Sunday, May 9, 2021

An "Incredible" Mothers Day! :)

Hello Everyone!

Now, it may seem unusual to post about The Incredible Hulk TV series on Mothers Day. However, I recently purchased an incredible artifact from the show which is dated May 9, 1978--an original call sheet from the episode "The Waterfront Story", in which Jack Kelly guest-starred as "Tony Kelly":

Actually, JK didn't appear in the scenes being filmed that day, although he's listed on the sheet. The crew had to report to the Indis Terminal in San Pedro, California, at 7:00 AM and most of the cast (including star Bill Bixby) reported at 8:00 AM.   

The reverse side of the call sheet contains a wealth of technical and other info about the episode:

For example, a number of prop vehicles were needed for the shoot, including a police car and a "Thug's Truck". To keep the cast and crew fueled up, a "walking" breakfast (consisting of coffee and donuts) occurred at 6:45 AM and lunch was ready at noon. 

Well, I hope every mom has an incredible Mothers Day 2021. :)

Please stay tuned for more about JK in TDS! 

Sunday, May 2, 2021


 Donna Lee Custer 
(formerly Donna Kelly, a.k.a. May Wynn)

1928 - 2021

Autographed candid snapshot of Donna and Jack snapped by a fan, dated May 1958.
Scanned from the La Bartista Kellection 

Donna Custer, who acted professionally under the name "May Wynn" and was Jack Kelly's first wife, passed away on March 22, 2021, although her passing wasn't reported in the press until over a month later. She was 93 years old. 

She was born Donle (later changed to Donna Lee) Hickey in New York City on January 8, 1928, into a family with ties to vaudeville. Her father, Ray Hickey, was a singer and dancer.  Her grandmother, Gertie Black, was also a vaudevillian. 

In her early teens, Donna worked after school in a real estate office and in a department store. She was later employed as a page and ground stewardess at LaGuardia Airport in NYC.  According to a 1954 story in the Provo UT Daily Herald, young Donna designed an ensemble consisting of a navy blue suit and powder blue blouse which she wore to work at LaGuardia. The outfit was soon adapted as the official stewardess uniform of Pan Am airlines. 

Donna performed as a showgirl at the Copacabana Club in New York City while still a teenager. She also won beauty contests and titles such as "Queen of the New York Press Photographer's Ball of 1950". The petite beauty was also a popular pin-up model, often pictured smiling in a swimsuit on the cover of magazines with titles such as "Hit!" and "See".

She made her way to Hollywood in the early 1950's and played bit roles in movies. Her big break came in 1953, when she was cast as singer "May Wynn" in the feature The Caine Mutiny starring Humphrey Bogart. Columbia Pictures studio chief Harry Cohn insisted that Donna assume her character's name as her professional name. She did, but later told reporters that she hated being known as May Wynn. 

Donna met JK during the filming of They Rode West in 1954 and they married in 1956, first in a civil ceremony in Quartzite, AZ, and then in a church ceremony a month later in Los Angeles, CA. Also in 1956, Donna played receptionist "Liz Clark" in the short-lived television series Noah's Ark (produced by Jack Webb), in addition to having a recurring role as "Jean Blackburn" in The Bob Cummings Show.

Donna as "Liz Clark", from the La Bartista Kellection

JK reportedly hated his wife's May Wynn moniker as much as she did and called her Donna, "Kukie" and "The Big M" during their marriage. The Kellys were very big on togetherness and made a pact to never be apart from one another for any length of time. This even extended to their careers. Donna accompanied JK to Asia when he was hired for the starring role in Hong Kong Affair. She ended up playing the female lead when the actress originally cast reportedly had trouble speaking her lines in English. 

