Get Smart: Supporting Cast

One of the things I love about Get Smart is the fact that, especially in the early years, they had a very small budget. The Chief's office substituted for many other types of offices, and the airport terminal that was featured in several episodes looked like a bus station in Fresno, not an international airport in Washington D.C.! Even the Olympic teams stayed in what looked like a second rate Ramada Inn. But that was part of the show's charm. James Bond may have had more style and class, but people in the land of Get Smart were regular folks like you and me (well, like you, anyway! I've been irregular ever since I ate a serving of Mrs. Farcas' chocolate mousse!). They even had their share of union problems and labor cutbacks (featured in several episodes).

The show also didn't have a large cast. Max, 99 and the Chief were the only ones who appeared in every show (actually there were a few shows where we missed the Chief). But there were "semi-regulars" who made their appearance throughout the series. Agent Larrabee (Robert Karvelas) probably appeared in most episodes, especially near the end of the series. He was sort of like a tempered Mel Brooks who made Max seem like Albert Einstein! I was sort of disappointed when they made him a regular though because his foolish demeanor wore out pretty fast. Max was a lot of wonderful things besides being a fool. Larrabee didn't have much else to his character. He was funnier in small, occasional doses.

There were a number of scientists throughout the series. They were of course, modeled after "Q" in the James Bond series, but again, they weren't your Oxford variety. They weren't eloquent or snappy dressers. They were the kind of guys who you could imagine would spend fourteen hours a day behind their Bunsen burners, stopping only for a peanut-butter sandwich and a glass of milk. They were wonderfully bland! My favorite scientist in the series was Parker (Marvin Seltzer). He was a nerd who took real joy in his work.

Other agents came and went. Few were regulars, except Agent 44 (played respectively by Victor French and Al Molinaro) and Agent 13 (Dave Ketchum) (I liked Ketchum the best!) He was always stuffed inside a sofa or a mailbox, or an ice machine, or an airport locker or... anywhere, really.

It was always funny to see where he would pop out of, but 13 was also fun to see because of his varying attitudes. Usually he was a bit teed off for being cramped in some tiny place for days. But sometimes he'd be happy since there was some female that was also holed up in some machine or piece of furniture nearby.

I miss Agent K-13 (affectionately known as "Fang"). Apparently he flunked the updated TV-spy training test. He just couldn't get anything right and was costing the network a lot of money (and patience!). Too bad. He had real personality and was one of the first actors in television to wear long hair before it became fashionable. I hear he eloped with that Chihuahua that frequented The Ed Sullivan Show, and they are now retired and happily living in Daytona Beach, Florida.

And of course, we cannot forget Agent Charlie Watkins, who unfortunately only appeared a couple of times. He was a blonde female sex kitten with a deep masculine voice. Max always had a bit of an eye for him! Charlie was played by the real-life sex kitten Angelique Prettyjohn, who appeared in several "sexploitation" films and sultry ads. I used to see her around town often and she still dressed the part and drove a pink Cadillac convertible with leopard skin upholstery!

I'm not quite sure if she was technically an agent but Dr Steele was always a great help to CONTROL. She even saved Max's life on one occasion with an antidote to a lethal poison that he'd been given. I take it that CONTROL didn't have enough money in their budget to hire her full time, which explains her need to moonlight as a showgirl in a chorus line. Or maybe the smart person who cast her realized that it would be a waste to put this woman in a white lab coat all of the time!

99's mother (only known as "mother" or "mom") (Jane Dulo) made several appearances. She seemed something of a Jewish mother (in her introductory appearance she coaxed Max and 99 to eat before they run out to save the country). She had a real New York accent but she actually came from America's heartland. It gave her a nice schizoid quality of motherliness and aggressiveness. She had a real thing for the Chief, which brought out the funniest parts of her aggression.

Numerous familiar faces also appeared in the show a couple of times, usually playing different parts. People like Alice Ghostly, Ted Knight, William Schallert, Leonard Strong, Lyn Peters, Vic Tayback, John Fieldler, Gordon Jump, and Alan Oppenheimer were a few that I can remember off-hand.

I haven't forgotten of course, sweet Hymie the Robot (Dick Gautier), rotten Col. Siegrfried (Bernie Kopell), and Siegried's mate, Lt. Starker (King Moody). They are given special mention in my favourite episodes section.

Get Smart: Main Cast

Maxwell Smart: Agent 86 (Don Adams):
Don Adams was cursed with being so brilliant in his role as Maxwell Smart. It made it very difficult for him to be accepted by the public in any other role thereafter (although he did have a briefly successful run hosting a terrific game show in the seventies. See my 1970s page). He had a real gift for physical comedy that must have left him with quite a collection of bumps and bruises over the years! And of course he had the great facial expressions and that famous slow, high-pitched voice that would appear whenever he was trying to be logical or tough. Yet he also did have the suave, heroic stuff at times, which made him believable as a secret agent. That was a true testament to his great acting, since had he just been a snobbish all the way through, the show wouldn't have worked. The show was a true espionage thriller as well as a slapstick comedy, and it did depend on Max being able to perform physical feats of courage and daring. He had to be dashing and dignified, which made his falling off of chairs or slamming his hands in a drawer all the more funny. And Max did have to woo the women on occasion! Even after he was married, but those were assignments of course!

