Monday, September 16, 2013

Hollywood's Land of MIsfit Toys.

Remember Chuck, the older brother on Happy Days? You don't? That's probably because he only appeared in a handful of Season One episodes and then vaporized into the hazy post-high school brother who never was. Chuck didn't even show his toe-headed self on subsequent Happy Days holiday specials where everyone comes home. He must have gotten himself messed up with drugs or was sent to Nam or something.

Television casting is an ever-morphing amoeba; always has been. 

How about when Partridge Family drummer Chris, a dark complected, brown-haired lad transformed into yellowy blond Chris for Season Two? Why did it even matter? Those kids didn't play the instruments anyway, and if anyone screamed to be replaced, it was the little one,Tracy, whose jerky tambourine demonstrated the musical prowess of a young Linda McCartney.

Here are a couple shots from the pilot episode of Leave it to Beaver. If your facial recognition skills seemed to have failed you, fear not. The original Ward Cleaver was some guy named Casey Adams. The first Wally was a kid by the name of Paul Sullivan. Wow, Pete Best has nothin' on those poor sods, getting replaced by Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow after one episode. That must have been rough for those guys, sitting on the sidelines while The Beav and Company rocketed to pop icon status for the next half century.

When we welcomed The Brady Bunch into our homes that fall of 1969, it didn't take long at all for Robert Reed and Florence Henderson to light up our tubes with raw sexual energy. Those two appeared born to play Mike and Carol Brady, especially when they were in their pajama-clad foxiest. 

But did you know that Joyce Bulifant from the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Gene Hackman had originally been penciled in to play the very Brady parents? I'll admit, Gene Hackman might have turned a few heads with his puka shell necklace and manfro, but not nearly to the level of Robert Reed, especially back lit in the soft sunsets of Waikiki.

Yet even America's favorite white family had a nosy neighbor named Nielson to spar with, especially when Bobby and Cindy grew up enough to start looking like Rob and Candy. Enter Oliver, the newest, cutest ratings magnet to stuff his Dorothy Hamill bowl cut into the Brady split level.

Not sure Oliver helped steady the foundering comedy; he may have actually tainted its fragile chemistry.

During my prime TV watching years, a couple of shows experienced fairly sizable cast turnover. After Three's Company captured lightning in a bottle with Jack, Chrissie, Janet and Mr. Roper, the show's potency leeched into the slog when Suzaane Somers was swapped with Jinelee Harrison and Mr. Roper was succeeded by Mr. Farley, played by Don Knotts. 

But when Farrah Fawcett turned in her badge and bikini to Charlie after a contract dispute, that hit home. I was fifteen years old and had just been given my brother's old TV when he went to college. It was one of those big console sets, black and white, and it was mine. I guess you could say that Tuesday nights were my "date night" with Charlie's Angels. Jill, Sabrina and Kelly materialized in my room at eight o'clock and filled my musty teenage lair with their silky presence for the next forty-two minutes. 

It always seemed to go so fast, and yet somehow, I had plenty of time.

I don't pay much attention to many TV shows now, especially network stuff. An obvious example of current day high-profile actor replacement is the whole Two-and-a-Half Men situation, where Ashton Kutcher surfaced in the wake of Charlie Sheen's toxic jetsam. I've heard the show's not as good now. 

This one is my favorite. In 1968, Chirstina Crawford, daughter of faded Hollywood starlet Joan Crawford, had been playing the role of 28-year-old Joan Borman Kane on the daytime soap, The Secret Storm. While recovering from surgery, Christina's role was filled by her wonderfully versatile mommy dearest, John Crawford. 

Here's a typical example of the elder Crawfords's ability to take the audience by the hair and flog it with the wire coat hanger of thespianic genius. Let's face it—she looked every bit the part of a 28-year-old—who'd been smoking and drinking nonstop for the past fifty years. Masterful.

Regrettably, there are two other categories that come to mind. The first is the list of actors and actresses who died during filming and hence necessitated quick and tasteful decisions by network creative staff, people like Corey Monteith in Glee, John Ritter in 8 Simple Rules and Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. All so sad.

And lastly a group exists which is best illustrated by the Bewitched, Darrin Stephens tag team of Dick York and Dick Sargent. No one even seemed to care that Darrin was played by a different guy. It was kind of like when your roommate comes home with a twelve pack of Bud Light and you really wanted Coors Light but it's cool because at least your roomy bought the right cigarettes.

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