After last week's death of actress Eve ("Our Miss Brooks") Arden, one-time co-star Richard Crenna observed in a fond National Public Radio remembrance that she had represented one of television's first strong, career women.
Indeed she had. In the 1952-1956 series on television (following four years on the radio), Arden's teacher Connie Brooks had an important job, did not have a family and, in spite of much comic by-play involving potential suitors, did not seem particularly forlorn as a result.
Her passing (from heart failure at age 83) generated a train of thought about the presentation of females on television, and Media Monitor would like to pick readers' brains for some comments. Who are some of your favorite women performers in TV history, and why?
Some things to consider:
In another context earlier this fall, a viewer suggested that today's TV scene lacks any really big stars of the gentler gender. But taking a look at the current lineup, it is hard to agree.
What about Candice Bergen ("Murphy Brown"), all of "The Golden Girls" and "Designing Women," Sharon Gless ("The Trials of Rosie O'Neill") and Rosanne Barr ("Roseanne"), to name just a few?
Further, repertory shows such as "L.A. Law," "China Beach," "thirtysomething" and even "Star Trek: the Next Generation" feature interesting women in important roles.
It probably is true that over the years the likes of Donna Reed, Barbara Billingsley ("Leave it to Beaver"), Jane Wyatt ("Father Knows Best"), June Lockhart ("Lassie") and Florence Henderson ("The Brady Bunch"), have predominated on the tube, traditional mothers all (although Henderson was in a second marriage).
We have also seen the sex-appeal sirens such as Farah Fawcett et al from "Charlie's Angels" and Suzanne Somers from "Three's Company."
Yet one can find non-stereotypical women in numerous prime-time periods.
For instance, on "The Big Valley" (1965-69), Barbara Stanwyck was a widow running a big ranch. Also out West, Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty) ran her own saloon on "Gunsmoke."
Although memory seems to recall a pretty silly show, "Hazel" (1961-66), starring fine actress Shirley Booth as a pretty independent spirit of a certain age, and Ann B. Davis did somewhat similar roles in both "Love That Bob" (1955-59) and the aforementioned "The Brady Bunch" (1969-74).
Anne Francis as "Honey West" (1965-66) was a private eye who took over her dead father's agency. Diahann Carroll as "Julia" (1968-71) was a widowed nurse bringing up a son. Marie Wilson and Cathy Lewis were single women in a New York boardinghouse in "My Friend Irma" (1952-54). And Gale Storm was the social director of the S.S. Ocean Queen in "Oh! Susanna" (1956-59), as well as the title character earlier of "My Little Margie" (1952-55).
Of course, no list of prominent women on TV could ever leave out Lucille Ball, Gracie Allen and Carol Burnett. The last of these is still holding forth in "Carol & Company" on Saturday nights on NBC. (Amazingly, we've managed to write this whole column without mentioning personal favorite Diana Rigg of "The Avengers". . . Oops! Well, almost.)
So with the above examples as inspiration, send in some votes for favorite females of the tube. There's no limit on how many names to submit -- it would be great to recall some forgotten figures. A future column in the Saturday Sun will informally present the results.
Write: Media Monitor/Steve McKerrow, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or fax submissions to 301-332-6666.
Steve McKerrow's Media Monitor column appears Monday 8 through Friday in the Accent section of The Evening Sun.