"The Chief" {Thaddeus or Harold, I don't think he remembers!} (Edward Platt):
I love Agent 99 but my second favourite character was the Chief, brilliantly played by Ed Platt. He was Max's straight man, and usually each show's funniest scenes were the banter between them. Sometimes he'd lose his temper, but lots of times he'd just rub his forehead and squeeze the bridge of his nose in futility (Max: "Oh, another one of your headaches, Chief? That's the second one this week and it's only Tuesday"). His ability to play straight man (and in such a truly dignified way!) could have seemed like a thankless role, but his low-key humor was in perfect harmony with Max's gift for slapstick comedy. They worked like a well-oiled machine. He also became like a father figure to Max and 99 once they got married. He rarely wore his emotions on the surface but you knew he really cared for Max and 99, and loved them.

Agent 99 {she'll never tell us her real name!} (Barbara Feldon):
Also had a great gift for comedy, playing off Max's antics with dignity much like the Chief did. She was cool and collected but also sweet and vulnerable. In a sense she was probably a good role model for women in the sixties since she not only was a working woman even after marriage, she worked in a male-driven dangerous world where she sometimes had to be fierce and cunning and would have to face life-threatening situations. On the other hand, she also got to wear fabulous clothes and sport fascinating hairstyles! Her character was an enigma since CONTROL was a secret organization. Yet people even outside of CONTROL called her 99 (or "Miss 99", as Mr. Bob and Siegfried had called her).

Get Smart: An introduction to a Sixties show

This has always been my number one favorite comedy, and after watching a couple dozen of Get Smarts recently on TV Land (sadly butchered to make time for commercials), I was thrilled to see that after almost a decade of seeing any of the shows, and over thirty years of seeing all of the shows, that it not only still holds up, it's funnier than ever!

The more background you have with the show's background, the deeper one's enjoyment. For one thing: being at least fairly well associated with the early James Bond movies will embellish your viewing pleasure. Many of the details of the show; particularly the outlandish special weapons and gadgets used by CONTROL and KAOS; are inspired by the Bond films.
Another helpful hint: Be a classic movie buff! Classic movies are terrific and many of the shows are directly related to famous old films, some of which include: the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda (Don Adams does a smashing Ronald Colman!), Casablanca (1942), The Maltese Falcon (1941) (Don Adams also does a great Humphrey Bogart!), The Most Dangerous Game (1932) or its remake, The Game of Death (1945), Dr. No (1962), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), D.O.A. (1949), And Then There Were None (1945), The Island of Lost Souls (1933), The Great Escape (1963), Stalag 17 (1953), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Gigi (1959), and the classic TV shows; The Avengers and The Fugitive.

Another reason I enjoy the show is because I've grown up with the humor of the show's creators: Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Brooks only was involved with the development of the show, and Henry as I recall, remained story editor for only the first season, but their touch is definitely there. It is their baby... so to speak!

It also helps to be familiar with the myriad of the show's guests, for it is their particular style that is as funny as the lines they deliver. Some of the show's guests included James Caan, Don Rickles, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Vincent Price, Leonard Nimoy, Pat Paulsen, Ernest Borgnine, Martin Landau, Phyllis Diller, Dana Wynter, Jack Gilford, Alex Rocco, Harold Gould, Victor Buono, Steve Allen, Caesar Romero, Julie Newmar, Jack Cassidy, Fred Willard, Jacques Bergerac, Joey Bishop, John Byner, Barbara Bain, John Orchard, Tony Lo Bianco, Robert Culp, Stu Gilliam, Tom Poston, Billy Barty, and for you film noir fans out there: Farley Granger, J. Carol Naish, George Macready and Harold Stone. Wow!.
And let us not forget the INCREDIBLE talent of this show's regular cast!

Fernwood 2 Night overview

I never saw the series Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, from which this show was a spin-off, but I don't suppose it makes too much difference. This was a little gem tucked away in a period where shows like The Love Boat and The Gong Show were among the most popular forms of entertainment. It examines the provincial mindset of mediocrity, all in a comic format of a small-town talk show. In the generic America of today, even small towns are far too sophisticated for the kind of TV show that Fernwood 2 Nite was, but the show was spot on for what small-town America was like twenty-five years ago. Those who have seen some of Christopher Guest's films like Waiting For Guffman or Best in Show, will fully appreciate the humor here.