In addition to Hong Kong Affair and They Rode West, Donna acted with JK in The Violent Men starring Glenn Ford and Taming Sutton's Gal. Her other feature films include The White Squaw, The Man is Armed and the cult horror film The Unknown Terror starring Paul Richards

Donna (as "Concha") shows off her new dress 
to "Pete" (Paul Richards)
in The Unknown Terror (1957)
 - original vintage still scanned from the author's private collection

Donna made guest shots on a number of other TV shows including The Millionaire and Perry Mason. Her last listed acting credit is a 1960 appearance in the western series Shotgun Slade

Although Donna never appeared on Maverick, it was reported that she and JK wrote a script for the show, which apparently was never filmed. They also formed a production company called "Majak" (guess how the name was formed?). And, Donna was frequently photographed visiting her hubby behind the scenes of Maverick:

Caption: "'Maverick' And Mate--Actress May Wynn visits husband Jack Kelly on the set of 'Shady Deal at Sunny Acres', on ABC-TV's Warner Bros. produced 'Maverick'..."--vintage original still scanned from the La Bartista Kellection 

Another visit during the filming of "Shady Deal" 
(vintage original still scanned from the La Bartista Kellection)

Even a Kelly kanine got into the act! 
(Vintage original still scanned from the La Bartista Kellection)

The Kelly's union seemed to be a template for togetherness, so Hollywood and fans were shocked when it was announced in October 1964 that the loving couple who had acted, wrote, cooked and golfed in tandem for nearly a decade was permanently Splitsville.

Donna remarried and divorced once more. She worked in real estate and then spent 28 years as a beloved school aide (teaching public speaking and handwriting classes after school) at the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in  Newport Beach, the California city in which she resided. Sadly, her nephew Brian Hickey was among the NYC firefighters who died in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. 

Rest in peace, Donna, and deepest condolences to your family, friends and fans from TDS.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Remember Bob Daniels :)


I recently found “Remember Lake Serene”, a 1967 episode of the sitcom Please Don’t Eat the Daisies which guest-starred Jack Kelly. Unfortunately, the video I discovered is very grainy, but I tried to get the best screenshots I could. 

Daisies started out as a best-selling collection of humorous essays by Jean Kerr, author, playwright and wife of famed theater critic Walter Kerr. The essays centered on various happenings in the Kerr household, including their move from New York City to a rambling home in Larchmont, NY.

In 1960, the book was adapted into a hit film with Doris Day and David Niven starring as the Jean and Walter Kerr characters (which were re-named “Kate and Larry McKay”).   

The sitcom version premiered on NBC on September 14, 1965. For some reason, the Kerr/McKay family became the “Nash” family in the TV series.

Jim Nash (Mark Miller) is a college professor in Ridgemont, NY. His better-half, Joan (Patricia Crowley), is a housewife who pens a column for the local newspaper. However--at least in this episode--Joan does more meddling than writing. Their four sons are typical sitcom tykes and are pretty much interchangeable (two are literally twins). And, their shaggy pooch “Ladadog” is about the size of a Shetland pony.
The Nashes argue about spending $18 a month on dog food and $15 for a run to the grocery store (which would cost more like $115 today!). Yet, they can somehow afford to live in a castle on their ostensibly meager combined earnings as a teacher and a part-time writer while raising a quartet of growing boys. 

The castle’s doorbell doesn’t merely ring--it "bongs" like the chimes of Big Ben. When the doorbell bongs on a Saturday morning in “Remember Lake Serene”, it signals that Jim’s old college pal “Bob Daniels” (JK) has come to visit. Bob was the “campus Casanova” and is still a carefree bachelor.

When Jim asks why Bob is visiting, he answers that he just wanted “to look at a beautiful woman”. He slyly glances at Joan and purrs, “Hello, beautiful woman”:

Joan rolls her eyes and replies, “Bob, we’re going to have to get you married—a look like that could smear a woman’s make-up!”

(She really does say that.)

Actually, Bob wants to go camping and fishing at Lake Serene, like he, Jim, and their other college pal Herb (who is also the Nashes’ neighbor) used to do back in the day. 

He invites Jim and Herb to come along, stag, no wives or kids. But first, Jim and Herb must tell—er, ask—their wives. 

Joan and Herb’s wife Marge are surprisingly all right with their guys taking a trip without them. Since the Nash kids have been conveniently shunted offscreen to Grandma’s house for spring vacation, the wives plan to sneak out to the lake to foist an eligible young woman on unsuspecting bachelor Bob.

