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Natalie Schafer

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Found some interesting information about her in an article on Gillian's Island. Never knew she was married to her Forever Darling costar.

 

 

Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Lovey Howell—and allegedly only accepted the invitation to play Mrs. Howell because it meant a free trip to Hawaii to film the pilot—was a real-life millionaire. During her marriage to actor Louis Calhern, the couple had invested heavily in Beverly Hills real estate at a time when a house on Rodeo Drive could be purchased for $50,000.

 

When she died in 1991, Schafer bequeathed a large chunk of her fortune to her favorite teacup poodle (she had no children), with instructions for that money to be donated to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital after the pooch’s passing. Said hospital now has a "Natalie Schafer Wing." Rumor has it that Schafer also left a tidy sum to Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells (Mary Ann), who lived with and helped care for Natalie as she battled breast cancer.

 

Even though Natalie Schafer was in her mid-60s when Gilligan’s Island was filmed, she insisted on doing the majority of her own stunts—and never complained about jumping into the lagoon or sinking in fake quicksand. In 1965, she told “Let’s Be Beautiful” columnist Arlene Dahl that she kept in shape by swimming in her backyard pool—in the nude—and by periodically following her special “ice cream diet,” which consisted of eating nothing but one quart of ice cream (spread out over three meals) daily. She would lose three pounds in five days following that regime.

 

 

Jim Backus, who played Mr. Howell, was beloved by his castmates. In addition to being the source of endless ribald jokes and a willing coach to the less experienced actors on how to ad-lib or deliver a punch line, he was also notoriously cheap. In What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life, Dawn Wells recalled how during the show’s first season he would often invite her and Natalie Schafer out to lunch … only to realize that he had left his wallet back at the studio when the check came. Before the cast departed for summer hiatus after the wrap party, Schafer presented Backus with a bill for a little over $300—the total he owed for all those meals.

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Thanks for this.  Very interesting stuff.  Maybe Mrs. Emerson should have included swimming in the nude as part of her charm school curriculum.  And speaking of Jim Backus, I'd really like to know more about him, particularly his alleged beef with Joan Davis.  I heard he couldn't stand her.

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Thanks for this.  Very interesting stuff.  Maybe Mrs. Emerson should have included swimming in the nude as part of her charm school curriculum.  And speaking of Jim Backus, I'd really like to know more about him, particularly his alleged beef with Joan Davis.  I heard he couldn't stand her.

There's a small publisher biography "Love That Joan".   Her production company made "I Married Joan" so she was the Lady Boss.  To be fair to Joan, Lucy suffered some of the same taskmaster reputation when the whole thing rested on her shoulders in Here's Lucy.  How much of that attitude is sexism?  It's been said many times that the same behavior in a woman makes her a bitch is admired in a man.  Especially in the 50s, it may have been hard for someone to take orders from a strong woman.

That said, no one seems to have good things to say about her in the 50s.   There's certainly no chemistry between her and Backus.  Off-screen she is described (by those still around to remember) as sullen and unpleasant. And cheap: "IMJ" was a pale carbon of "ILL" as if the latter was written by"Gilligan's Island" writers. (It was.).  No attempt at logic and no schtick was deemed inappropriate whether it made sense or not.    I happened to be at a "IMJ" marathon viewing recently.  Because the production values are so slipshod (despite directors Marc Daniels and John Rich) and the scripts so awful, it's hard to appreciate, but Joan is actually quite good.  Her physical comedy was not as deft and organic as Lucy's but then again, nobody else could do it like Lucy.  She was cranking out 39 episodes a season (for the first two of the the three seasons).  "IMJ" held its own against CBS's top 10 hit "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends", not to be confused with ILL's lead-in "AG's Talent Scouts" but ABC had a surprise hit with "Disneyland" scheduled opposite both during IMJ's last season.  Ratings must have suffered because only 26 episodes were produced before calling it quits.  Joan was exhausted (and with good reason). "IMJ" was virtually the end of her career, but the 98 IMJ episodes continued to be popular in syndication years after she had died. 

Some surprising Joan Davis facts from the book:

She was immensely popular in radio in the 40s. She's never mentioned when the Golden Days of Radio are referenced.

She did another pilot "Joan of Arkansas" a couple years later.  JOA makes IMJ look good.  It seems NASA (headed by John Emery)  is looking for a woman to send into space and for reasons I can't remember, settle on a dental technician from Arkansas Joan.  It didn't sell.

She had huge problems with fires. Her Bel Air estate caught fire twice and the 2nd one destroyed all her career memorabilia.  A third fire 2 years after Joan's death killed her daughter Beverly Wills (who played her SISTER in later IMJ's), Beverly's two young sons and Joan's mother. 

A seemingly healthy woman, she died in 1961 from a heart attack.  Her age, depending on the source, was either 54 or 49.  No previous heart issues, she went to the hospital with chest pains and died in the middle of the night, a surprise to the medical staff. 

 

And speaking of Lucy-carbons that nobody seemed to like, Cara Williams of Pete and Gladys suffered an even worse fate than Joan..  Of all the Lucy wannabes, Cara came the closest.  Now THERE'S a bio I'd love to read.  Cara at 90 is still with us.