Fernwood is a small town like Blaine, Missouri (from Waiting For Guffman), only far more provincial. And Fred Willard, who played the obnoxious commentator at the dog show in Best in Show, is quite similar here as the co-host of Fernwood 2 Nite. Like Waiting for Guffman, this show is at times like one long amateur contest, where the locals of the town display their assorted talents. But as well as having that kind of crazy humor, the show has a strong satirical edge. The hosts inadvertently make comments that they don't realize have a double meaning. Yet the show is never mean-spirited. You grow to love all these nuts because they are quite human (unlike shows from a decade earlier like Green Acres where everyone was a cartoon). Nick At Nite aired this briefly many years ago, but it has since lapsed into obscurity. I can only hope that as the popularity of Christopher Guest's films rise, people will think of the connection and demand that this show goes back into syndication.

Game shows of the seventies

Don Adams' Screen Test [1974-1975]:

This was probably the best game show ever featured on TV. It certainly was the most innovative! The fact that it lasted only a year I think has to do with 1) It was unlike other game show in that it was not about winning lots of money. By the mid-seventies, audiences were only interested in game shows with big money and big prizes. 2) One had to be a classic movie buff to fully appreciate this show. By the mid-seventies, most folks weren't interested. And 3) It wasn't stupid. That's usually a pre-requisite for game shows! The premise of this show was that contestants would re-enact scenes from famous classic movies. Some of the scenes that stand out most for me were the classic kiss on the beach in From Here to Eternity, the classic cat fight between Marlene Dietrich and Una Merkel in Destiny Rides Again, and the classic slap that Doris Day gave Tony Randall in Pillow Talk. Adams had great fun sabotaging the scenes so that the actors would crack up, but the show was also a marvelous showcase for anyone who had aspirations of being an actor. What a chance to be seen! I'd love catch this show again!

The Gong Show [1976-1980]:

I only saw this a couple of times, because I hated Chuck Barris and the stupid acts that the contestants put on. Of course, they were supposed to be stupid. The show was an over-the-top parody of bad amateur contests, but something about it seemed to be so lame that it almost cried out to be parodied itself. Because of a nostalgia I have for the seventies, I might be pushed into trying it again, but then it might remind me what things I hated about the seventies!

The Match Game [1973-1982]:

The years on this get confusing because they changed the title with each year, but I do remember that the year I watched this was 1974 (I was watching it when Richard Nixon announced his resignation). The premise was something like: the host says a sentence, leaving one word out, and the guest panelists have to come up with a word that is suitable. Then the contestants try to guess which word the panelists picked. Pretty lame, but Gene Rayburn was fun. Most of the panelists were pretty awful though. I think I saw it maybe a handful of times.

Cultist shows of the seventies

Ellery Queen [1975-1976]:

I'm sorry that I never got to see more of this. I think I only saw it two or three times, and while I liked the look and feel of the show and the supporting cast, I thought that Jim Hutton was somewhat dull as the lead and too modern to pass as a 1940s-style character. But it was an interesting look at the 1940s, with a rather film noir descriptiveness, using the history of Ellery Queen as a mystery-radio figure. As I recall, the show captured all of that beautifully, and it had INCREDIBLE guest stars. Just look at SOME of the veteran Hollywood stars who appeared on this show: Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Farley Granger, Don Ameche, Ida Lupino, William Demarest, Donald O'Connor, Caesar Romero, Howard Duff, Robert Alda, Eddie Bracken, Rhonda Fleming, Lloyd Nolan, Dana Wynter and Sal Mineo (his second to last appearance before his untimely death). That's not to mention all of the contemporary stars of that era. I should also add that David Wayne was the show's marvelous co-star, and John Hillerman (I just love that guy) was a supporting player. With all that, I'm going to keep my eyes open for syndication of this one!

Kolchak: The Night Stalker [1974-1975]:

This is another show that I wish I'd watched regularly. I saw only two or three episodes, and even though I remember the pilot was a stunner, I didn't give myself the chance to really get a sense of what the show was trying to achieve or what the make-up of the characters were. Darren McGavin, a wonderful actor, plays a reporter on a Chicago newspaper that is a sort of watchdog for supernatural occurrences (this is a fantasy show, okay?). The opening of the show was about him tracking down The Boogie Man, but it was done with great panache! Apparently the show dipped into more comic book horror fare than classic horror fare but it's all grist for the mill and I'm sure that even in the lamest episodes, McGavin himself must have made it all worth watching. I'm keeping my eyes open for this one too!

Space 1999 [1975-1977]:

Well, 1999 has come and gone and we never did revert to wearing bell-bottoms and sporting afros! Too bad. Like Star Trek, one does have to disassociate oneself from the rather cheesy look of the sets and costumes, and in the case of this show; music (remember guitars with wah-wah pedals?). Having only seen two episodes, I was unable to do the whole disassociation thing, but I had fun with it anyway. The cast is stranded out in space after their space station on the moon is blown out of the galaxy. On their arduous journey home they of course experience lots of strange things. The great Martin Landau stars in this, although he didn't seem to be doing much in the episodes I saw. I guess I'll have to watch some more.

