THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW (1955-9) 166 EPISODES
Cummings portrays Bob Collins, a bachelor/photographer devoted to the pursuit of beautiful young models in Hollywood, California. The surprising aspect of this un-memorable show lies in its longevity (166 episodes over five years), given the complete lack of charisma of its star, not to mention his obvious transparency as he lusts after his prey. This, of course, is my personal opinion, but I never had much time for Mr. Cummings as an actor, much less as a leading man. The show has been roundly criticized for being ‘sexist’, yet its defenders argue that this is not the case, simply because in every episode Collins is unsuccessful and ultimately gets his ‘comeuppance’. I disagree. Surely, sexism cannot be defended or condoned just because the hunter fails to catch his prey.
The co-stars in this lamentable series are Dwayne Hickman (of Dobie Gillis fame) and Ann B. Davis, later to play Alice Nelson, the maid in The Brady Bunch series (1969-74). Her big break came when she was chosen to play Bob’s secretary ‘Schultzie’ here, a series that landed her no less than two Prime Time Emmy Awards. In 2014, she took a fall in her bathroom and hit her head. She never regained consciousness and was dead at eighty-eight from a subdural hematoma. Once asked by an interviewer why she had never married, Ann’s response was: ‘By the time I started to get interested, all the good ones were taken.’ Pretty Rosemary DeCamp portrayed Bob’s sister, Margaret, in 155 episodes, most of the time endeavoring, unsuccessfully, to get her brother married throughout the series. She was once nominated for an Emmy in the series but lost out to Ms. Davis.
THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (1955-9) 143 EPISODES
This enormously popular series owed its success to its star, (the former vaudevillian comedian Phil Silvers), the moment he embraced the role of Sergeant Ernie Bilko; the wheeler-dealing confidence man who operated out of the motor pool at Fort Baxter. Not only was the Bilko character perfect for Silvers’ staccato-style of delivering dialogue, the actor had been portraying similar characters for most of his lengthy career. In this series he was also very ably supported by an excellent cast that included the delightful Paul Ford as Colonel Hall, Bilko’s superior officer.
Ford often forgot his exact lines, which enabled Silvers to improvise during many of their scenes together. Neither actor dropped out of character, however. They were simply far too professional for that to ever be an issue. It is not surprising to learn that Ford was nominated for an Emmy three times for his portrayal of Colonel Hall. He retired in 1972 and was about to restart his career playing Principal McGee in Grease (1978), when a heart attack took him at seventy-four in 1976. The part was then re-written for Eve Arden.
Silvers (L) & Maurice Gosfield (Private Doberman) faking it
Throughout the series, Silvers and Maurice Gosfield, (who played Private Duane Doberman), most definitely did not get along. In real life Gosfield was very much the slob he portrayed as Doberman and had constant problems remembering his lines, which frustrated the cast and crew. Astonishingly, however, TV viewers took a fancy to him and, consequently, he received more fan mail than anyone on the show, including Silvers who resented the man’s popularity. According to the star of the show, the viewer adulation went to Gosfield’s head and he became more and more demanding on the set. ‘Dobie thought of himself as Cary Grant’, Silvers wrote in his auto-biography, ‘playing a short, plump man’. Silvers went on to write, ‘the spectacularly ugly Maurice Gosfield ambled into an open casting call one day, brandishing an enormous list of credits. A handful of his bit parts on stage are easy enough to confirm; more difficult to pin down are his claims of two thousand radio credits and one hundred TV appearances.’ In 1964, diagnosed with critical hypertension, Gosfield suffered two heart attacks and was pronounced dead at the age of fifty-one.
The Phil Silvers Show was originally titled You’ll Never Get Rich, although today it is generally referred to as ‘Sgt. Bilko’. Although the ratings were still strong in its final season, CBC cancelled it because they wanted to sell the re-runs in syndication. It was believed at the time that the series could not still be in production and be expected to do well in re-runs. NBC purchased the re-runs and aired them continuously for the next forty years! ‘The cancellation of The Bilko Show came as a complete surprise to me’, Silvers later said. ‘After five big years on the air it was killed without anyone consulting me. It destroyed my pride. I was startled and hurt by the action, but there was nothing I could do about it…Still, I can’t complain too much. I owned half the show and gave it up for a considerable sum of money in my children’s names.’
THE ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY (1956-7) 23 EPISODES
Based on a 1939 novel of the same name by Paul Gallico, this short-lived series focuses on the exploits of a newspaper proof-reader who, through years of secret practice, has developed James Bond-like skills in several areas of expertise. After Hiram had inserted a comma in a news story which saved his publisher a small fortune in a trial, his grateful boss rewarded him with an all-expenses-paid trip around the world. Along the way our intrepid hero was soon thwarting foreign spies wherever he went. His sidekick (played by Ainslie Pryor), is a reporter named Joel Smith who relays details of Holliday’s adventures back to their newspaper.
Marlon Brando & his pal Wally Cox
Unfortunately, the series’ low budget became evident as unconvincing recreations of different foreign locations appeared on-screen. Although twenty-three episodes were filmed, only twenty actually made it to air on NBC. The series, in its entirety, later ran on BBC through 1960 and 1961. As for Wally Cox who portrayed Holliday, he had previously played a similar character in Mister Peepers, (a mild-mannered junior high school science teacher), and was unable to shake the image for the remainder of his brief career. In real life, in fact, he was quite an athletic individual. He was a lifelong friend of actor Marlon Brando. In February, 1973, Cox passed away aged forty-eight. Some say cause of death was an accidental overdose of sedatives; Brando always claimed it was a heart attack that took his friend.