Manny P. here…
When actors at movie studios revolted in an effort to get better roles, and to form their own production companies, the rise of the anti-hero became popular in Hollywood culture. We have Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis to thank for this. Humphrey Bogart and Burt Lancaster embarked on creating independent cinematic businesses, and the movie formula of a hero in the white hat was doomed. Bogie as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutinty; Robert Mitchum as Reverend Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter; and later, Lancaster in the title role of Elmer Gantry; and Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man were emblematic of the characters we actually rooted for on the big screen. And, it was destined to spill onto television.
Let me offer unique characters on the small screen that made a lasting impression during television’s Golden Age. Not heroes in a traditional sense; but rather, because they were so watchable. Their programs became part of the social fabric that led to very real revolt and change in a decade of counter-culture and tumult. Three anti-heroes of the 1960s defining the era:
~ JONATHAN FRID (BARNABAS COLLINS / DARK SHADOWS) – Originally cast in a temporary role, Frid and the daytime soap opera collaboration coincided with the the British Invasion of popular music that brought us The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Herman’s Hermits. Dark Shadows, with its gothic look, complete with harpsichords and New England fog, were not like any other daytime drama on television. And, Barnabas was a tragic vampire looking for a cure to his eternal life, and also yearned for a replacement of his beloved Josette DuPres. Like Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolfman, he wanted a less tragic fate. Frid became a heartthrob to a teen community, just for showing his fangs and using them on an array of young willing victims.
The show boasted a regal cast, including Joan Bennett as the matron of Collinswood, Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman, and the Dwight Frye-like John Karlen as Willie Loomis. The Dan Curtis production lasted five years and produced an output of 1,225 episodes. The daytime horror spawned two motion pictures and a loyal viewing audience that remains unparalleled by today’s standards. Children from schools all over the country rushed home to enjoy an afternoon offering of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and gore. Cue the groovy intro...
~ JONATHAN HARRIS (DR. ZACHARY SMITH / LOST IN SPACE) – A re-boot of the Swiss Family Robinson set in outer space, the science fiction drama boasted planetary exploration and the unknown that coincided with President John Kennedy’s promise to land on the moon by the end of the decade. The show’s popularity influenced the creation of the more popular Star Trek; and later, the Star Wars phenomenon of the next decade. The program starred Guy Williams and June Lockhart. Land of the Giants was a cheap imitation of the premise.
An unexpected boost to the storyline was the cowardice of Dr. Smith, memorably performed by Harris. His relationship with son Will Robinson, played by television veteran Billy Mumy (so wonderful in several episodes of The Twilight Zone); and a robot that resembled Robby from Forbidden Planet, was pure camp. His villainy was based on his singular desire to return to earth, the rest of the cast be damned. The truth of the matter, Dr. Smith was a precursor to the notion of capitalist greed that became abundant during the 1980s. Television audiences couldn’t wait for the clamor of Harris, and he is best remembered for quotable lines, such as: Never fear, Smith is here; and Oh! The pain, the pain…
~ PAUL LYNDE (CENTER SQUARE / HOLLYWOOD SQUARES) – If the word, snarky, had been in our linguistic lexicon, Lynde would have pioneered its premise. His brand of humor was first highlighted in Bye Bye Birdie, and he was also a playful warlock on Bewitched. However, his snark on Hollywood Squares for a decade that began in 1968 earned him the prestigious center of attention, and made the daytime game show a staple on television. It surpassed Match Game and Password in popularity, and genial host Peter Marshall was the perfect counterpoint to Paul Lynde’s zany zingers.
Other notables dispensing their silly antics included Charley Weaver, Wally Cox, and Rose Marie. But, the black soul of the program was delivered through the pithy asides made by Lynde. His untimely passing in 1982 ended arguably the most successful run of any television personality on daytime television. “X” gets the square...
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One might include as honorable mentions: Frank Gorshin’s manic Riddler on Batman, which earned his performance the only acting Emmy nod the show ever received; and Pat Buttram’s hilarious turn as con-man Mr. Haney on Green Acres. But, why quibble? They only add to the rich tapestry of the anti-hero persona that helped cement episodic television of the 1960s; a golden cascade for us to enjoy.
Until next time> “never forget”