Favorite episodes of Lou Grant

My top favorite episodes of Lou Grant:

Hunger:

One day Rossi the lovable egomaniac tells Lou that he could write a great story about anyone he passes on the street, so Lou of course makes him a wager. He gets to pick the person, and Rossi has to write a great story about him or her (or dinner's on Rossi). Lou picks a rather non-descript woman hurrying down the street, and like a bloodhound, Rossi tracks her down. It turns out that she's a nun (in modern dress) who works in a shelter and is involved in several types of programs to feed the hungry. She's a tough cookie that is willing to let Rossi interview her, but she makes him work hard to find out why, with all the surplus of food that we have in this country, so many people all over the world are going hungry. Rossi reveals the whole domino principle behind government subsidies not to grow crops etc., and the show gives us a much-needed perspective on why and how hunger exists. Uta Hagen is the nun, and she's wonderful, playing her as a woman obsessed with saving the world. Rossi wins the bet and Lou has to buy him dinner, but Rossi suddenly sees a midget running down the street with a large suitcase. He tells Lou to give him a rain check, and he runs after the midget. I wish we could have seen that story too!

Strike:

Automation hits The Tribune, and Margaret (Mrs. Pynchon) must face the reality that there will have to be lay-offs. The show eloquently shows both sides of the issue, siding somewhat with the strikers near the end, when Margaret's cunning adviser promises to bring the union to its knees. Some of the action is a bit dramatic (a long-time employee suffers a heart attack on the picket line), but it's overall a thrilling representation of labor disputes. And it's not without some humor, like when Charlie has to figure out how to paste up the front page on his own (Lou: "What's going on there Charlie? I'm imagining something like a crazy quilt!").

Blackout:

Those who live in L.A. know that any good-sized earthquake is not an end in itself. Power lines and sometimes, whole power stations break down, and the city is left in darkness. That's what happens here. The Trib must face the possibility that for the first time in its history, it may not get out an edition. They're lucky enough to have an ally in Long Beach that is unaffected by the blackout and is willing to let the Trib use its presses, but there is a chance that the power will be back on by midnight so that they won't need the other paper's presses. There's genuine suspense as the midnight hour approaches and no one knows where the Tribune will be printed or if it will even make the deadline. There's fascinating detail of how the newspaper is put out in its final stages, and of course interesting coverage of the earthquake, blackout and ensuing traffic jams. And Rossi provides some humor when he has to leave Donovan's $50 bill with a priest after being kindly confronted about walking off with an armful of candles. There's also a typical Rossi moment when he's reading his notes on the phone to a copy editor, which of course means that he must fill in the punctuation ("There was a man in a coma comma…. That's coma. Comma").

Nazi:

In this episode, Billie investigates the rise of a small Nazi organization in Los Angeles. She decides to focus on the leader, an Aryan-looking young man with fearsome determination. But as she pursues his background, she discovers that the man is actually a Jew. Lou's reaction to this is almost hysterical when his face lights up at the scandal of it all ("Really?? A Jewish Nazi??!"), but after he tells her that to just blatantly print that story would be like Ripley's, he convinces her to dig deeper and find out why and how this could have happened. The psychology behind it is not surprising; it's a classic case of denial brought on by victimization; but the very reality of the growing Nazi movement and the fact that the original Nazi party was no larger than the group featured in this episode, is enough to feed our imagination with real horror. Peter Weller as the Nazi leader is truly compelling in the role, and Brian Dennehy also makes an interesting appearance.

Boomerang:

This episode really opened my eyes. It has to do with Third World dumping. Chemicals, drugs and various types of machinery (including medical equipment) that do not pass inspection as being safe in this country are often sold to Third World countries. Everything from dangerous contraceptive devices, to unsafe insecticides, to faulty respirators are sold by companies that don't want to lose all the money they put into making these things. Not only do thousands of people all over the world die from such "deals", some of this even has a boomerang effect on the United States, as many of the countries that use our unsafe, illegal insecticides on their crops, ultimately send the fruits of their crops back to us for us to consume.

Charlatan:

An interesting supporting player is brought into this episode. Meschach Taylor plays Marcus Prescott, the never before seen religious editor of The Tribune. He and Rossi are assigned to uncover a possible scandal involving a local church that demands that its members give a huge percentage of their earnings to the church, while the minister lives like a king. Rossi is a lapsed Catholic and cynical of all religion, and Prescott is faithful man of God who loathes those who abuse religion, but who still wants to support those who have faith in making their own choices. It is an interesting look at religious values. In the same episode, Lou has to go to court to defend the editor of a smut magazine who has listed the names and addresses of narcotics agents. It's freedom of the press; another sacred institution that is often abused but still must be defended for the freedom of choice.

