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!