The men start off for the lake the next morning in Bob’s convertible, but he says they’ll have to stop first so he can get a sweater. Surprise! The sweater is inhabited by a lovely blonde named Gloria:

The husbands aren’t too pleased—after all, they couldn’t bring their wives—but Gloria insists everything will be okay. She’s bringing her own tent and equipment, and the husbands can act as chaperones. So much for the stag weekend…and the wives’ plan. 

The wives set up camp at Lake Serene. Penny, the bachelorette they’ve chosen for Bob, starts to wander over to the guys’ rustic campsite in a flouncy red dress. Before she reaches the site, however, she spots Bob and Gloria. She hurries back to tell the wives.

Then, Bob goes for a walk, so when the wives go to check out Penny’s story, all they see is Gloria with their husbands. They decide to crash the “party".

Finally, Bob returns from his walk.

“Look what I found out on the beach!” he cries.

He’s accompanied by a brunette who announces, “Hello, my name is April Dancer”.

Yes, it’s “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” (played by Stefanie Powers).

Penny and Gloria are presumably forgotten as Bob smears April’s make-up in “The Maverick Bachelor Affair”.  ;)

“Remember Lake Serene” is one of those cutesy sitcom episodes where everyone practically shouts many of their lines, as if saying them louder makes them funnier. And, it’s easy to imagine other sitcom gal pals such as Lucy and Ethel or Laura and Millie conspiring in the same silly plot, only those characters (and their writers) would have handled it with much more comic finesse. A lot of the dialogue and situations are downright dopey, like the running gag about Herb leaping through a large open window to visit Jim instead of entering through the front door. (“It saves time,” Herb explains.)

But, the talented cast does their best with what they’ve been given to work with. And, of course, handsome JK plays Bob with his usual charm and humor. 

This episode was briefly viewable on YouTube and has since disappeared from that venue. Hopefully, someday Please Don’t Eat the Daisies will be officially released on DVD or a streaming service so we can get a clearer look at JK in “Remember Lake Serene”. 

  • In 1966, Jack Kelly played the male lead in Jean Kerr’s play Mary, Mary in Houston, TX. His co-star was Marjorie Lord. 
  • Pat Crowley previously appeared with JK in three Maverick episodes, “The Rivals”, “Betrayal” and “A Tale of Three Cities”.
  • King Donovan, the rubber-faced comedian who plays Herb in this episode, acted with JK in the Maverick episode “Maverick Springs”. Donovan also appeared in JK’s feature films Sally and Saint Anne (1952) and The Bamboo Prison (1954).
  • Shirley Mitchell, who plays Marge, was the last surviving adult cast member of I Love Lucy (she played Lucy's friend "Marion Strong", with the cackling laugh). She also appeared in The Beverly Hillbillies as "Opal Clampett", wife of "Jake Clampett" (played by King Donovan!)
  • The end-title credit for Stefanie Powers’ cameo appearance reads, “We wish to express our thanks to APRIL DANCER--Whose appearance was authorized by the United Network Command for Law Enforcement.”
  • Both Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. were MGM productions, and both were canceled in 1967. The men from U.N.C.L.E. (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum) appeared in an earlier episode of Daisies titled “Say U.N.C.L.E.”. Also, Pat Crowley guest-starred in the pilot episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E (“The Vulcan Affair”).
  • In my hometown, there was a Buick dealer named Bob Daniels. The dealership’s catchy jingle played in my head as I watched JK in “Remember Lake Serene”: “Bob Daniels Buick—B-I-C-K; ‘B-I-C-K’? That’s not the way to spell ‘Buick’!; The only thing missing is ‘You’!” I couldn’t tell if the convertible JK drives in the episode is a Buick, though.
  • The actual castle-like home once owned by Jean and Walter Kerr in Larchmont, NY, went on the market in 2020. Asking price:  $5,850,000.  
Please remember to stay tuned for more about JK in TDS! :)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Warner Bros. Presents a Failure -- Pt. III

The conclusion of our story:

A Big Name in Television 

As per the original production agreement between Warners and ABC, "Kings Row" was replaced by a segment from a completely different genre, suspense. Titled "Conflict", the new series was an anthology without a regular cast. It opened with “Siege”, a tense tale starring Elizabeth Montgomery as a schoolteacher and Paul Richards as an escaped murderer who barricades himself in the schoolhouse along with the teacher and her pupils—the same story that was originally intended to be a "Kings Row" episode. 

