This is the thirty-third in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
TV LEGEND: The head of CBS insisted on making an alternate version of Gilligan’s Island to show why his ideas for the show were better than Gilligan’s Island creator, Sherwood Schwartz.
Hot off of his stint as head writer for the Red Skelton Show, for which he won the 1961 Emmy Award for Best Comedy Writing, Sherwood Schwartz got a development deal at CBS.
His first idea for a show was Gilligan’s Island, a show about a small group of castaways living on an island, sort of a comedic version of Robinson Crusoe…
James T. Aubrey liked the general idea of Gilligan and the Skipper, but he thought that the idea of limiting yourself to a cast of only seven characters (the castaways) was far too limiting of a concept. So instead, he suggested that Schwartz take Gilligan and the Skipper…
and make them the stars of a show in which they would take people out of on three-hour charter tours and wacky hijinx would ensue. In some ways, it actually mirrored the basic format of the love boat (as different guest stars would show up each week to take a tour, and on that tour, presumably their lives would change in some manner or fashion).
Schwartz would not agree to change the show.
So instead, Aubrey actually had ANOTHER producer put out ANOTHER show that same season (1964-65), utilizing Aubrey’s idea – so basically, Gilligan’s Island without the shipwreck.
Actor Paul Ford was the “Skipper” of the show…
the titular “Baily” in the show The Baileys of Balboa…
Sterling Holloway (best known for his voice work as the voice of Winnie the Pooh) was his “Gilligan”…
there was even a Millionaire who they were in conflict with!!
But there was also Bailey’s two kids (he was a widower), including his youngest, played by a young Clint Howard!!
The Baileys of Balboa lasted just one season. Gilligan’s Island did slightly better. The show actually lasted longer than Aubrey! It lasted until the end of the 1964-65 season – he was fired in February.
TV LEGEND: All in the Family was re-named Archie Bunker’s Place once Jean Stapleton left the show.
Probably the most famous episode of Archie Bunker’s Place was the episode where Archie deals with the passing of his wife, Edith.
The scenes of Archie (who has been solemn the whole episode) discovering Edith’s slipper at the end of the episode…
causing him to break down…
were so powerful that it was no surprise that actor Carrol O’Connor won a Peabody Award for his performance.
However, the sheer fame of that episode is likely the “culprit” behind a misconception around Archie Bunker’s Place – that the show got its name (changed from All in the Family) because Edith was no longer a character on the show due to her death.
That is not the case.
It is true that after nine seasons of playing Edith Bunker, Jean Stapleton no longer wanted to do All in the Family anymore. And Norman Lear, also, was fine with the show ending after a long run at the top.
CBS, of course, did not want to lose the show, and they asked Carrol O’Connor if he could keep the show going.
He conferred with Lear, who agreed, under the condition that the show no longer be called All in the Family and the familiar opening no longer be used (with Archie and Edith at the piano that served the original series well for so many years)…
with that change in place, Stapleton actually agreed to remain an ostensible cast member of the new show, with the opening credits going…
and finally the title of the show…
Stapleton would only appear in a half-dozen or so episodes of the first season (with the show taking place mostly at the bar/restaurant that Archie bought into) as she was referred to but not shown on screen.
Stapleton finally quit at the end of the first season, although they kept referring to her offscreen at the end of the season. For the second season premiere, though, they decided to write her off of the show as having died.
Similarly to Stapleton still being on the show after the name changed, there is a misconception that Danielle Brisebois was added to the show WHEN the name changed, but she actually joined in the final season of All in the Family.
Here she is with Edith in a Season 9 episode…
Without Edith, the show went on for three more season, running a remarkable 13 years with O’Connor in the Archie Bunker role!!
Amazingly enough, the British show that All in the Family was based on, Till Death Do Us Part, later ALSO had a sequel series, In Sickness and in Health where they ALSO had to write off the wife character as dying after the first season of the sequel series (the real life actress passed away). That’s a weird coincidence!
TV LEGEND: A TV writer’s pseudonym had his own parking space at Paramount!
One of the (many, many MANY) differences between television nowadays, or heck, television over the past twenty years or so and television of the past is that the role of the writer has become a major aspect of popular culture. People know who Joss Whedon is – a show will be marketed as being written by David E. Kelley and so on and so forth.
This was not really the case forty years ago (although Norman Lear certainly began to change things in the 1970s, then guys like Stephen J. Cannell in the 80s were part of a real movement to make the creator of the show a brand (notice how Cannell had his trademark at the end of his shows, as did Gary David Goldberg with his “Sit, Ubu, sit” closer to Family Ties).
In fact, one notable TV creator specifically went out of his way to NOT get as much public credit as he “deserved.”
Roy Huggins was one of the most prolific creators in television history, creating or co-creating such legendary television programs as…
Alias Smith and Jones…
and The Rockford Files (among many, many others)…
However, for the most part, if you were just a typical television viewer, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that Roy Huggins had anything to do with the production of these programs. The Fugitive, for instance, is credited to QM Productions (Quinn Martin’s production company).
This was because Huggins, who had been taken advantage of earlier in his career in television, later worked out contracts that protected him so well that he felt no need to make a big show out of his credits. The studios, after all, knew who he was.
In fact, Huggins thought that it looked bad for a single name to be on a show too much, figuring that it would look bad to the audience (presumably the same theory behind magazines with small writing staffs giving their writers pseudonyms so it seems like they have a diverse staff of writers).
So Huggins invented a pseudonym based on the names of his three sons from his second marriage, John Thomas James.
He used the name on dozens (likely hundreds) of shows that he worked on, like this Alias Smith and Jones episode…
or this Rockford Files one…
Typically James would just be credited with the story, but occasionally “he’d” find time to write a teleplay.
Huggins decided to have some fun with the alias and try to create a persona for James. So he had “James” join the Writer’s Guild and, as part of Huggins’ contract with the studio, James even had “his” own parking space at Universal!!
Huggins later noted that he would always make a point to look at the membership guide to see if the Writers Guild still listed James as a member (they did for years – I would imagine they no longer do, with Huggins being dead for 8 years now).
It’s hard to imagine a writer ever being that modest nowadays (and for good reason, as even Huggins noted later in life that he probably would have been better off taking all the credit for himself)!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com
Tags: Alias Smith and Jones, All in the Family, Archie Bunker, Archie Bunker's Place, Baileys of Balboa, Best Writing, Carroll O'Connor, Clint Howard, Danielle Brisebois, Edith Bunker, Emmy Awards, Gilligan, Gilligan's Island, In Sickness and in Health, James Aubrey, Jean Stapleton, John Thomas James, Paul Ford, QM Productions, Quinn Martin, Roy Huggins, Sherwood Schwartz, Skipper, Stephen J. Cannell, Sterling Holloway, The Fugitive, The Red Skelton Show, The Rockford Files, Till Death Do Us Part, Winnie the Pooh