Murder:

This is one of several themed shows dealing with how newspapers often put more coverage on 'entertaining" news stories than stories of a more depressing nature. Rossi covers an amusing story about a wealthy elderly woman who beat off some burglars with her golf clubs, while Billie is anguished to find that her story of a poor black woman who was unable to defend herself from an assailant, is buried in the back pages. Her story deals with the murder of the woman (which the police will probably never solve, although great pains were used to stalk down the attempted burglars of the elderly white woman), and the plight of the woman's young daughter who has run away. This is a very personal look at a big issue, and one that is handled with real dignity.

Streets:

Various perspectives are shown regarding the shootings of both a black youth in the ghetto who had many criminal leanings, and a popular, caring white policeman. The show brilliantly covered the efforts of some white people, including some police officers who are trying to make a difference, and the plight of black families that are losing their sons to violence. Hundreds of people show up for the black youth's funeral but we discover it is not in his honor that they are attending, but in honor of his mother. For she did the best she could do in trying to raise her son up right, and she'd already lost other children to violence or crime. Rossi covers the story of the shootings with a black reporter, and racial tensions mount when their perspectives clash.

Campesinos:

A rare look at migrant farm workers. Rossi goes north to cover what looks to be a major labor dispute, and as usual, we get to see all sides of the issues. Most people are unaware of who picks the food they eat or the conditions in which they live. This show offers us a good illustration. It also shows us the plight of the small farmer who struggles from year to year to keep his farm going.

Home:

This is one of the very rare occasions where the plight of the elderly has really been handled with class. On one end of the spectrum we have the plight of those who stay in retirement homes. The lack of care and treatment they receive is shocking, and this episode shows it all! On the other end of the spectrum we see what it's like for an elderly widower who is retired and feels that he is of no use to society. The way society just uses people up and dispenses with them is effectively illustrated. There is a subtle but effective scene near the end when we see Lou asking the elderly man that he's befriended if he can jog ahead of him because the man's pace is too slow. He says 'sure" but later as Lou is jogging and he meets up with a young woman, she asks him if she can jog ahead of him because HIS pace is too slow! A good illustration that the issues covered in this episode is just around the corner for all of us.

Goop:

The issue of subterfuge is brought to focus here. Some really disgusting goop has been found in the water and in the ground and walls of many homes in a secluded area. It appears that someone has been dumping toxic waste in a nearby stream but there doesn't seem to be any place that makes such a substance nearby. So Billie goes to work undercover for a company that makes that kind of waste many miles away. She gradually uncovers how the company is dumping their waste, but in the meantime, she has won the friendship and confidences of the people she works for. They're all very nice people and she feels guilty for lying to them about her real identity. She gets her story in the end, but not without hurting a lot of people. It was worth it, but the morality of such undercover work is closely examined.

Sweep:

An intimate look at the plight of illegal immigrant workers is examined. A Latino waitress that Lou and Billie have befriended has been deported in an immigration raid, and they try to track down her children, who seem to have run away from home (they know that immigration will be after them too). That leads them (and us) to the underworld that is what makes this country run. From the factories to the fields, most of the people who make our clothes and pick our food are illegal immigrants. We see them at work at the factories, where if one is too slow or ineffective, they will be replaced immediately by someone who is waiting in the wings. And we see them on the border as they make their way across it, facing the possibilities of being robbed or stranded by the "coyotes" (couriers), or being picked up by the immigration police. Like the recent film Traffic, the show also shows us the futility of even trying to police the situation.

Immigrants:

The plight of other immigrants is featured here. It seems likely that this show was inspired by the real life story of Sidney Sheinberg and Dipth Pran, the American journalist and his Cambodian photojournalist friend who were featured in The Killing Fields. Here the photojournalist is a Vietnamese man who Animal knew during the war. His ways seem odd and even irresponsible to The Tribune staff. But they don't know that his family, like many other Vietnamese families, is being squeezed by a kind of Vietnamese mafia. We are shown the pressures that he and his family must face, day in and day out, between the racketeers and occasional hostilities by Americans. This show is really a rare glimpse of what has become an invisible culture in America.

Pack:

This is a sentimental favorite because it brings the character of Flo Meredith, who played Mary Richards' renegade aunt on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, back to life. And it's in the perfect setting. Although a reunion between Flo and Lou (who were almost engaged on the MTM show) would have been nice, Flo is featured in her element; and the person she is featured with is Billie. They are on the campaign trail of a senator, all across the state of California. They re part of a press crew that also features the wonderful John Hillerman. All of them are old veterans who think they've seen and heard it all. They've become cynical and lazy, and they believe that anyone with less experience than themselves is a sorry greenhorn who's yet to see the light of day. So one can imagine their rapport with Billie! But this show is a wonderful portrayal of the old time veterans with all their pomp and grandeur and numerous shortcomings.

