Sunday, July 22, 2012

William Asher

Among people of my generation, I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that "Bewitched" was on my family's must-watch list.

This was the era of shows that had outlandish or otherworldly gimmicks -- "I Dream of Jeannie," "My Mother the Car" and one that I suspect few remember, "My Living Doll," which starred Julie Newmar as an amazingly lifelike (OK, I really mean "sexy") robot named Rhoda. (I think she had on and off buttons on her back that were disguised as moles.)

The first few seasons of "Bewitched" were quite good. One key reason was Bernard Slade, who was the script consultant early on and later wrote "Same Time, Next Year. " Slade wrote one of my favorite early episodes, featuring two old pros: Marion Lorne, as Aunt Clara, and the incomparable Charlie Ruggles, as an old flame of hers who was trying to hide the fact that his skills as a warlock weren't anywhere near what they used to be. (You've probably guessed by now that Aunt Clara had similar concerns about her own powers.)

As someone who paid a lot of attention to TV credits when I was a kid (this being long before the phrase "Get a life" was coined), I noticed that many episodes of "Bewitched" were directed by someone named William Asher, who for some years also served as the show's producer. Mr. Asher, who died this month, was also the husband of the show's star, Elizabeth Montgomery, who was the main reason I watched the show.

Yes, I admit it: As a red-blooded preteen I had a crush on Ms. Montgomery. A big one. I also was not immune to the charms of Meredith MacRae and Diana Rigg. And if Ms. Rigg was anything like her character, Emma Peel, on "The Avengers," she could also protect me from evildoers.

(Hey, I said I was red-blooded. I didn't say I wasn't a wuss.)

Around this time, CBS began showing repeats of "I Love Lucy" on weekday mornings, and I eventually noticed that Mr. Asher also directed many of these shows, including the one in which Lucy and Harpo Marx re-enact the mirror scene from "Duck Soup."

(This episode also featured Lucy's "frenemy," Carolyn Appleby, played by Doris Singleton, who also died recently. )

And then the Saturday night late show began showing the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach movies, and guess who directed those? (OK, so they weren't great works of art, but they weren't meant to be, and they did provide work for folks like Buster Keaton.)

Mr. Asher also somehow found the time to direct a gangster movie called "Johnny Cool," with Rat Packers Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. -- and Ms. Montgomery.

I get tired just thinking about his output.

His career eventually slowed and he wound up directing things like "The Dukes of Hazzard," which I did try to watch once. Perhaps I was tired that night, but boy did it seem like slow going, though I was glad to see that it provided character actors like Denver Pyle and Sorrell Booke with steady paychecks.

But I am grateful to Mr. Asher for providing me with many enjoyable hours.

And while I'm at it, another pioneer TV director died earlier this year.

I mostly associate John Rich with "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "All in the Family," but during his long career he also worked on "I Married Joan," "The Brady Bunch," "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza" and even "The Twilight Zone."


And somehow I can't help thinking that when RCA first telecast that famous test pattern, the one that so many of us baby boomers remember, it was Mr. Rich's voice that could be heard saying "OK ... stand by ... cue the Indian!"

1 comment:

VP81955 said...

Since you're an Elizabeth Montgomery fan, you might be interested in this, from Photoplay in December 1940: When she was a child, her father, the fine actor Robert Montgomery, wasn't sure whether she should pursue a career in show business. In her corner was none other than one of Bob's co-stars, Carole Lombard ( And since you're probably aware of the anecdote in which Lucille Ball claimed Carole -- a friend from RKO days -- came to her in a dream and told her to go into television, William Asher can probably thank Lombard for helping him meet two of the most important ladies of his life.