THAT’S LIFE: A Double Birthday Surprise!

Welcome to this month’s Musical Theatre Monday! Boy, have I got a treat for you Broadway fans… and you Vintage TV fans. Remember the single-season hour-long musical comedy series called That’s Life? Well, if not, let me refresh your memories…

That’s Life was broadcast by ABC at 10:00 on Tuesday nights during the 1968-’69 season. Executive Produced by Marvin Marx, who’d written for Jackie Gleason (and, of course, The Honeymooners), this show was conceived as a weekly Broadway musical for television. Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker starred as a young couple, who, over the course of the 26-episode run, went from a meet-cute to parenthood. Yet while the ambitious series was well-received by most critics — even notorious Cleveland Amory of TV Guide couldn’t help but admit, “When That’s Life is good, it’s very, very good – good enough to pay money for on Broadway. And even when it’s bad, it’s never, never horrid” — it failed to find an audience and was cancelled after one year.

I could spend a whole post analyzing why — bad time-slot, high costs, too “old-fashioned” for a viewing public that craved change — but I’ll skip all this and note: That’s Life‘s short run was a disappointment to many, for the series had a lot going for it, like the praised musical capabilities of composer Walter Marks (who mixed new material with established standards), sterling choreography by Tony Mordente, and a slew of notable guest stars, like George Burns, Tony Randall, The Turtles, Shelley Winters, Nancy Wilson, Michele Lee, Kay Medford and Shelley Berman (who recurred as Peaker’s character’s parents), Alan King, Robert Goulet, Morey Amsterdam, Peggy Cass, Mahalia Jackson, Bill Dana, Phil Silvers, Liza Minnelli, Leslie Uggams, Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Tormé, Norm Crosby, Goldie Hawn, Dick Shawn, Agnes Moorehead, Phil Harris, Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara, Louis Armstrong, Totie Fields, Chita Rivera, Wally Cox, Louis Nye, Phyllis Diller, Jack Cassidy, Jackie Vernon, and Ruth Buzzi (to name a few).

I left some stars out… including the folks featured in two episodes I’m sharing below! That’s right, I’ve got some That’s Life for YOU… well, audio clips only. For while the entire series does exist (you can see a bit of it at the Paley), all that I know to be in circulation among collectors are their home recordings. I have a handful of these complete audios, and I’m sharing — for SUBSCRIBERS (ONLY) who comment below to alert me of their interest — two this month. They’re the fifth and sixth aired episodes, broadcast October 22, 1968 and October 29, 1968, respectively. The latter guest stars Ethel Merman, whose 110th birthday would have occurred tomorrow, and the former features Betty White (in a non-singing role, sadly), who turns 96 on Wednesday! Let’s celebrate them with these excerpts…

 

First up is a clip from Episode #5, “Buying The House,” in which the young couple… you guessed it: buys a house! Guest stars, besides birthday girl Betty White, include Paul Lynde (who sings), and Sid Caesar (who plays White’s husband). Caesar gets most of the jokes in the excerpt below, but for Betty White fanatics, this is indeed a rare delight!

Next is a clip from Episode #6, “Moving In,” in which the young couple tries to prepare their new home. This means hiring a painter (Lou Jacobi), getting a loan for furniture from a banker (Terry-Thomas), and finding the right decorator (Ethel Merman, of course). La Merm sings several songs, including “Think Pink,” heard below!

 

So, join me in wishing a Happy Birthday to these two grand dames — one of Musical Theatre, the other of Television! And, remember, to hear those two episodes in full, subscribe (also: if you’re new, confirm the subscription via your email) and then comment below.

    

 

 

Come back next month for another Musical Theatre Monday entry! And stay tuned tomorrow for more Frasier!

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25 thoughts on “THAT’S LIFE: A Double Birthday Surprise!

    • Hi, Sandy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Are you a subscriber? If not, please subscribe to this blog using your preferred email address. Once confirmed, I’ll send you access to these audios.

        • Thanks, Sandy! I thought that a certain tiscali address could have been yours, but I just emailed you at your yahoo account. Is that the better one to use?

  1. Not surprisingly, I’ve not ever heard of this program as it never got to Australia. Thanks for providing the opportunity of at least hearing it. From the few minutes I’ve just now sampled,l I’d say that it would stand up reasonably well a a radio show.

    • Hi, duxkino! Thanks for reading and commenting. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing these two episodes in full.

      Ah, but we’re missing the bouncy choreography and that beautiful color!

  2. A couple years ago, the now-defunct Cinefamily in Los Angeles had an evening of clips from “That’s Life” which Robert Morse attended for a Q/A session. That’s the first I’d ever seen anything from this show, so I’m delighted to see your post devoted to it, Jackson. And–like others–I’m especially happy you included the Ethel Merman clip for her birthday. Every time I think you have to have exhausted your treasure trove of clips with la Merm, you come up with something else. I’d love to hear the audio of the two episodes, of course!

  3. I believe I was still in elementary school or just starting junior high school when this show originally and because of its late time slot I wasn’t allowed to watch on a weekly bases but when I saw it I loved it. E.J. Peaker began to stir up things in me that hadn’t been stirred before. One episode that I remember well quest started Goldie Hawn as an old flame of Robert Morses who explained that it was her kiss that parted his two front teeth.

    • Hi, Frank! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Great memory — Goldie Hawn DID appear in an episode (of which I’m soon to have an audio).

  4. I’d like to see both episodes as well. I was probably 11 or 12 when this ran, but I loved How to Succeed in Business, and I remember watching at least a couple of these episodes, so I’d love to see some again!

    • Hi, Michael! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’d like to see them as well, but alas, as mentioned above, I only have audio recordings of the series. If you’re interested in hearing these episodes in full though, please let me know and I’ll gladly send them your way!

  5. Thanks for posting about this. I was 4 years old when this show was on and I always had a vague memory of seeing Robert Morse in a musical tv show. I thought maybe it had been tv specials or just seeing how to succeed in business on tv. When I saw the pictures of E.J, Peaker it brought it all home to me. Since my dad was a real old Hollywood musical fan, it made perfect sense that we were watching this. I just remember it being very happy and fun and gave me a lot of joy. Thanks again for the great things you do.

  6. Truly a legendary series which I have vague memories of watching when I was eight years old. Precocious even then, it caused me to develop a sizable crush on E. J. Peaker. (Hey, she was only 20 some years my senior!) I’d love to near these full episodes, even if I can’t see them – and here’s an interesting little pay-back: an eBay seller is currently offering 8mm home movie footage from the Christmas episode of the show, taken by a person in the audience! Get those bids in now! https://www.ebay.com/itm/8MM-Home-Movies-That-s-Life-Christmas-Live-Filming-Robert-Morse-200ft/312065624020?hash=item48a88f87d4:g:BEcAAOSwWlJaff~I

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