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Sign me up for the Natalie Schafer Fan Club - adore her, she's a real hoot on Gilligan's Island.  I wonder if I would even like that show if not for the women - Natalie, Tina Louise, and Dawn Wells were very appealing personalities and Natalie in particular was a deliciously scatterbrained comedienne. Mrs. Howell was just a cardboard character in the first episodes and Natalie shrewdly determined she could make it a wacky character and sent copies of the play "Dulcy" (a legendary Broadway comedy about a bird-brained broad) to the script's writers and suggested they use this sort of humor for "Lovey" and fortunately they took her advice.

 

Love the story Dawn tells in her book about how veteran performers are often humiliated by idiotic young "suits" running the studios in later years.  Some executive brought Natalie in for an interview and incredibly asked her what she had done, she haughtily replied, "You go first".

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There's a small publisher biography "Love That Joan".   Her production company made "I Married Joan" so she was the Lady Boss.  To be fair to Joan, Lucy suffered some of the same taskmaster reputation when the whole thing rested on her shoulders in Here's Lucy.  How much of that attitude is sexism?  It's been said many times that the same behavior in a woman makes her a bitch is admired in a man.  Especially in the 50s, it may have been hard for someone to take orders from a strong woman.

That said, no one seems to have good things to say about her in the 50s.   There's certainly no chemistry between her and Backus.  Off-screen she is described (by those still around to remember) as sullen and unpleasant. And cheap: "IMJ" was a pale carbon of "ILL" as if the latter was written by"Gilligan's Island" writers. (It was.).  No attempt at logic and no schtick was deemed inappropriate whether it made sense or not.    I happened to be at a "IMJ" marathon viewing recently.  Because the production values are so slipshod (despite directors Marc Daniels and John Rich) and the scripts so awful, it's hard to appreciate, but Joan is actually quite good.  Her physical comedy was not as deft and organic as Lucy's but then again, nobody else could do it like Lucy.  She was cranking out 39 episodes a season (for the first two of the the three seasons).  "IMJ" held its own against CBS's top 10 hit "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends", not to be confused with ILL's lead-in "AG's Talent Scouts" but ABC had a surprise hit with "Disneyland" scheduled opposite both during IMJ's last season.  Ratings must have suffered because only 26 episodes were produced before calling it quits.  Joan was exhausted (and with good reason). "IMJ" was virtually the end of her career, but the 98 IMJ episodes continued to be popular in syndication years after she had died. 

Some surprising Joan Davis facts from the book:

She was immensely popular in radio in the 40s. She's never mentioned when the Golden Days of Radio are referenced.

She did another pilot "Joan of Arkansas" a couple years later.  JOA makes IMJ look good.  It seems NASA (headed by John Emery)  is looking for a woman to send into space and for reasons I can't remember, settle on a dental technician from Arkansas Joan.  It didn't sell.

She had huge problems with fires. Her Bel Air estate caught fire twice and the 2nd one destroyed all her career memorabilia.  A third fire 2 years after Joan's death killed her daughter Beverly Wills (who played her SISTER in later IMJ's), Beverly's two young sons and Joan's mother. 

A seemingly healthy woman, she died in 1961 from a heart attack.  Her age, depending on the source, was either 54 or 49.  No previous heart issues, she went to the hospital with chest pains and died in the middle of the night, a surprise to the medical staff. 

 

And speaking of Lucy-carbons that nobody seemed to like, Cara Williams of Pete and Gladys suffered an even worse fate than Joan..  Of all the Lucy wannabes, Cara came the closest.  Now THERE'S a bio I'd love to read.  Cara at 90 is still with us.

 

An I Married Joan marathon?  That sounds like torture. That series makes Here's Lucy look like Shakespeare.  You're correct that there is no chemistry between Joan Davis and Jim Backus.  The show is a very poor imitation of I Love Lucy.  Whereas the chemistry between Lucy and Desi is palpable, between Davis and Backus it's nonexistent.  While Ricky Ricardo has so much charisma, Backus's characterization of Bradley Stevens is completely bland.  Where I Love Lucy has the legendary friendship and antics of Lucy and Ethel, there is no comparable counterpart for Joan on I Married Joan.  The closest you get is the occasional appearance of Joan's sister, who comes nowhere close to touching Vivian Vance's Ethel.  And try imagining I Love Lucy without the Fred and Ethel dynamic.  I Married Joan has nothing in place of a Fred and Ethel.  And yes, there's the writing.  I Love Lucy had the best, most imaginative writers; the scripts for I Married Joan, on the other hand, were unbelievable and low-brow, in the vein of Gilligan's Island.  And so much of it is unmotivated.  For example, I remember one scene where Joan is trying to swipe a picnic basket from a couple outdoors having a picnic.  Rather than sneak up behind them and quietly take the basket, she instead gets on a swing and goes back and for trying to grab the basket as she flies by, as if this is better way to get it?  And not only that, but she sits on the swing backwards, which makes it harder for her to grab the basket.  It makes no sense for her to be sitting backwards, but I guess the writers thought it would be funnier for her to be trying to grab the basket while sitting backwards.  But as a viewer, you're sitting there asking, Why the heck is she sitting backwards on the swing?  And why the heck is she even on that swing?

