Rerun Junkie–They Didn’t Have Native Americans Back Then

As I discussed in a previous post, all of your favorites are problematic. All of my favorites, too.

One problematic aspect of reruns that’s probably the most glaring is the racist casting. White actors playing non-white roles has been common place for decades and was probably at its most popular in the Westerns of the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s. That’s right. Those Native Americans were not actual Native Americans. Those Mexicans? If they had a speaking role, they were most likely not actually Mexican.

John Saxon played a Native American on Bonanza and a Mexican on Gunsmoke. Martin Landau played a Mexican on both The Rifleman and The Big Valley. Michael Ansara not only played a Mexican in a couple of episodes of Rawhide, but he was frequently cast as a Native American, including starring in his own short-lived series called Law of the Plainsman playing Deputy Marshal Sam Buckheart, a character he originally played on The Rifleman.

Sadly, one of my favorites, F-Troop, was notorious for casting white actors as their Hekawi tribe members. Frank DeKova, Don Diamond, Edward Everett Horton (who also played a Native American chief on an episode of Batman), J. Pat O’Malley, Jamie Farr, hell even Don Rickles all played Native Americans. It seemed comedic timing was more important than racial accuracy. Not that there aren’t funny Native Americans; but back then, they didn’t even bother to look for them.

Of course, Native Americans and Latinos/Latinas weren’t the only ones having white actors step in for them. Boris Karloff played an Indian Maharaja on an episode of The Wild Wild West. Wende Wagner played a native Hawaiian on an episode of Perry Mason, and her aunt in that same episode was Miriam Goldina, a native Russian. Jim Backus’s wife, Henny, played a native mother on an episode of Gilligan’s Island. Spoiler alert! Russ Grieve, who played her native husband, and Mary Foran, who played her native daughter, weren’t natives either.

Two of the most curious examples of racist casting I have ever seen happened on two of my favorite reruns, both of which I’ve mentioned before, but I’m going to mention again because they are worth mentioning at every opportunity.

In an episode of Hawaii Five-O called “Samurai”, Ricardo Montalban played a Japanese criminal. Yes, you read that correctly and aren’t you glad that you did. In the second oddest case of yellow face I’ve ever seen (we’ll get to the first one very soon), a very Mexican Ricardo Montalban had his eyes artificially slanted to play a Japanese man. Like, his accent didn’t change at all. And whatever they did to his eyes made him look less Japanese and more like an eye lift gone wrong. The entire effect is very disconcerting and I highly recommend you try to catch that episode because descriptions and pictures don’t do it any justice.

To make an already confusing casting decision even more curious, Hawaii Five-O was typically good at casting Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to play Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

The truly oddest case of racist casting I’ve ever seen, however, belongs to the pilot episode of The Wild Wild West called “The Night of the Inferno”. In this episode Victor Buono played Juan Manolo aka Wing Fat.

Yes, let me break that down for you.

White actor Victor Buono played a Mexican man in disguise as a Chinese man. It’s basically a turducken of racist casting and I can’t help but gawk at it because I have no idea how to even begin to process it. I suppose if you’ve ever watched the series, then you can agree that at the very least, it sets you up nicely for some of the more bonzo episodes of the show.

Thankfully, this sort of whatthefuckery is largely in the past and though racist casting does still happen (whitewashing Asians and Pacific Islanders is still unnervingly common), the backlash is swift and loud. A new normal has been and is being established and even if I don’t watch current shows all that much, I’m still all for it.

After all, one day those shows will be reruns.

Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Victor Buono

Oh, Victor Buono, how do I love you? Let me count the ways.

Funny, campy, witty, clever, a man whose presence was more than his size, this lover of Shakespeare dedicated himself to his craft in a way that let him fully embody a character, even take it over the top (and in some cases way over the top), yet never take himself too seriously nor lose credibility with the audience in the process.

