It is difficult to make any examination of the time frame centered around 1962 without falling prey to the cliche, "The Era of Camelot". This idea, of course being patented by President and Mrs. Kennedy. And frankly I for one, am happy to take the bait. Everywhere you look on the cultural landscape, you can see this 'land of happy ever-aftering' in play. It's simplicity, elegance, optimism and overall sense of welcoming. The First Family's effect was inescapable.
So, from 1961-1966 we regularly dropped in on a couple with a slightly more than passing resemblance to the Kennedy's, albeit younger, more suburban, more accessible. Their names were Rob and Laura Petrie.
Since the theme song is already going through your head anyway, here is a triple screen of it showing three of the variations that were used in the opening credits.
One of the greatest comedic gifts to the late 20th century, Carl Reiner, created the show based on his life as a comedy writer for the Sid Caesar program, "Your Show of Shows". He claims that the Alan Brady character is less Caesar, and more of an amalgam of Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason. Apart from that, biographical it is. All the way down to the Petrie's address of 148 Bonnie Meadow Road, New Rochelle, NY. Evidently it was one digit off of Reiner's home address!
It's hard not to like Rob Petrie and even harder not to love the way Dick Van Dyke played him. A big career risk at the time, Van Dyke was doing "Bye Bye Birdie" on Broadway which looked like it would run forever. So should he leave the musical to go out to Hollywood and shoot a pilot that might never go anywhere? For almost 50 years, audiences are awfully glad he did.
But one brilliant creator and one terrific actor does not a legendary sitcom make. The supporting cast was, in a word, PERFECT! Rose Marie (nee Baby Rose Marie) and Morey Amsterdam (who, incidentally wrote the lyrics to "Rum and Coca Cola for the Andrews Sisters) were two Vaudeville veterans who were lightning quick and could steal a scene with the best. And Richard Deacon as the poor, long suffering (gay) Mel Cooley was at his put-upon best.
But the real surprise was young Mary Tyler Moore, who's resume was not especially, how shall we say, vast. Van Dyke was initially reticent about her because of their age difference. But to this day, whenever I think of love, it's easy to think of Rob and Laura. And as for her chops around such seasoned performers, well the kid did just fine.
It may very well be the first sitcom that would handle topical issues such as race relations and, the then relatively new, anti smoking campaign. (Impressive considering Kent cigarettes was a sponsor.) Reiner has also said that the enduring longevity of the show was due to his policy not to include any early 60's slang or fads. However, I did catch him in one slip up there:
Alright already, I admit it, that clip is here so I could drool over Jerry Lanning who played Randy Twizzle (makes my checker chubby!)
It was also the first sitcom to have a conclusion in which Rob writes a book about his experiences as a writer for the Alan Brady Show. The publisher rejects the manuscript but Alan Brady (played by Reiner) says that he will produce it as a sitcom and play the role of Rob Petrie!
If you find my comparison of the Petrie's to the Kennedy's a bit of a tough sell, well all I can tell you is this: In my three year old mind I thought they were the same people. You know, like he was President all week and had a TV show too. And on that horrible day in Nov. of '63, I was crying right along with my parents because I thought I'd never see the show again.
Posted by FELIX!