Stroke:

This was Nancy Marchand's finest hour, which is saying a lot! The pressures of running The Tribune and keeping it from being sold under her by greedy relatives are slowly getting to Margaret, until she suffers a major stroke. She's left partially paralyzed and almost totally devoid of the ability to speak. It's truly devastating to see someone who had so much brilliance and strength of character suffer so, but she slowly recovers, while Lou and Charlie try to make the right decisions in her place.

More cast at the Los Angeles Tribune

Billie Newman

Billie Newman's (Linda Kelsey) role was to break the mold for women. While women in the workplace were accepted, the kind of aggressive tactics needed for hard news journalism was something that people only associated with males. Billie was (again thankfully) not a stereotyped tough-as-nails woman who was hard-drinking and always playing poker with the boys just so that everyone could see that she fit in. She brought in the new mold that depicted how a news journalist is simply a news journalist. She could still be a vegetarian, a sweet person with delicate sensibilities, and a person that wouldn't take no for an answer. She proved that she could hold her own without having to sell out her basic principles.

About Linda:
Born in Minneapolis in 1946. Linda's a slight hold-over from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, having appeared in a guest spot in "The New Sue-Ann", where she played a perky fan who tries to take over Sue-Ann's show. She also appeared as Lucy Mercer in the memorable Eleanor and Franklin mini-series, and since Lou Grant, she's appeared in numerous TV productions including several guest spots on Murder She Wrote.

Dennis Price

And finally we have "Animal": Dennis Price (played by Daryl Anderson), who probably would not have been hung with that title had he entered the series after the first year. The show apparently needed some quick references to identify the characters early on. Animal was one of the Trib's photographers, and we are led to assume that photographers are usually rather sloppy, artistic types who spend most of their time in darkrooms or being eccentric. No harm done. Animal was an engaging guy who came into his own as a character. And some of the show's nicest humour included scenes that he and Mrs. Pynchon shared together, as the two of them were extremely different in class and lifestyles, yet they shared most of the same ideals.

About Daryl:
Born in Seattle in 1951. A veteran of television, Daryl's appeared in numerous TV shows, including Melrose Place. His latest TV appearance is in The Disney Channels' feature film, The Kid, starring Bruce Willis.

There were a number of wonderful supporting players in the series too, and many fabulous guest stars. Including one show (Hollywood) where many of the great film noir and Hollywood stars like Marie Windsor, Howard Duff, Laraine Day, Margaret Hamilton and Nina Foch made appearances. One of my favourite regular guest stars was Edward Winter, who played the wonderfully venomous Colonel Flagg on the TV series, M*A*S*H. He played a whole variety of roles in this series. All effectively. And Ed Harris fans should definitely check out re-runs of this series. I believed he played a mechanic on two occasions, but there was one chilling show where he played a militant survivalist living up in the hills with his two small children and an arsenal of guns. Chilling performance!

Get to know the staff of the Los Angeles Tribune

TV show cast

Lou grant

There have been a lot of TV spin-offs, but few if any to my knowledge, that crossed from comedy to drama, with the exception of Lou Grant. I adored the character of Lou on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Ed Asner took the stereotype of the "crusty but benign" boss and fleshed him out. Lou was always good for laughs in the way he intimidated people or in the way he displayed awkwardness in personal moments of weakness. But he also was a father figure and a confidant. He was a newsman who wore that title with great pride. Truth and justice meant something to him. He was a man of fair play and responsibility. And he genuinely cared about people.

Those traits didn't really change when Lou was transferred to the new format of a drama series, as the city editor of a large newspaper. Because of that, the show was probably able to carry over many of its viewers from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But the format was indeed different. As well as being a drama, it featured hard issues that most fans of sit-coms would prefer not to face in their evening's entertainment. Those who stayed with the show despite all that did so because Lou was a person one always looked forward to seeing; like a great friend.

About Ed:
Born in Kansas City in 1929. Ed's appeared in over 200 film and television productions in the past 43 years. And he still maintains an active interest in supporting various social causes and charities. Although Lou Grant will undoubtedly be the role that he will always be most remembered for, he's appeared in numerous sit-coms since, and he's played some memorable roles in such films as Daniel (Sidney Lumet's film based on the life of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), and Fort Apache, The Bronx (about a police officers trying to do their best and survive in the violent climate of the South Bronx).

