Monday, May 09, 2016

William Schallert & Patty Duke: Don't Just Stand There --- Say Something Funny

In quite a coincidence, the Grim Reaper swung his scythe back and forth, and knocked off both Patty Duke and her television dad William Schallert.

The hard-luck Patty Duke, who battled a lot of physical and mental problems, was 69 when she died on March 29th, 2016. And now (May 8, 2016) William Schallert has died at the ripe old age of 93.

I was almost going to post on Patty back in March. The excuse would’ve been that as famous as she was (thanks to “The Miracle Worker” as well as her sitcom, her autobiography and her somewhat famous kids) nobody took her singing seriously.

But now that Schallert has passed on, it’s just too hard to resist some kind of homage to both of them. And so I offer the musical advice, titles of two Patty Duke songs, “Don’t Just Stand There…Say Something Funny.”

Patty was pretty funny. She was just a teenager when she took on the very daunting job of playing TWO roles in a demanding sitcom. She played “identical cousins…different as night and say.” The rave-up theme song, which some could probably sing by heart, talked about how cousin Cathy was fairly demure but the other? “Our Patty loves to rock and roll! A hot dog makes her lose control!”

Please, don’t conjure up any smutty images. Thank you.

Yes, for some baby boomers, Patty was the ideal girl you’d want to date. Or be. Depending on who you were. Or what you were. The stand-out in her TV family (which included a tolerable brother and a pleasant enough mother) was her understanding Dad, as played with restraint and wit by William Schallert.

I had a chance to thank the great Mr. Schallert for his many and versatile TV appearances. What a genuinely nice man. One of his first TV sitcom roles was as Mr. Pomfritt, an English teacher trying to deal with Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs: “You ready, my young barbarians?” No, they generally weren’t.

Fan favorite characters Bill played include “Nilz Baris” in the infamous “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of “Star Trek,” “Carson Drew” in the “Nancy Drew Mysteries” starring Pamela Sue Martin, and the hilariously old and frail Admiral Hargrade on several “Get Smart” episodes.

So often the character actor supporting a big star, Schallert did take the lead as “Filbert,” in 1964. Unfortunately the pilot episode didn’t get picked up for a series. In 1979, Bill took on a completely different type of role: he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild. The following year, he led a strike, which lasted three months. In a strange twist, he was ousted by Ed Asner, who had complained that Bill wasn’t radical enough. After two terms, Asner stepped aside for somebody new…Patty Duke!

Patty Duke could be the subject of many paragraphs, but lets get back to her brief foray into music. When her sitcom was popular, she was naturally asked to get into the studio and start singing. It was quite a surprise when her first single emerged, the dark “Don’t Just Stand There.” It seemed like something donated by Leslie “You Don’t Own Me” Gore. It wasn’t exactly light-hearted. And neither were most of the other tunes she recorded, even the comically titled “Say Something Funny.”

Let's "Say Something Funny" about these two great entertainers, who worked so well and so often, through TV's golden era and beyond.

Say, many find “The Patty Duke Show” still funny. For many, say "Patty Duke" and there's a smile, with the sitcom being the first memory. As for William Schallert, when he had a good comedy role (he also had a big share of serious ones and even got to be a villain now and then), he made the most of it. He was very, very funny too.


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