Monday, March 14, 2016
This Week in Television History: March 2016 PART III
Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
March 18, 1981
The Greatest American Hero flew onto the small screen for the first time.
The series that aired for three seasons from1981 to 1983 on ABC. Created by producer Stephen J. Cannell, it premiered as a two-hour pilot movie on March 18, 1981. The series features William Katt as teacher Ralph Hinkley ("Hanley" for the latter part of the first season), Robert Culp as FBI agent Bill Maxwell, and Connie Sellecca as lawyer Pam Davidson.
The series chronicles Ralph's adventures after a group of aliens gives him a red suit that grants him superhumanabilities. Unfortunately for Ralph, who hates wearing the suit, he immediately loses its instruction booklet, and thus has to learn how to use its powers by trial and error, often with comical results.
The main character's name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but after the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. on March 30, 1981, the character's last name was changed to "Hanley". For the rest of the first season, he was either "Ralph" or "Mister H". In the episode where Ralph is given a promotion and his own office space, we see the name "Ralph Hanley" on the door plaque. At the start of season two, the name had changed back to Hinkley. In the season three episode "Live At Eleven", Ralph is given a name tag at a political rally with his last name spelled "Hunkley" and Ralph gives up saying "it's close enough for politics".
March 20, 1931
Hal Linden is born Harold Lipshitz in New York City.
He is the youngest son of Frances (née Rosen) and Charles Lipshitz, a Lithuanian Jew who immigrated to the United States in 1910 and later worked owned his own printing shop. His older brother, Bernard, became a professor of music at Bowling Green State University. Raised in The Bronx, Linden attended the High School of Performing Arts and went on to study music at Queens College, City University of New York. He later enrolled in City College of New York where he received a Bachelor of Arts in business.
During his youth, Linden aspired to be a big band bandleader. Before embarking on a career in music, he decided to change his name stating, "'Swing and Sway with Harold Lipshitz' just didn't parse." During the 1950s, he toured with Sammy Kaye, Bobby Sherwood, and other big bands of the era. Linden played the saxophone and clarinet and also sang. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1952 where he was sent to Fort Belvoir and played in the United States Army Band. While in Fort Belvoir, a friend recommended that he see the touring production of Guys and Dolls playing in Washington, D.C. After seeing the show, Linden decided to become an actor. Linden found success on Broadway when he replaced Sydney Chaplin in the musical Bells Are Ringing. In 1971, he won a Best Actor Tony Award for his portrayal of Mayer Rothschild in the musical The Rothschilds.
In 1975, Linden landed the starring role in the ABC television police comedy Barney Miller. Linden portrayed the titular captain of the beleaguered 12th Precinct in bohemian Greenwich Village, dealing with mordant wit, compassion and occasional frustration at the comedy-of-manners misfits brought in for arrest or questioning, or who came to lodge a complaint or stop by on bureaucratic business or to just say hi. He earned seven Emmy Award nominations for his work on the series, one for each season. Linden also earned four Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. The series aired from 1975 to 1982. During the series' run, Linden also hosted two educational series, Animals, Animals, Animals and FYI. He won two special Daytime Emmy Awards for the latter series. Linden won a third Daytime Emmy Award for a guest starring role on CBS Schoolbreak Special in 1995. Linden has since continued his career on the stage, in films and guest starring roles on television. He released his first album of pop and jazz standards, It's Never Too Late, in 2011.
After Barney Miller ended its run, Linden appeared in several television films including I Do! I Do! (1982), the television adaptation of the musical of the same name, and Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land (1983). In 1984, he co-starred in the television film Second Edition. The film was intended to be a series but was not picked up by CBS. The following year, Linden portrayed studio head Jack Warner in the television biopic My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Legend of Errol Flynn.
Linden returned to episodic television in the NBC series Blacke's Magic in 1986. He played the lead character, Alexander Blacke, a magician who solves mysteries with the help of his assistant Leonard (Harry Morgan). The series was canceled after 13 episodes. In 1988, he co-starred in the romantic comedy A New Life, directed by Alan Alda. In 1992, Linden tried his hand at television again with the leading role in the comedy-drama series Jack's Place. In the series, Linden portrayed Jack Evans, a retired jazz musician who ran a restaurant that was frequented by patrons who learned lessons about love. The show was often compared to the The Love Boat by critics as it featured a different weekly guest star. The series premiered as a mid-season replacement but did well enough in the ratings for ABC to order additional episodes. Viewership soon declined and ABC chose to cancel the series in 1993. The next year, Linden appeared in the CBS sitcom The Boys Are Back. That series was also low rated and canceled after 18 episodes. In 1995, Linden won his third Daytime Emmy Award for his 1994 guest starring role as Rabbi Markovitz on CBS Schoolbreak Special.
In 1996, Linden had a supporting role in the television film The Colony, opposite John Ritter and June Lockhart. The role was a departure for Linden as he played the villainous head of a home owner's association of a gated community. He continued his career in the late 1990s and 2000s with guest roles on Touched by an Angel, Gilmore Girls, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Hot in Cleveland. He also narrated episodes of Biography and The American Experience, and voiced the role of "Dr. Selig" on the animated series The Zeta Project. In 2002, Linden received a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars.
Linden continues to have an active stage career. He appeared in the Toronto production of Tuesdays with Morrie in 2009. In July 2011, he appeared opposite Christina Pickles in the Colony Theatre's production of On Golden Pond. Linden also starred in Under My Skin, which premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse on September 19, 2012 and ran through October 2012. In 2013, Linden guest starred in an episode of comedy series The Mindy Project.
After the success of Barney Miller, Linden decided to revive his music career with a night club act. In his act, Linden plays the clarinet, performs pop and Broadway standards backed by a big band, and discusses his life and career. He has continued touring with various night club and cabaret acts since the early 1980s.
In March 2011, he began touring with his cabaret show An Evening with Hal Linden: I'm Old Fashioned. The show, which ran through 2012, was later released on DVD. In April 2011, Linden released his first album, It's Never Too Late. The album features a collection of jazz, Broadway and pop standards that Linden began recording around the time he was touring in the early 1980s. Due to a lack of interest, he shelved the songs. Linden decided to finish the album on the advice of his tour booker. Linden is the spokesperson for the Jewish National Fund, a position he has held since 1997. Linden met dancer Fran Martin while doing summer stock in 1955. They married in 1958 and had four children. Martin died in 2010.