will continue for many episodes, reaching a crisis point toward the end of the season.  Loretta mouths off to the boss, putting Paul’s job on the line.  There is no happy resolution. The evening ends with bitterness.  It’s actually unpleasant listening to this blowhard trample over everybody in the dining room.  One marvels at the emotional intensity for the viewer, who cannot help but be engaged in this train wreck of a dinner party.

Another, much softer, example of quite unexpected realism in the show is the way Beverly Washburn, after a discussion with her mother as the camera follows them through the hallway, gets ready for bed and casually kneels before it, making the sign of the cross.  Her sister in the next bed, already half asleep, stirs, emits an inelegant muffled grunt, and rolls over.  The prayer is not the focus of the scene, she’s not praying for anything special.  It’s just nighttime and she’s got curlers in her hair, and it’s just what she does. 

I have to say, as a Catholic, I was blown away by that.  Usually prayer in movies and TV shows is reserved for crisis, and is played up as a melodramatic moment.  Usually, Catholics are depicted as jovial priests or ditsy nuns.  The quiet, pleasant normality of this scene is charming.  (I can remember a documentary about The Nat King Cole Show, and an African American woman, recalling the moment decades later in a TV interview, said she called up her friends with the alarm, “Hey!  There’s a Negro on TV!”  I actually hollered, to myself, when I saw the scene, “A Catholic on TV!”  And not a caricature of one.)

Later in the season, we see a snippet of a Catholic wedding ceremony held in an actual Catholic church—though obviously not a High Mass.  Even many Catholics flicking the TV dial might not sit still for that.

Also of note, in the very first episode when Loretta is being interviewed by Ted Knight, he asks about the piano in the room and wants to know who plays it.  Dumbfounded, she answers nobody.  (As if to say, "Why would anybody want to play a piano?  It's not to play, it's just to have.") It is a comic moment, but then we perceive that perhaps her late husband played the piano. She speaks lovingly of him, of a piece of furniture he made, and of his work as a writer.  Much later in the series, we see her new love, Paul Belzer, sit casually at the piano and begin to play it, as if it has been waiting for him all this time.  A wonderful, subtle image of a man coming into a family that will be his, that he has a place here, that he is successfully taking the place of another.  The continuity between the episodes is very skillfully done.


Loretta also has a terrifically natural way of interacting with the kids.  She grabs them, tickles them, kisses their faces, their necks, touches them while speaking to them.  Running her hand through their hair. They flop on her on the couch, and hang on her. They appear to have a comfortable physical relationship with her.  It all looks quite real.  She nags at one girl for constantly talking too fast and mumbling her words. The girl rolls her eyes at her mother, sighing, slumping, and fidgeting, forgetting what she was about to say.  Loretta throws water in her son’s face to wake him up in the wee hours. She does not mince words when they mess up, but she is always supportive.  When she has a meltdown over her romance, she cries in bed and her oldest daughter—who transforms from college kid to new woman friend—cuddles her and comforts her in a fascinating role reversal.

Loretta is also generous as a star, focusing the camera and the attention on her young cast mates when they are in a pivotal scene. In one episode where Beverly Washburn dissolves into tears, Loretta lets her have the scene entirely. She embraces Beverly, but keeps her back to the camera so Beverly can play out her pain in the scene as the more important person in it.  That is generosity, and also shows confidence in herself and in Beverly as a fellow professional.

Loretta Young created this character and supervised every detail of the show including the children who played her kids, the scripts, the costumes, hair and makeup—we must assume director Norman Foster at least took charge of the camera work.  It’s a great accomplishment and a splendid example of an actress of many talents, able and willing to take charge of her career in a way that allowed her to remain producing excellent work when other careers floundered according to the whims of the studio, the public, and the changing times.

Speaking of changing times, I wish this series had lasted longer.  I can only imagine the depth of story angles, the sparks as those kids came of age in the 1960s.  War, civil rights, the generation gap, I know this show would have tackled all of it.  Maybe even the ghastly and tragic assassination that happened some months after the show ended.  Sometimes we hear of something being ahead of its time.  I suppose The New Loretta Young Show was, but it was also a beautiful artifact of its time, and a woman changing and growing with the times—both the character and the intuitive actress playing her. 

In recent years, Loretta Young’s Pre-Code films have gotten long overdue attention, and a lot of raised eyebrows for their sauciness.  I hope this show gets a second look as well.  In its quiet own way, it is equally daring.  It is available on DVD, a four-disc set, including interviews with cast members.