Margaret Pynchon

As far as I'm concerned, the next best character in the series was Margaret Pynchon, played by Nancy Marchand. She was the newspaper's publisher: a proud and elegant woman in her sixties who took over The Tribune when her husband had died (the show's creators chose to make her look like she was in her sixties by giving Nancy Marchand a silver wig to wear. Marchand was in fact only in her fifties during the run of the show). She was one of television's most interesting characters because, despite her air of confidence and her strong will and determination (and somewhat intimidating nature!), she was really always going by instinct. Being a woman and the wife of a wealthy, powerful man, she'd had little place in life other than in social circles. When he'd died, she had to learn the publishing ropes all on her own because she was determined to keep the kind of a caring newspaper that The Tribune was, the same. Hers was an endless struggle to keep the newspaper from being bought up from some conglomerate that would turn it into a lifestyle rag with a bit of hard news thrown in. Mrs. Pynchon was The Tribune, and vice versa.

About Nancy:
Born in Buffalo in 1928, died in 2000. It was a terrible blow to lose such a talented actress. Nancy was just soaring off into a new career turn in the popular cable series The Sopranos. She worked steadily in film, television and theatre after the cancellation of Lou Grant. And previous to that series, she'd appeared in the Paddy Chayefsky satire The Hospital (with Lou grant co-star Robert Walden), and she made her stunning television debut in the 1953 TV-film Marty, co-starring Rod Steiger.

Charlie Hume

Also in a managerial position was the newspaper's editor, Charlie Hume, played by Mason Adams. He was a very easy-going guy who was the perfect diplomat to soften the edge between some of the occasional encounters between Lou and Mrs. Pynchon. Not that Lou and Mrs. Pynchon disagreed that often, but both were infused with a strong stubborn pride. Charlie could at times seem wishy-washy, but he could be as confrontational as the next guy when the situation warranted it, and he did have to be the person who handled the most pressure. He had the thankless job of deciding what might be economically sound compared to what was morally correct, since he was responsible for The Tribune's success both as a business venture and as an important vehicle for administering truth to the public. I believe his character was modeled somewhat after Jason Robards in All The President's Men.

About Mason:
Born in New York, NY in 1919. There's little information on Mason's career before Lou Grant, but since then he's worked steadily in television and film, and doing voiceovers for various TV commercials with his golden, soothing voice. His most memorable performance post-Lou Grant was as a villain in the entertaining film FX, starring Bryan Brown.

Art Donovan

Further down the ladder was Art Donovan (Jack Bannon), assistant city editor. He (thankfully) went through a number of changes as the series progressed. Early on he seemed to be more of a character than a person. His particular idiosyncrasy was that he was something of a swinger who seemed more meticulous about his clothes than his job. He was fleshed out to be more involved in the stories being covered as the series grew on, and he developed a more realistic rapport with his co-workers. The usual relaxed banter that he shared with Lou, and the cutting humour he used on Rossi did thankfully not change over the years.

About Jack:
Born in Los Angeles in 1940. Jack's a long-term TV veteran, having appeared in dozens of series, including a regular guest spot on Petticoat Junction. He's also got acting in his veins. His father Jim Bannon was a long-time character actor in Westerns, and his mother Bea Benederet, was the voice for numerous cartoon characters; including many on the Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Hour, and her most famous; Betty Rubble on The Flintstones.

Joe Rossi
Ah, Rossi! I always had the slight notion that Joe Rossi was molded a bit on what Lou might have been like when he was a young reporter. He had that "the story is everything and anything for a story" attitude. There was always something joyfully competitive in both Rossi and Lou about being the first to post a story. Rossi's over-enthusiasm got him into a lot of hot water in the first couple of years, as he occasionally went for speed over facts. He'd also started out being so aggressive and over-confident that he didn't gel well with people on a social level. It took him a while to see news not just from the angle of getting the dirt on the bad guys, but in developing a more peripheral vision to see the myriad of ways that issues effect people. He wasn't just a verbal plumber. He gradually developed into being a caretaker, while thankfully never losing his edge of aggression.

About Robert:
Born in New York, NY in 1943. Robert's been working steadily in movies, television and theatre since Lou Grant, most memorably in Radioland Murders and in the Showtime TV series Brothers. Pre-Lou Grant he appeared in Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital with co-star Nancy Marchand. And Lou Grant fans will also get a kick seeing him briefly in All The President's Men (Woodward and Bernstein happened to be two of Joe Rossi's biggest heroes!).

Getting to know Lou Grant

Let's start with the end, shall we?. I was one of three hundred people (including author and columnist Harlan Ellison) who picketed CBS when this series was cancelled. Our efforts were of course of no effect. The series would have been cancelled had there been three thousand people protesting.

And yet this series had been one of the most critically acclaimed and heavily awarded in television history. It won thirteen Emmys in five years, including two for Best Drama Series, two for Ed Asner, and four for Nancy Marchand. And it won dozens of other entertainment awards and humanitarian awards (not many TV shows have been awarded those!). It always rated high in the Neilsons, except during football season when just in the mid-west and on the eastern coasts (who got their Monday Night Football during the same time slot as Lou Grant was scheduled), the ratings were lower. But during the off season when Lou Grant was in re-runs, the show's ratings were just as high in those parts of the countries as they were on the west coast. Normally a show with such an esteemed reputation would be moved to another time period so as not to clash with what was obviously a specific competition from another network. Why did CBS choose to cancel the series instead of moving it?