After “Siege” premiered on February 14, 1956, TV reviewer Bob Foster noted, “Unlike the owners of some filmed properties, Warners have had the courage to admit their original concept was wrong. If the famous film makers at Burbank continue along this line, it may be that they’ll become just as big a name in television as they long have been in the world of feature production.”  

"Casablanca" was dropped from Warner Bros. Presents in April 1956, leaving "Cheyenne" as the clear winner among the three original segments. Taking a cue from Gunsmoke, the fledgling western had become a more “adult” program with stronger scripts and a new producer (Roy Huggins, who had been overseeing  ”Kings Row”).

The Warner Bros. Presents hub featuring revolving dramatic segments and WB promos was also eventually jettisoned. For the new TV season of 1956, Conflict became a standalone program alternating in the same timeslot as Cheyenne, which was now also a separate series. Although Conflict didn’t last long, Cheyenne ran until 1963.

Warner Bros. learned from its Warner Bros. Presents venture that television offered far more than just a promotional opportunity. Television had the potential to revitalize the studio. Warners began to take the new medium seriously.

And, true to Bob Foster’s prediction, by the end of the 1950's Warner Bros. had indeed become a big name in television production. In addition to Cheyenne, Warners gave us such classic TV shows as 77 Sunset Strip, Colt .45, Bourbon Street Beat, Lawman, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye—and a quirky little western called Maverick which co-starred one Jack Kelly, formerly on-call as “Dr. Parris Mitchell”.  😉

Friday, April 9, 2021

Warner Bros. Presents A Failure - Pt II

 Original 1955 "Kings Row" publicity headshot from the La Bartista Kellection. Caption: "Jack Kelly, who has served an acting apprenticeship which included movies, television, stage and radio will appear as Dr. Parris Mitchell in 'Warner Bros. Presents' TV series 'Kings Row' for ABC-TV"

Our examination of "Kings Row" continues:

Into A Spin

Aside from the show’s bland scripts (which were churned out mostly by less experienced and thus less expensive writers), the promotional aspect of Warner Bros. Presents was another annoyance.

TV Guide concluded its review of the series by noting, “Actor Gig Young, a personable host, serves as guide on the studio tours that wind up each week’s show. Some behind-the-scenes techniques are engrossing. But, Young’s interviews with Warner stars would be more interesting if they weren’t such blatant commercials for new movies.”

Douglas Kirkley of the Baltimore Sun noted, "The 'hour' program is overburdened with what amounts to long commercials for Warner Bros.' film department."

The show’s sponsors were also unhappy. In return for letting Warner Bros. toot its own horn, advertisers expected Warner Bros. Presents to be of the same caliber as Warners’ top-flight feature films. (The series had been sold to sponsors solely on the Warner name and reputation, without even a pilot episode.) Instead, they got a schlocky infomercial for Warner Bros. for their advertising dollars.
Warner Bros. Presents was plagued by problems from the start. Filming began in June for the September premiere. I own an original final copy of the script for “Lady in Fear”, the very first episode of “Kings Row”. It shows a completion date of June 10, 1955, with filming completed on June 24.  A Screen Actors Guild strike that August shut down production for twelve days, throwing a monkey wrench into the already hectic filming schedule. In September, Los Angeles was broiling with a late summer heat wave (which prompted JK to install an air conditioner in his WB dressing room, one newspaper reported). 

Other issues, such as spiraling episode costs, were caused by Warner’s lack of experience with television production. Columnist Aline Mosby reported, “At Warner studio, ‘stepchild’ television is causing more headaches. Budgets of $65,000 per episode were set for the studio’s three series, ‘King’s Row’, ‘Cheyenne’ and ‘Casablanca’. But, the cost has soared to around $72,000 [per episode]. Two producers on the Warner series resigned in mid-stream. ‘They’re behind schedule and confused’, says one executive at ABC-TV, which is releasing the show. ‘TV has thrown them into a spin. They’ll come out of it eventually, after a shake-down process.”

