Child Stars

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I don’t often get surprised by nostalgic posts and pictures of popular figures from our past. But this one took me aback. One, because I had never seen it before; and two, because I could identify every single kid in the picture.

Starting from the back, from left to right:

  • Billy Mumy played young Will Robinson in Lost in Space. “Danger Will Robinson!” spoken in a robot voice became an iconic phrase back in my day. 
  • Barry Livingston joined the cast of My Three Sons as the adopted Ernie after the oldest son Mike (Tim Constantine) left the show. His real life older brother, Stanley, was already on the show as one of the other three sons. The show had one of the best TV theme songs ever.
  • Ron Howard gained fame as Opie, the son of sheriff Andy Taylor, on The Andy Griffith Show. He went on to star as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. And finally as an A-list Hollywood director of such blockbusters as Apollo 13 and more recently Solo: A Star Wars Story.
  • Anissa Jones was best known for the popular sitcom Family Affair. She was cast as Buffy, the youngest of three children sent to live with their bachelor Uncle Bill when their parents died in an accident. She usually shared screen time with her character’s doll, Mrs. Beasley. Sadly, Annisa died of a drug overdose at the young age of 18.
  • Stanley Livingston played the third child, Chip, on My Three Sons. He is the real life brother of Barry Livingston who joined the cast in later years, Stanley was the only cast member (other than star Fred MacMurray) who appeared throughout the entire series’ five year run.
  • Johnny Whitaker is best known for playing Jody in Family Affair. He fell prey to drug abuse after the show ended but managed to overcome the addiction to become a certified drug counselor.
  • Clint Howard, Ron Howard’s younger brother, has been seen in multiple shows and in various roles. He had a co-starring role in the TV series Gentle Ben but is probably best known for his cameo appearances in many of his older brother’s film projects.

This picture brought back a lot of memories for me. I spent many an hour in front of the TV watching these kids practice their craft. So it was kind of like I grew up with them. I doubt I would recognize a single child actor who has a recurring role on any of today’s shows.

(PS, I couldn’t help noticing they are all holding up ties. Perhaps it was a promo shot for Father’s Day? It’s coming up. And video gifts make for a great present. A heck of a lot better than another tie. Just saying.)

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Pondering on the Ponderosa

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The opening of Bonanza, which premiered in 1959 and ran for 14 seasons, was one of the most iconic images on TV. So much so that when we were filming our western (The DVA Kid) last year in Tucson, I had wanted to imitate the effect. 

If you recall, the screen filled with a old-timey map of the Ponderosa which then burst into a ring of fire, revealing the main cast riding towards the camera. After spending much of the night unsuccessfully trying to replicate the effect digitally, I finally decided to do a little research on how they actually accomplished the feat way back in the late 1950s. Turns out the answer was both simple and obvious.  They just lit their map on fire and let a hole burn in it while the cameras were rolling. Wish I had thought of that.

Here are some other factoids about my favorite TV western:

  • Producer David Dortort originally imagined Bonanza as an Old West reinvention of the King Arthur legend… with Ben Cartwright as Arthur and his sons as the knights of his round table.
  • Bonanza was the first series to have all its episodes broadcast in living color and as such carried the biggest price tag of any other show of its time.
  • Lorne Greene (Ben Cartwright) must have loved the set. He built a replica of the Ponderosa home on a half-acre of land in Mesa, AZ. It went on the market in 2016 valued at $849,000.
  • During the first season, the actors brought on to play guest roles on the show were paid more than the regular cast members. The producers didn’t think Green, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were well known enough to draw in an audience on their own.
  • The show was almost cancelled early in its first season but as it was one of the few shows being broadcast in color and NBC was owned by RCA which was selling color tv sets to consumers, the decision was made to keep it on the air in the hopes it would spark sales. A move from Saturday night to Sunday night catapulted the show to #1 status.
  • The Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouses were inspired by the show and started by Dan Blocker who played Hoss.
  • The main characters wore the same outfits from episode to episode. This was a deliberate choice by producers so it would be easier to reuse stock footage when necessary, thereby lowering production costs.

In case you’ve forgotten, here are the opening titles and theme song to Bonanza:

 

And if you’ve missed it in the past, here’s the western we put together last summer with our opening credits:

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Spanky and Our Gang

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This is one of the framed pictures hanging behind my desk in our studio. I’ve actually lost count as to how many clients have pointed to it and said, “Is that you?”

I’m not sure if I should be offended. I would like to think that, at that age, I was certainly cuter than the guys in this picture but my clients wouldn’t necessarily know that. Neither would they know that the kids in that particular photo were born a lot earlier than I was.  What you are looking at are two members of The Little Rascals, aka Our Gang.