There are a number of theories. The main one is because Ed Asner was an outspoken activist in opposition to the U.S.'s support of the Junta (militaristic government) in El Salvador. Since the rebels of El Salvador received some support from the Sandanista government in Nicaragua (who in return received economic support from Cuba), most people on the political right saw anyone who supported the rebels of El Salvador as communist. Thus dozens of right-wing organizations from all over America requested to their members that they write to the sponsors of the Lou Grant show, threatening them to boycott their products if they continue to sponsor the show (this was a technique also used in the 1950s during the McCarthy era, when sponsors of live television programs would also receive such threats). Also at least one Lou Grant sponsor (Kimberly Clark, makers of Kleenex and Pampers) had factories in El Salvador, and they were quite happy to stay there under the current regime where they could continue to pay slave wages to their employees. Rumors are that Kimberly Clark itself urged other sponsors to boycott the show.

It seems silly to think that one measly TV star could cause so much angst among giant companies and whole countries, but pressure groups did have an impact, and overall many people loathed actors who publicly solicited their political ideals. Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave felt the strains of popular opinion going against them as they solicited their ideals to a public who no longer wanted to hear about the various improprieties of government or big business. Asner was also president of The Screen Actor's Guild, and was very outspoken about labor policies there. Someone had to put Ed in his place!

The ironic thing is that all of this sounds like an episode of Lou Grant!. One can just see Rossi and Billie beating down doors and scrounging up facts about how pressure groups can force a TV network to cancel a show simply because of the political leanings of its star. Not a network in the former U.S.S.R., or Romania, but here, in the United States. Or, maybe by digging down further they might even come up with ulterior motives for which the series was canceled. Did the series have a particular leftist slant? Did it cover such controversial issues as religious charlatans, book burnings, abortion, prostitution, child pornography, racism, homophobia, the negative treatment of Native Americans, Vietnam vets, Vietnamese immigrants, illegal aliens, U.S. support of military juntas, big business corruption, medical fraud, toxic dumping, Third World dumping, labor disputes, freedom of the press and other forms of censorship; not to mention past American atrocities like the blacklist, and the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps? Geez, how did this show even last five years??

No other show has dared to take on so many hard issues. We live in an age where indifference to issues has grown to an all-time high. A new form of pride has swept over the land. Being unconcerned for others or even of our own welfare (outside of our current economic status) is a sign that we are not victims of that dreaded term, "political correctness". Should one remind us of our civil duty in regarding the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves, we need only roll our eyes and spout the term "PC", and the lack of our sense of humanity need not feel the pangs of guilt or the dread of participating in what is almost always a hopeless fight. A show like Lou Grant simply wouldn't have a chance today. Occasionally I see or hear people criticize this series for being too involved with political and social issues. Apparently, they've never read a newspaper, since one can hardly make a dramatic series about running a newspaper without dealing with the content of what it is they're covering! Especially on a newspaper that actually cares about bringing these important facts to the public. Newspapers like "The Trib" are very rare now. The kind of coverage it had isn't seen in most newspapers today. It is doubly sad to say that a newspaper like The Los Angeles Tribune wouldn't have a chance today.

But the series wasn't all about darkness and dread. Despite the classification of a drama series, the series did always feature a fresh sense of humour. There were light and humourous episodes like Hoax, where Lou and Rossi and Animal are led all over a Caribbean island resort by an old "pal" of Lou's who promises him a lead on a notorious gangster. The gangster was a hoax, but they all got to wine and dine and buy nice white suits (which brought the show's funniest line when all four men are standing at the hotel's bar clad in white and Rossi said: "It looks like we're going to step out and sing"). I also remember a show where the Trib was facing a censorship issue. They obtained a list of "obscene" words that were going to be judged by their offensiveness, and various people were constantly asking each other the meanings of certain words by referring to their numbers on the list ("I know what numbers 1 through 9 are, but what are 10 and 13?"). At one point, someone even resorted to calling another person one of the numbers instead of the name. There was also some familiar Lou Grant humour from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in scenes where he struggled with the domesticity of single life, and when he would occasionally threaten Rossi in a way similar to how he had often threatened Ted Baxter.

Another interesting thing to watch out for in this series are the major changes in the newsroom. In 1977 when this series started, most of the reporters were still using typewriters (remember those?) As computers gradually made the scene, most people didn't trust them (hmm). But within a couple of years, everyone was using them. The way in which newspapers were printed also went into a more modern, automated system. Luckily, leisure suits went the way of typewriters!