 

As for Joan herself, she performed her physical comedy sort of the way Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams did, which was very, very broadly.  She wasn't as loud as they were, which is a plus, but she was too broad for my tastes.  To me, that is the magic of Lucille Ball: she did this great physical comedy in a way that still kept her character in touch with reality.  She tried to keep it in check and not get too over the top.

 

As for Jim Backus, here's a little of what he had to say about Davis ("Joan's behavior was enough to make a psychiatrist hit the couch."), and her apparent resentment of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy.  He did not write too kindly about her:

 

https://books.google.com/books?id=1kKCs1QNkSsC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22joan+davis%22+jealous+of+%22lucille+ball%22&source=bl&ots=MDMXxrJZ8s&sig=9AAvwyk4VRasCXZsCqJSB1PgWFs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Y89FUoj9K-atigKu4IAY#v=onepage&q=%22joan%20davis%22%20jealous%20of%20%22lucille%20ball%22&f=false

 

Backus's account seems to shed light on the opening of I Married Joan, with the announcer proclaiming:  "The Joan Davis show: I Married Joan . . . America's favorite comedy show, starring America's queen of comedy, Joan Davis."  Given that Joan Davis was the producer of this series, I'm supposing that opening was given her blessing, even though it ran counter to the fact that the show never even placed in the top 25.

 

Sorry, I know this is supposed to be  Natalie Schafer thread, but Natalie led me to Jim Backus, who took me to I Married Joan, which was written by Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz's brother.  It's all tied in together somehow.

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Very well-written comprehensive look at Joan's TV career.  

Will continue a discussion of the "merits" of IMJ in the "other TV" thread, since this one started out being about Natalie.

An I Married Joan marathon?  That sounds like torture. That series makes Here's Lucy look like Shakespeare.  You're correct that there is no chemistry between Joan Davis and Jim Backus.  The show is a very poor imitation of I Love Lucy.  Whereas the chemistry between Lucy and Desi is palpable, between Davis and Backus it's nonexistent.  While Ricky Ricardo has so much charisma, Backus's characterization of Bradley Stevens is completely bland.  Where I Love Lucy has the legendary friendship and antics of Lucy and Ethel, there is no comparable counterpart for Joan on I Married Joan.  The closest you get is the occasional appearance of Joan's sister, who comes nowhere close to touching Vivian Vance's Ethel.  And try imagining I Love Lucy without the Fred and Ethel dynamic.  I Married Joan has nothing in place of a Fred and Ethel.  And yes, there's the writing.  I Love Lucy had the best, most imaginative writers; the scripts for I Married Joan, on the other hand, were unbelievable and low-brow, in the vein of Gilligan's Island.  And so much of it is unmotivated.  For example, I remember one scene where Joan is trying to swipe a picnic basket from a couple outdoors having a picnic.  Rather than sneak up behind them and quietly take the basket, she instead gets on a swing and goes back and for trying to grab the basket as she flies by, as if this is better way to get it?  And not only that, but she sits on the swing backwards, which makes it harder for her to grab the basket.  It makes no sense for her to be sitting backwards, but I guess the writers thought it would be funnier for her to be trying to grab the basket while sitting backwards.  But as a viewer, you're sitting there asking, Why the heck is she sitting backwards on the swing?  And why the heck is she even on that swing?

 

As for Joan herself, she performed her physical comedy sort of the way Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams did, which was very, very broadly.  She wasn't as loud as they were, which is a plus, but she was too broad for my tastes.  To me, that is the magic of Lucille Ball: she did this great physical comedy in a way that still kept her character in touch with reality.  She tried to keep it in check and not get too over the top.

 

As for Jim Backus, here's a little of what he had to say about Davis ("Joan's behavior was enough to make a psychiatrist hit the couch."), and her apparent resentment of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy.  He did not write too kindly about her:

 

https://books.google.com/books?id=1kKCs1QNkSsC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22joan+davis%22+jealous+of+%22lucille+ball%22&source=bl&ots=MDMXxrJZ8s&sig=9AAvwyk4VRasCXZsCqJSB1PgWFs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Y89FUoj9K-atigKu4IAY#v=onepage&q=%22joan%20davis%22%20jealous%20of%20%22lucille%20ball%22&f=false

 

Backus's account seems to shed light on the opening of I Married Joan, with the announcer proclaiming:  "The Joan Davis show: I Married Joan . . . America's favorite comedy show, starring America's queen of comedy: Joan Davis."  Given that Joan Davis was the producer of this series, I'm supposing that opening was given her blessing, even though it ran counter to the fact that the show never even placed in the top 25.

 

Sorry, I know this is supposed to be  Natalie Schafer thread, but Natalie led me to Jim Backus, who took me to I Married Joan, which was written by Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz's brother.  It's all tied in together somehow.

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