‘Hey Blondie!’ Dagwood, Blondie, Mr. Dithers and a victimized postman return for a stab at a TV revival of the 1940s series from Chic Young’s never-ending comic strip. It’s not bad, with Arthur Lake clowning up a storm and Pamela Britton a charming new embodiment of a character who began as ‘Blondie Boopadoop.’ It’s the entire one-season series.
Blondie The Complete 1957 Television Series
1957 / B&W / 1:33 TV aperture / 26 x 30 min. / Street Date September 25, 2018 / 39.99
Starring: Arthur Lake, Pamela Britton, Stuffy Singer, Florenz Ames, Ann Barnes, Harold Peary, Hollis Irving, Elvia Allman, Lucien Littlefield.
Cinematography: Lothrop B. Wort
Original Music: Mahlon Merrick
Written by John L. Greene, George Beck, George Carleton Brown, Jo Conway, Frank Gill Jr., Gordon T. Hughes, Don Nelson, Jay Sommers, Warren Spector from characters created by Chic Young
Produced by William Harmon
Directed by Hal Yates, Paul Landres, Gerald Freedman
Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie is closing in on ninety years of existence, and is still a solid regular item in most newspapers. A while back, writing about Columbia’s 1940s Blondie movie series, I realized that the 1965 movie How To Murder Your Wife, about a comic strip artist played by Jack Lemmon, may have been inspired by Chic Young. Jack Lemmon’s artist gets married, and changes his action-man ‘Bash Brannigan’ strip to a domestic situation comedy called ‘The Brannigans.’ Thirty years before, cartoonist young also had to re-format his Blondie strip, to change with the times.
Chic Young first launched Blondie in 1930 as a typical ‘flapper’ cartoon built around a sexy female. ‘Blondie Boopadoop’ runs around with a millionaire playboy named Dagwood Bumstead. Three years later, when the Great Depression had put the problems of carefree rich people out of fashion, Young regrouped by having his cartoon characters get married. Disinherited by his disapproving family, Dagwood is forced to take a workaday job like everybody else. The previously frivolous Blondie became a practical housewife, while the straight man Dagwood became the clown, colliding with the mailman and fighting with his boss Mr. Dithers. The Bumsteads had children, that slowly grew up and then froze for half a century when they reached High School. Eighty-eight years and innumerable 1 a.m. sandwiches later, Alexander and Cookie are still older teens or young adults. Daisy the Dog has lived approximately 1,056 dog years. The strip was continued by Chic Young’s son; it has a dedicated website.
Blondie was the franchise that kept on giving. A long-running radio show and a Columbia film series were initiated in 1939; comic actor Arthur Lake played Dagwood in both. Lake had filled supporting roles whenever an excitable, funny young guy was needed; he’s a slapstick elevator operator in Hal Roach’s 1937 Topper. The multi-talented Penny Singleton was an even bigger success as Blondie, the bright attractive housewife trying to survive middle-class life with a scatterbrained husband. Singleton may have regretted the typecasting but had a good attitude, while Lake embraced the role entirely. In the years before TV shows, serial movies built up a loyal theatrical fan base and the series averaged more than two features a year. When Columbia shut down Blondie in 1943, exhibitor demand made them continue the series, for five more years.
The rights to the characters, and apparently the movies as well, eventually reverted to the King Features Syndicate. When the movie are shown on TV now, the original Columbia title sequences have been replaced with tacky 1960s musical title animation. The owners tried out a TV show pilot in 1954 with a different Dagwood (Hal Le Roy) and then went all out for a one-season series in 1957. Just as 1950s audiences wouldn’t accept anybody but Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger, the 52 year-old Arthur Lake came back as Dagwood. Replacing Penny Singleton was the bright and funny Pamela Britton, of MGM’s Anchors Aweigh and excellent opposite Edmond O’Brien in the grim film noir D.O.A. (1949).
ClassicFlix’s disc set Blondie The Complete Television Series skips the earlier pilot but gives us all 26 half-hours of the show’s one season, which originally ran from January to July of 1957. Most of the elements of the film series are repeated. Lake’s Dagwood is still an enthusiastic, excitable company man. This time Mr. Dithers (Florenz Ames) is an architect with a bad heart; instead of fighting with his employee, Dithers mostly suffers because of Dagwood’s blundering mistakes and inability to concentrate on work. Britton’s Blondie of course mostly stays home, hoping Dag will get a raise and occasionally worrying that some other woman will catch his eye.
