Sunday, July 12, 2015

I Remember Dick Van Patten


 So there I was in the dentist's chair when my favorite dentist stopped buzz sawing for a minute to whisper these words:
"What was Dick Van Patten really like?"
The question is not as far fetched as one might suppose.
I found how genial the round faced actor was with several set visits to Eight Is Enough over the years (it ran 1977-81)
And there were sequels and TV movies to keep the public attention.
In addition at the 50th anniversary of ABC in 1999 I was appropriately assigned to the Eight Is Enough table where Van Patten greeted me as a long lost friend.
Van Patten died a few weeks ago, aged 86, of complications from diabetes.
That night at his table was rather bizarre: all the kids and their spouses had gathered along with Van Patten and his lovely wife.
But few had worked as actors since the show went off.
Grant Goodeve had been on an afternoon soap for awhile he told me.
Willie Aames later managed a co-starring gig in Charles At Charge.
"We got typecast," explained Lani O'Grady who sat next to me --brother Don Grady toiled on My Three Sons.
She later became a TV agent like her mom but died of a drug overdose alone in her trailer in 2001.

Most of the evening I spent chatting up Van Patten.
"My TV credits go way back," he laughed. "So far back I was the teenager Nels on I Remember Mama which ran live every Friday night on CBS (1949-1957).
"I remember one time  Judson Laire who played papa forgot he was included in the last scene and walked off the set.It was live remember so Peggy Wood as mama said her lines to an open door and a stagehand responded on the other side as papa."
I reminded Van Patten when we had first met on the set in 1977 ABC had low expectations for the show.
"Oh, it wasn't at all realistic. We were presenting an idealized view of what a modern family should look like."
Biggest hurdle happened after the first season when Diana Hyland who played mom Joan Bradford died unexpectedly.
"I went off the deep end for a bit," he said. "We all did. Then the show went back into production and eventually Betty Buckley came on board as my second wife."
Buckley has since soared into a dynamite Broadway performer in such hits as Sunset Boulevard.
Van Patten told me he remainmed interested in all the bright young performers who portrayed his kids.
Later when Adam Rich (he was the youngest kid Nicholas) got into trouble with the law he went to live with Van Patten for a bit.
"Hey, I'm his second dad""laughed Van Patten who had three sons of his own.
When I told him I'd interviewed son James Van Patten on the set of his series Three For The Road Van Patten cracked :"I hope he was polite!:"
Van Patten, of course, had a huge career outside of Eight Is Enough but said being so identified as Tom Bradford"is OK with me."

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Welcome To Discovery's Shark Week

 I always thought I knew quite a lot about sharks.
But it turns out after watching the first two hour long episodes of the new BBC miniseries Shark I obviously was very ill informed indeed.
To coincide with the 40th anniversary of the movie Jaws this sumptuously produced three part BBC documentary series opens up whole new worlds.
This is must see TV and in a dreary summer of never ending reruns you can catch Episode 1 and 2 Thursday July 9 starting at 8 p.m. on of the highlights of Shark Week.
In the first episode you'll meet the "tasselled wobbegongg" which camouflages itself in the coral reef to the extent it seems to be another pierce of coral.
It can even produce an enticing piece of "bait" that looks like a small fish --when other fish come too close it gulps them down.
Then there's the lonely Greenland shark living deep in the murky depth beneath the ice pack --it can live up to 200 years and subsists on dead polar bears and seals but is almost totally blind because of a parasite which eats out its eyes.
Then we move to Australia to meet the epaulette shark which when it finds itself high and dry on a beach calmly uses its fins as legs and walks back into the water.
Or what about the mako, a species of shark so fast it can swim with ease at 46 miles per hour to catch its prey.
Or there's the black tip who gather in great packs to round up a shoals of 10 million anchovie only to collectively gobble down their victims in one gigantic underwater massacre.
It was around then that I experienced a fright attack far more terrifying than watching the mechanical star of the movie Jaws.
The production took two solid years of filming --to photograph the elusive Greenland shark required drilling through eight feet of ice in temperatures of -20 C with the divers limited to 40 minutes in the freezing water or their oxygen supply might freeze.
Yes, there is quite a lot about the great white, the superstar of the shark world.
But here he must cede center stage to a wide variety of his kinsmen who are simply elusively wonderful.
There's the red-grilled frilled shark lurking in the shadows and looking like a cobra in  contrast to the goblin shark with its built-in sonar and an extendable mouth crammed with hundreds of teeth.
Strangest of all are the hammerheads with their eyes at the tips of their broad snouts --these ones existed even before the dinosaurs.
Discovery has 22 hours of shark programming over the week.
Starting Sunday Jul 5 at 7 p.m. Daily Planety with co-hosts Ziya Tong and Dr. Dan Riskin will have dozens of shark stories. The clip that was sent me about how sharks poop is not recommended for viewers who have not yet had their dinner.
MY RATING: ****.