I’d like to thank Kay Noske for blogging about the show last year, or I might never have known about it.  Next week, I’ll be posting an interview with Kay as the third entry in my year-long monthly series on the current state of the classic film fan.  Here’s what we discussed about The New Loretta Young Show:

JTL:  You have called Loretta Young your muse.   One thing I thought I’d bring up is her commanding presence in that show. It speaks a lot to the self-confidence of style.  She seems to project someone who is so totally comfortable in her own skin in a way that is elegant and “old world” and yet rivetingly modern.  There is a great strength and power in her television character that is natural and comfortable.  (Modern female characters, even the strong ones playing cops or doctors or superheroes, are usually riddled with angst.  I suppose a reflection of our times.)

KN:  I have to pause here…you said a MOUTHFUL here, Jacqueline. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why these women do NOT inspire me, but bingo, you nailed it! How can anyone be inspired by angst? Existentialism and I have never been compatible.

JTL:  Though she opens and closes the episodes with a “thought for the day”, a kind of moral to the story, she does not really lecture the kids during the show, which is refreshing.  The family has its adventure, or crisis for the episode, and any lesson the kids, and the audience, takes from it is by her example, how she faces crisis.  She simply is; her dress, her appearance, her behavior, and how she expresses herself.  Someone else’s example is the most compelling incentive we have for change in our own lives, including for self-improvement. 

KN:  EXACTLY! If we can see that someone else did it, so can we. (Unless you’re angst-y, then you assume that no matter how many others did it, you’ll be the pitiful exception to the rule. Groan!). Loretta’s fully in control of her image, her persona, and her expression. She knows what she wants, knows what’s right and knows exactly how she will present it. Since I have a similar iron-clad belief in the power of a single-minded heart, I love her for showing me how it’s done! Her strength comes from an unshakable belief that she’s RIGHT about things, that there is a right and wrong way to live, that mistakes can be corrected, that people are typically GOOD, that God’s in His heaven, and that He is a loving, good force in the lives of everyday people. That’s unstoppable in my book. I love that she uses little quotes to reinforce her position. She was/is a product of her zeitgeist, I think, too, in that she was raised in a world that believed in right and wrong. Today, the arrow simply spins in the compass and signals confusion. For Loretta, her show was a chance to express her faith in what was good and right. That’s what I believe, so, naturally, I love seeing this most elegant, warm, and lovely expression of a powerful, strong, yet utterly feminine woman.  

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Come back Thursday for our visit with Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover, and our discussion on the current state of the classic film fan, TCM, and how her interest and expertise in image consulting has its roots in classic Hollywood.

*********************


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood




Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 

by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.



The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.


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My new syndicated column SILVER SCREEN, GOLDEN YEARS, on classic film is up at Go60  or check with your local paper.

9 comments:

vienna said...

Wow. I have to see see this and I am not even a Loretta Young fan. I hope it's available somewhere.
Thanks so much for your excellent article.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Vienna. I suppose the DVD set is probably available online. I hope it picks up a lot of new fans.

Kay said...

Oh, Jacqueline! This is probably the finest review of her latter show I've ever read! I love every word of it! So articulate and so heartfelt. Brava! And thanks for your dear kudos, my friend. I had a ball reading this and I'm going to share it all over the place. Wonderfully done, dearie! XO

Caftan Woman said...

I almost went the entire month without buying any DVDs. Darn you, and Loretta Young! The program sounds intriguing and something of which its creators must have been very proud.

Speaking of Catholics, the Maureen Jennings book series The Murdoch Mysteries focuses on the problems of a Catholic police detective in the Protestant bastian of Toronto at the turn of the 20th century. Early episodes of the now 8 season television series spent some time on that issue, but as time as gone on people have gotten used to the sight of Detective Murdoch making the sign of the cross over the latest murder victim. Although, superiors still noted that he never will rise any further in the ranks.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Kay. I'm in your debt for introducing me to this little-know show.

CW, sorry we broke your streak of not buying any new DVDs. That Murdoch Mysteries sounds interesting. I don't get the series here, but I can probably track it down, or the books, sometime. It's fun to see culture clashes represented, and so important these days to educate the still smug and bigoted.

grandoldmovies said...

Thanks so much for posting on this show. I've never even heard of it, and yes, it does sound so different from the usual 50s/60s sitcoms (even from ones today). Will definitely check it out. Amazing how Loretta Young was such a pioneer; along with Lucille Ball she seems to have made great inroads into showing how TV was both a business and creative opportunity for women. Thanks for a terrific post!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, GOM. It's so great when we can make these new discoveries. She was indeed a pioneer of the era. It's amazing how much input she had in this particular show.

Laura said...

Jacqueline, what a wonderful post! I have the set but have only seen the pilot. I enjoyed it, but with so many viewing options had not continued yet. That will obviously have to change. Going to pull the set off the shelf and put it next to the TV. Love Loretta and this sounds really interesting. Thank you!

Best wishes,
Laura

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Laura. It's always a thrill to make a new discovery.

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