The fairly young kids Alexander (Stuffy Singer) and Cookie (Ann Barnes) are also unconvinced of their father’s sanity. They react broadly to the slapstick action, and their dialogue is salted with mildly sarcastic remarks. Cookie can be relied upon for an emotional response, while Alexander often remains a little aloof. Also involved are an entire troop of little dogs, all Bumstead pets subordinated to the Cocker Spaniel Daisy, who figure in cute gags responding to Dagwood’s antics, or all piling through the dog door on command. A special trainer is credited. The dogs never seem to be underfoot except when a gag is needed.
The same running gags from the movies and comic strip are used. In the first show the whole family lines up in the hallway so that Dagwood can bid farewell while running out the door. He then collides with the mailman (Lucien Littlefield). That ritual always happens off screen, indicated by a cut to letters flying in the air, followed by a cut-back to the letter carrier lying on the ground. The collision happens in one form or another in a majority of the episodes. Since Littlefield is an elderly man, Dagwood’s recklessness seems more murderous than mirthful.
Dagwood’s slapstick antics wax and wane: he gets himself entangled in kitchen tools and at work regularly performs wild flailing pratfalls. But standard sitcom dialogue misunderstandings carry much of the humor. Mrs. Dithers (Elvia Allman, from show number three forward) shows up for coffee, and the kids snipe at her behind her back. Like Blondie, she’s easily convinced that her husband is unfaithful. The neighbors the Woodleys figure into most shows as well. Harriet Woodley (Hollis Irving) is sort of an Ethel Mertz foil for Blondie, alternately calming her down or inflaming her suspicions regarding whatever conflict is afoot. Herb Woodley is played by Harold Peary, a comic with a distinctive chuckling laugh — 1950s adults would have known him as a radio personality, and the star of several ‘Great Gildersleeve’ comedies from RKO in the early 1940s. In the comic strip Woodley mainly borrows Dagwood’s tools or connives with him to sneak out from under the wives’ supervision; here in this TV show Herb mainly reacts to Dagwood’s antics (with the laugh) or listens to Harriet’s recap of the latest crazy events at the Bumstead house next door.
The guest star roster isn’t exactly stellar, but some notables do appear. The most fun is the sexy Barbara Nichols (Sweet Smell of Success, Dear Heart), who dominates one episode as a publicity-seeking movie star that pretends she was Dagwood’s high school sweetheart. The show “The Glamour Girl” uses some funny flashbacks, not normally part of the format. Carried for three or four episodes is a fill-in secretary for Mr. Dithers, played by ’50s cult starlet Pamela Duncan, who was Mike Hammer’s Velda in My Gun is Quick, and a sexy biologist in Roger Corman’s immortal Attack of the Crab Monsters. Duncan’s sexy front office girl naturally loses her skirt and has thrown her arms around Mr. Dithers, just as his wife Cora comes in.
Remember George ‘Foghorn’ Winslow, the precociously observant tyke with the gravelly monotone who told Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that she was ‘quite a woman?’ His career quickly fizzled as he grew up; here he inhabits a trio of shows as Alexander’s slightly taller friend. The no longer pint-sized Winslow’s character is given the name ‘Foghorn’ and he still has the distinctive voice but not quite the same appeal. The writers try to give him pointed, somewhat rude remarks, but Winslow consistently underplays. They never feel rude enough to create tension — not like Ken Osmond’s marvelously sycophantic, insulting Eddie Haskell in the concurrent series Leave it to Beaver.
Also getting plum guest spots are Judi Meredith (Jack the Giant Killer), Gregg Palmer (From Hell It Came), Alan Reed (the voice of Fred Flintstone) and the ubiquitous William Schallert (practically every ’50s sci-fi movie ever).
Here’s ClassicFlix’s full list of episodes. A bunch of episode titles are different in the IMDB logs, so be forewarned.
Blondie sends a fake telegram to Dagwood making him believe he’s inherited a large sum of money.
It’s for the Birds
Mr. Dithers is hospitalized and leaves Dagwood in charge of a supermarket project, and nesting birds cause a delay.
The Folks Who Came to Dinner
To save money while having their house redecorated, the Dithers’ move in with the Bumsteads.
The Other Woman
Dagwood takes his lunches with an elderly librarian, but is suspected of seeing another woman.
Home Sweet Home
Tired of doing repairs on their house, Dagwood is determined to sell.
Get That Gun
Mr. Dithers enlists Dagwood to help him buy a new gun for his collection.
Blondie and Harriet use lessons of international relations to resolve a fight between Dagwood and Herb.
The Quiz Show
To impress Alexander, Dagwood applies to compete in a nationwide quiz show.