Quality control was another casualty of the rush to get Warner Bros. Presents on the air. Warner's film editors and technicians were still learning the ropes of network television, where the break-neck pace often left little margin for error. Mistakes weren't always caught before air time. As a result, some episodes of Warner Bros. Presents were broadcast with major editing gaffes.  

For example, a viewer wrote to entertainment columnist Sidney Skolsky that they'd noticed repeatedly that the sound on Warner Bros. Presents was sometimes out of sync and wondered how this was allowed to happen: 

“I would certainly like to know how a thing like that could get by unnoticed, especially when the announcer stresses how great and qualified they are at Warners. It must be embarrassing for the people connected with putting together the reel and releasing it for TV.” 

Naturally, ABC demanded changes. Among other tweaks, it was decreed that the stories on "Casablanca" and "Kings Row" should contain more action to attract male viewers.  

Unfortunately, "Kings Row" was anchored to its small-town setting. By contrast, "Cheyenne" was the name of the title character (played by Clint Walker) and not the town, which opened up the entire Old West as a setting. Cheyenne Bodie could become involved in action-packed adventures in different locales, whereas Parris Mitchell and friends were confined to Kings Row.

Warners toyed with the idea of revamping "Kings Row" with new characters, varied locations and heightened tension in the stories. A script was even written in which an escaped killer terrorizes a teacher and her pupils in the Kings Row schoolhouse.

In the end, however, it was easier (and cheaper) to just cancel “Kings Row” rather than fix it. It disappeared from the Warner Bros. Presents lineup in January 1956. 

So, now you know why "Kings Row" was such a dog. ;)

Original 1955 "Kings Row" still from the La Bartista Kellection. Caption: "'Dr. Parris Mitchell' (Jack Kelly) plays with 'Little Doc' in this scene from 'Kings Row', to be presented on Warner Bros. Presents, Tuesday, October 4, 7:30 pm, EDT, over ABC-TV."


Monday, April 5, 2021

Warner Bros. Presents a Failure

I purchased this rare original "Kings Row" wardrobe test photo of Jack Kelly a number of years ago--sharing it here in TDS for the first time

Hello Everyone!

We all know that the 1955 series "Kings Row", in which Jack Kelly had his first TV starring role as “Dr. Parris Mitchell”, was a colossal flop. But, you may not know why the show laid such an egg. 

I’ve researched this subject and have learned that "Kings Row" was doomed to failure. It was part of a hastily developed concept which was run up the proverbial flagpole to see if TV viewers would salute it. (They didn’t.) 

So, please sit back and discover why "Kings Row" didn't have a snowball's chance: 


“If we may believe the ballyhoo, television history will be made tonight.”

So wrote television critic James Abbe in the Oakland Tribune on September 13, 1955.

The “ballyhoo” was for the anthology series Warner Bros. Presents, which would debut that evening with the first episode of "Kings Row"

Warner Bros. Presents even had a Hollywood-style premiere, but with a twist: there were actually five premieres held simultaneously around the US, with the stars of "Kings Row" and "Cheyenne" appearing in the homes of private citizens chosen at random from phone books! Jack Kelly popped up at a home in New York:

Abbe continued, “At 7:30 our time KGO-TV will relay the first of a three-part series of hour-long movies tailored to televiewers by that old established firm of movie-makers, the Warner Brothers."

He concluded, “This surrender to new-fangled TV by the firm that pioneered talking pictures back in the Twenties exemplifies that old saw ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’…tonight’s premiere should not be missed by televiewers. Especially viewers who eagerly scan the TV horizon for evidence of new ideas, new blood and new approaches.”

However, Warner Bros. Presents was cobbled together from old ideas. The three rotating segments of the anthology—"Casablanca", "Cheyenne" and "Kings Row"—were based on vintage Warner Bros. feature films. This approach was nothing new for Warners, which often recycled material from its vast library of properties. 

Actually, the primary purpose of Warner Bros. Presents was to promote Warners’ theatrical films. The “hour-long movies tailored to televiewers” (which were really only 45-minutes long) were considered less important by WB than the interviews with movie stars such as Alan Ladd and glimpses of the Warner Bros. backlot which were presented at the end of each episode. 

Actor Gig Young—who wasn't associated with any of the three dramatic segments—served as the series’ host and interviewer for the promo inserts. Instead of talking about the stars and stories of Warner Bros. Presents, Young talked up the studio’s upcoming feature films. 