On the right is Spanky, played by George “Spanky” McFarland. On the left is Mickey, played by child actor Robert Blake. I still remember watching the Our Gang comedy shorts as a child… even though they predated me by decades.  Here are some random facts about this beloved piece of entertainment:

  • All told, 41 child actors appeared in over 220 short films… starting in the 1920s. Spanky and his gang didn’t come along until the second decade of this franchise’s existence. Over time, as children became too old for the franchise, they were simply replaced with younger actors.
  • Two unknown child actors both auditioned to become part of the Little Rascals cast back in the day. They were rejected. Their names were Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple.
  • Petey the dog was played by Pal the Wonder Dog who was also the model for the Buster Brown ads. When he was cast as Petey the director learned that the eye circle was made with permanent ink for the shoe advertisements. He decided to keep it on.
  • When Petey died, one of his pups inherited the role. But they painted the ring around the other eye.
  • The series was produced from 1922 to 1929 as silent short films. Afterwards, as sound was added, they entered into their most popular phase.
  • The Little Rascals characters that I remember most include: Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Petey, Buckwheat, Mickey, Froggy, and some other kids whose character names I can’t recall.
  • The theme song, “Good Old Days,” has become iconic in its own right. Written by Leroy Shield, it was inserted into the episodes in the 1930s.
  • It is said that the concept for The Our Gang comedies came to Hal Roach after a series of bad auditions from over coached child actors. He then looked out his window and saw un-coached children on the schoolyard just being themselves. That became the impetus for The Little Rascals. Kids being kids was what they were after.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-0885 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

Have Gun Won’t Travel

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According to the podiatrist, I have a heel spur in my left foot that is causing the pain and discomfort that I am experiencing. It is something that is manageable and treatable without surgery.

That is good news. I love it when the body shows itself capable of making the corrections needed to fix whatever pain is being caused. The bad news is that for the time being, I’ve got a little hitch in my gitalong. I’m moving around like Chester from Gunsmoke.

Gunsmoke was an iconic radio and TV show. It was conceived as a radio program in 1952 where it ran until 1961 starring Bill Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon. In the 60s it made the transition to television with James Arness as the star. There it ran for another 20 years making it the longest running American made television program in US history. (The Simpsons is poised to finally break that record sometime in 2019.)

Here are a few trivia facts:

  • Gunsmoke produced a total of 635 television episodes during its span, not to mention a few reunion shows that aired after its cancellation.
  • The first episode was introduced by legendary cowboy star John Wayne who encouraged viewers to “get used” to this 6’ 7” newcomer James Arness as he was going to become a big star.
  • Chester’s limp was devised by Dennis Weaver who played him. He thought it would help identify him to audiences as the “sidekick.”
  • The phrase “Get the hell out of Dodge” was said to have been popularized by the show. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City.
  • The gunfight scene that opened the show during the credits (pictured above) was shot on the same street used in the movie High Noon.
  • Gunsmoke was almost cancelled in 1967 but because CBS president William Paley and his wife were fans of the show, it was moved to a different time slot instead. The show that got abruptly cancelled as a result? Gilligan’s Island.
  • Ken Curtis, who played Festus, was an accomplished singer who once succeeded Sinatra as vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey orchestra.
  • The cast was not told that the show was being cancelled after 20 years. They found out by reading about it in the trade publications.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

Ol’ Lonely

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Remember this guy? That’s character actor Jesse White who, in 1967, was hired to play the iconic role of the loneliest man in the world – a Maytag repairman. It was a part he would continue to play in TV commercials for the next 21 years.

This iconic tv ad campaign was both smart and successful because it spoke to reliability of the Maytag product in a unique and humorous way. In the first aired broadcast, Jesse was introducing new repairmen recruits to some of the tools of his trade – a deck of solitaire cards and a book of crossword puzzles – things needed to pass the time during the interminable wait to be needed. I was reminded of this because yesterday I felt a little like “Ol’ Lonely” (how some referred to the Maytag repairman). For some reason, my phone wasn’t ringing and I only saw one client all day.

But, in actuality, I’m never really lonely… even on slower days. I am constantly surrounded by your memories. I spent much of yesterday with people opening Christmas gifts – one year after another, neatly framed in hour long segments. In the next room, scuba divers were competing for who could take the most dazzling underwater picture of exotic marine life. And all the while the sounds of children singing in school recitals filled the air around me. It is actually impossible to be bored or lonely at Home Video Studio. There’s always something going on that is memorable.

By the way, there were four other actors who have played the iconic role of “Ol Lonely” for Maytag since 1988, most notably among them Gordon Jump, best known for playing Mr. Carlson in WKRP in Cincinnati.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd. I’ll be waiting for you.