Husbands Once Removed
Blondie finds out that she hasn’t a certificate to prove that she and Dagwood are married.
The Payoff Money
Blondie and Harriet inadvertently take possession of a bundle of stolen loot.
Hard Luck Idol
A bad luck idol shows that everybody seems to be superstitious.
Oil for the Lamps of Blondie
The Bumsteads return a gift from the Dithers, an ugly lamp — and then have to find a way to retrieve it.
Blondie the Breadwinner
Odd circumstances result in Blondie taking over Dagwood’s job with Mr. Dithers.
The Glamour Girl
For a publicity stunt, a famous actress pegs Dagwood as her long-lost love, an irresistible ladies man.
The Rummage Sale
Mr. Dithers suspects that his wife Cora is a disturbed kleptomaniac.
A mix-up results in Mr. Dithers and Dagwood trading places in the office.
Blondie and Dagwood scheme to help the love-sick Alexander win a girl’s affection.
Made to Fire
The new maid might be working with a gang of jewel thieves.
Dagwood wants to redecorate his living room, but there’s no consensus on what style to use.
Blondie moonlights as a nightclub singer, which throws Dagwood into a panic.
A spy hides secret government microfilm in Dagwood’s hat.
Cupid’s Question Column
Blondie takes over an advice column, and finds herself answering Dagwood’s letters.
J.C. reneges on his promise, but a kind and worldly tramp helps Dagwood to outfox the unscrupulous Mr. Dithers, over a broken promise to give Dagwood fifteen shares of stock.
Follow That Man
Mr. Dithers hires a detective to see if Dagwood is embezzling money.
Dagwood and Blondie find some last-minute entertainment for Alexander’s 16th birthday party..
A new neighbor wants Dagwood to dig for oil on his property.
Why wasn’t the ’57 Blondie TV show a hit? I would guess that it seemed dated when compared to some of the hotter items on TV. The families of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best had more contemporary dynamics (and more interesting children), while Blondie still aligned with an older, more rigid formula. The surprise is that Arthur Lake, although fatter, doesn’t seem too long in the tooth for Dagwood, and is just as polished a nitwit as ever. Pamela Britton is a fine Blondie, but she likely couldn’t compete with memories of Penny Singleton, who always seemed too good for the role.
I watched eight episodes and checked in on others to see certain actors; beyond the mailman-collision gag I didn’t find the show too repetitious, although the dysfunctional Dagwood-Dithers relationship didn’t appeal. I noted that we’re never admitted into the Dagwood bedroom, where half the comic strip seems to play out. Admit it — you’ve at least once pondered what would happen if Dagwood realized how sexy Blondie is, and tried something stronger than a kiss. Nope, there’s an entire dimension of human relationships in ’50s TV that’s rarely touched upon. The big family shows of the day still reward close viewing, though — I do believe that Jane Wyatt and Barbara Billingsley occasionally sneaked some randy attitudes into their reactions to otherwise squeaky clean situations. [Note, 11 13 18: I’ve been informed that the Bumstead bedroom does make an appearance in three or four episodes…]
ClassicFlix’s DVD of Blondie The Complete 1957 Television Series looks great. With the 26 episodes spread across a full four discs, the bit rate complements the good transfers. I dropped in on at least 14 episodes, and the quality was consistent, even in the title sequences, which start with comic cards over which Dagwood is heard yelling, “Hey Blondie!” I assume that intro was a staple on the radio show.
Each show is indeed close to thirty minutes long; the networks didn’t start piling on the commercials until much later, reducing a 28-minute show to 22 minutes. I once helped Robert S. Birchard cut down episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, mostly shortening the brief kiss-off epilogs before the final titles. Nickleodeon would later ruin everything by time-compressing shows, keeping all the content but speeding things up. Anybody with a brain can detect the manipulations, which ruin timing and makes music cues sound strange. The final insult came when I’d buy a TV show on disc, where time limits were not necessary. Sometimes the versions on disc were time-compressed as well.
The Blondie episodes have not been altered in this way.
ClassicFlix annotates the episodes well, indicating when characters/actors enter and exit the series continuity. I was a little too young to get heavily involved with most TV shows until 1960 or so but remember at least the title sequences of many — and this one escaped me. I fell in love with an ancient Wally Cox show called Mr. Peepers when a disc set was released, so I feel ready to sample more.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Blondie The Complete 1957 Television Series
TV Show: Good
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case with four DVDs.
Reviewed: November 10, 2018
Text © Copyright 2018 Glenn Erickson