Another function of Warner Bros. Presents was to help the studio and the ABC TV network gauge which segments “clicked” with viewers. Each segment was chosen for its familiar title and its appeal to fans of different genres. "Cheyenne" represented the western; "Casablanca", intrigue; and "Kings Row", melodrama. 

According to Christopher Anderson in his book Hollywood TV—The Studio System in the Fifties, “The alternating format of Warner Bros. Presents offered both the studio and the network a chance to test the prime-time waters. In fact, the production agreement assumed that not all three series would find an audience; in case any of the series failed in the ratings, the contract specified that ABC and Warner Bros. would substitute one from an entirely different genre.

“As far as both companies were concerned, Warner Bros. Presents was something of a fishing expedition in which alternating series, identified with specific genres, would be used to attract certain elements of the TV audience. The alternating format represented an unsystematic effort to acquire greater knowledge about television viewers through a process of trial and error. Variety’s review of the series speculated that 'Cheyenne' was designed for children, 'Casablanca' for teenagers and 'Kings Row' for adults.” 

Indeed, the feature film version of Kings Row was pretty adult for its time (1942). Based on a popular novel by Henry Bellamann, Kings Row explored the dark side of an outwardly upright community. It gave Ronald Reagan his famous line “Where’s the rest of me?!” after his character’s legs are amputated by a sadistic doctor played by Charles Coburn.

Soap Opera-Ish

Nothing remotely like that happened in "Kings Row" the TV show, which was basically a soap opera aimed at female viewers. Critic James DeVane wrote in the Cincinnati Enquirer after viewing the first episode, "So suds-like was it that someone chuckled while watching it that it should have been called 'Young Doctor Mitchell'".  Unlike daytime serials, though, each episode of "Kings Row" was self-contained, without continuing storylines. 

The plots centered on progressive young psychiatrist Dr. Mitchell (JK, whose role was played by Robert Cummings in the film), his life-long friends “Drake McHugh” (Reagan’s role in the film, played here by Robert Horton) and “Randy Monaghan” (played by Nan Leslie here and by Ann Sheridan in the film), plus other denizens of quaint Kings Row in 1905.  

The first airing of "Kings Row" got decent ratings, but the ratings fell with each successive episode. Viewers, critics, sponsors and the network quickly became disenchanted with the lackluster writing and plodding plots typical of Warner Bros. Presents teleplays, especially where "Kings Row" and "Casablanca" were concerned. The scripts for this "prestige" project were strictly builder grade. 

Donald Kirkley of the Baltimore Sun wrote after "Kings Row" premiered, "There have been so many alterations to the [original] characters and situations that it would be confusing to list them. This is a watered-down, simplified and sentimentalized adaptation, made, apparently, in the fat-headed belief that the television audience is less discriminating than the movie audience, and may be treated with condescension and contempt.

"If this theory is to be followed all through the series, it may well be that [Warner Bros.] is in for some costly disillusionment. The opener, despite shreds of quality carried over from the original film, was not good television. It was slick and smooth, all right, and full of handsome young men and pretty girls, but it had the lack of depth which marks the Class B feature, and can't compete with the better TV drama shows. It was pat and corny."

And, as TV Guide’s review of Warner Bros. Presents stated, “The Hollywood studios may know how to turn out movies for theaters, but Warner Brothers, for one, still has much to learn about producing movies for TV. ABC’s hour-long Warner Bros. Presents is no better than most of the half-hour telefilm dramas turned out regularly in Hollywood. It is well-produced and competently acted, but the producers seem to have forgotten that the play’s still the thing…The 'Kings Row' regulars—Jack Kelly, Nan Leslie, Robert Horton and Victor Jory—are good in soap opera-ish stories about a young psychiatrist struggling against the superstitions and tradition-bound medical practices of a small town in the early 1900s…Each film reflects a lavish budget and technical skill. The same cannot be said for the quality of the scripts.”


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Blessed Easter 2021 From "TDS"! :)


 "But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay."
--Matthew 28:5-6 (ESV)

(Vintage original undated postcard scanned from the La Bartista Kellection)