A lot of movie stars went over to television after their big screen careers fizzled. I’m sure they were happy for the steady work and paycheck, but at Hollywood Dreamland, we prefer to remember them in their prime and without commercials… Going on three generations now, these performers are best known for their TV roles more than anything they accomplished while movie stars. But I came to the realization that my immersion in classic film is such that I now associate them with their earlier movie careers rather than their often tepid roles in TV sitcoms. Besides the fact that I detest 99% of all sitcoms, I think their work on TV pales considerably to their work in film.
Lucille Ball- Yes, she’s positively immortal to television viewers as the squawking Lucy Ricardo/Carmichael in those two perpetually rerun sitcoms, but whenever I see her in my favorite Golden Age movies--Stage Door (1937) and The Dark Corner (1945), I still wonder how stardom eluded her on the big screen. She was beautiful, too.
Fred MacMurray- To many he will be cardigan-wearing, pipe-smoking patriarch Steve Douglas in the My Three Sons sitcom, but to me he’ll always be Carole Lombard’s co-star in the four films they did together in the 1930s. And let’s not forget MacMurray’s great role as murderous insurance salesman Walter Neff in 1944’s Double Indemnity. He also turned in good performances as weasly heels in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and The Apartment (1960). MacMurray is the star who initially inspired this entry. I was surprised to see him as such an engaging character in the 30s and impressed with his playing spineless villains, too. Two of MacMurray's future My Three Sons co-stars, William Frawley and William Demarest worked with him in movies during the 1930s. By the way, MacMurray is the dashing fellow pictured in this blog's masthead.
Agnes Moorehead- One of the great character actresses. Take a look at her 1940s filmography for the excellent films she’s in. Moorehead was best when she played a malicious bitch. I love her in those movies, especially 1947's Dark Passage. But Agnes Moorehead week-in-and-week-out is just too much for me to take. As Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery’s meddlesome mother, Endora ( “Endura” at my house) she’s as irritating as Hell.
Donna Reed- Sweet, pretty, "Girl Next Door" Reed is a site to behold in her various film appearances, whether it's in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Human Comedy (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and especially her Oscar-winning role in From Here To Eternity (1953), Reed was wonderful. As TV’s Donna Stone in The Donna Reed Show, she’s just blah.
Loretta Young- She did some pre-Code films that stir my blood, and won an Oscar for 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter, then she got real goody-goody and took that routine to TV in a wildly successful program.
Andy Griffith- Griffith radiated sleaze in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) and charm in No Time for Sergeants (1958). Then it was off to Mayberry, California---uh, North Carolina to mete out his brand of homespun justice to the likes of Gomer, Goober, and Howard Sprague. And Warren. Let's never forget Warren, so that he never happens again.
Raymond Burr- Burr was often cast as a brutal “heavy” in film, but went on to true fame as lawyer Perry Mason and wheelchair-bound police detective Robert Ironside in two long-running shows—with great themes, I might add. It is Burr’s hands clenched in hatred from 1947's Desperate that are seen in the intro montage to Turner Classic’s Film Noir program, Darkness at Dawn.
Robert Young- Another “boy next door” type in the 1930s, he’s best remembered today as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D., in addition to a series of Sanka decaf coffee commercials.
So there you have it. Some of the movie stars that did some great work on the Silver Screen only to have it erased by weekly exposure and subsequent decades-long reruns to achieve pop culture immortality, but we at Hollywood Dreamland prefer to remember them as they were, larger than life on the big screen.