Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! In honor of legendary character actress Mary Wickes (1910-1995), who passed away on this date 19 years ago, I want to take today’s post to share a part of her television career that is often forgotten.
Danny Thomas’ sitcom Make Room For Daddy premiered on ABC in 1953. Jean Hagen, who played his wife (and is best known today for her screamingly funny performance in Singin’ In The Rain), left the series at the end of the third season. The writers decided to kill off her character and when the show returned in the fall of 1956, it was retitled The Danny Thomas Show and Danny was now a widower. At the end of that year, Marjorie Lord joined the show, and she remained Danny’s TV wife for the next seven years, as the show moved to CBS at the start of its fifth season. The first four years (along with the last two — but that’s another story) of the sitcom have rarely been seen in syndication since the ’60s, and many viewers today are unaware that Lord was not present for the entire run of the series. But how does Mary Wickes fit into all this?
Well, during that transitional fourth season, the last on ABC (where Danny was between wives), Mary Wickes had a regular role as Liz O’Neill, Danny’s no-nonsense press agent. In addition to appearing in about half of the installments produced for Season Four, Wickes returned several times during the following year (four to be exact) before disappearing completely. While those fifth season episodes have been syndicated often (and released on DVD), most of these fourth season episodes haven’t been widely circulated in about fifty years. (However, to the delight of many fans, COZI TV has just begun airing Season Four this past August for the first time.) So in honor of Ms. Wickes, I’m going to share three installments from Season Four of The Danny Thomas Show. Two of them are repeats from the show’s original run on CBS, and one seems to have aired on KTLN (a local San Francisco channel) sometime in the past 15 years. (If you have any more from these early unsyndicated years, and I only have about 35, please contact me!)
01) Episode 104: “Liz’s Boyfriend” (Aired: 12/31/56)
Danny learns that the man posing as a suitor to his press agent Liz is interested only in selling Danny comedy material.
Written by Bill Manhoff | Story Consulting by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard
Though this is one of the few scripts built around Mary’s character, it’s interesting that she isn’t afforded the opportunity for comedy like she is in some of the other episodes I’ve seen. But, Danny and Mary have surprisingly good (non-romantic) chemistry. And with Sheldon Leonard at the helm, no wonder there are two Dick Van Dyke Show connections. Not only was a similar story later built around Sally Rogers in the aforementioned series, but watch out for a guest appearance here by old Mel Cooley himself, Richard Deacon! This is from KTLN.
02) Episode 106: “Danny’s Date” (Aired: 01/14/57)
The kids work to sabotage their father’s burgeoning relationship with an attractive young woman.
Written by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Story Consulting by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard
What impresses most about this episode (in addition to the performances of Rusty Hamer and Sherry Jackson, who are two talented kid performers — and coming from me, that’s a major compliment) is how truthful the script keeps the characters and their motivations. The family is still grieving over Margaret’s death and everything that happens is believable and poignant. Of course, it takes Mary Wickes to straighten the kids out! Oh, and guess who plays Danny’s date… Beaver’s mother, Barbara Billingsley! Original commercials included.
03) Episode 117: “Danny Meets Kathy” (Aired: 04/04/57)
Rusty has contracted the measles and Danny finds himself barred from the sickroom by Kathy, a registered nurse, until he can prove he’s already had the measles.
Written by Henry Garson | Story Consulting by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Directed by Sheldon Leonard
Probably the funniest of the three episodes in today’s post, this important installment sees the introduction of Marjorie Lord, who appears in this and the following three episodes that close the season. She’s sassy, attractive, and a good partner for Danny. In addition to an original premise and some big laughs, it’s fascinating to see her character’s origins, especially since most syndicated packages begin right after they’ve wed at the start of Season Five. As usual, Mary is divine as another of Danny’s foils. Original commercials included.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!