Obviously, if Batman was the only rerun I’d ever seen Victor Buono in, that would be enough. His King Tut is my favorite Batman villain and with good reason. He embraces the camp of the show, revels in it. He bellows, he insults, he bosses, he throws tantrums. He goes from joyful to angry and back again. He thinks torture is good clean fun. He is royalty. Every line is quotable and so much of it is in King Tut’s delivery. My personal favorite is “My queen is disloyal, my handmaiden is a traitor, and everybody’s being mean to me!” It’s delivered as only Victor Buono can.

Though he never made it onto The Green Hornet, Mr. Buono did guest start in two other short-lived series starring Van Williams, Burbon Street Beat and Surfside 6.

And Batman wasn’t the only show in which he was a recurring character. He also did six episodes of the short-lived (I’m sensing a theme) series Man from Atlantis and six episodes on the longer-lived series Vega$.

He also did a couple of episodes as Count Manzeppi on my beloved The Wild Wild West (including an episode with Richard Pryor in one of his first TV acting appearances), however, Victor Buono also appeared in the pilot episode of the series in the bizarre role of a Mexican in disguise as a Chinese man. I will repeat that because it bears repeating. White Victor Buono played a Mexican in disguise as a Chinese man.

The ’60s were wild.

Speaking of the ’60s, those were busy guest star times for Mr. Buono. He appeared on Westerns Sugarfoot, The Rebel, and Daniel Boone; had some watery fun on Seahunt and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; went undercover on The Man from UNCLE, The Girl from UNCLE, and I Spy; found himself on various sides of the law in Hawaiian EyeThe Untouchables, 77 Sunset Strip, and Perry Mason; and  he found time to thrill on Thriller and visit The Flying Nun.

Lucky for me, Mr. Buono graced Hawaii Five-O with his presence, playing a European master criminal after a rare Liberty head nickel. I believe this is also the episode that features the husband and wife in charming matching outfits. Only that could challenge the presence of Victor Buono and Jack Lord together onscreen.

Though he never made it on The Love Boat, Mr. Buono did manage to board Super Train and land on Fantasy Island. He also browsed The Night Gallery; again tangled with the law on The Mod Squad, Mannix, and Ellery Queen; and generated more than a few laughs on Here’s Lucy, The Odd Couple, and Alice.

One of his more memorable sitcom turns was on Taxi, playing Reverend Jim Ignatowski’s father, Mr. Caldwell, despite being only 8 months older than Christopher Lloyd. It was a naturally funny, but also sweet role, one that Taxi acknowledged in a later episode. After Victor Buono died of a heart attack in 1982, Reverend Jim’s father did, too.




Though Victor Buono died tragically early (only 43), we are left with a wealth of guest spots on some great reruns to enjoy. An immortal gift if there ever was one.

Rerun Junkie–Batman

A couple of decades ago when I spent large chunks of my summer at my grandma’s house because I had my own room, could watch baseball from the hot tub on her deck, and got channels that I didn’t have at home, I was introduce to the wonder and marvel that is Batman.

na na na na na na na

Batman was obviously based off of the comic book of the same name and featured Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his young ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) fighting crime as the Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin. Loyal butler Alfred (Alan Napier) dusted the Batcave and helped keep their secret from the world, including Dick’s Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake). They’re summoned via Batphone and Batsignal by Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) at the first sign of a super criminal as the Gotham City police force apparently only employed the cops that weren’t capable of fighting crime much worse than traffic violations.

The super criminals in question included of The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Egghead, The Puzzler, Clock King, King Tut, Bookworm, Olga Queen of the Cossaks, Black Widow, Zelda the Great, Shame, Ma Parker, Mad Hatter, Marsha Queen of Diamonds, The Archer, and Louie the Lilac. Some of these were villains in the Batman comics, others were villains from other comics, and still others were made up or re-imagined for the show.

The super villains typically came to Gotham with an unbelievable crime planned and once their presence was detected, Batman and Robin would try to thwart them. Inevitably, Batman and/or Robin would get caught in a trap which would lead to them nearly dispatched by some elaborate super hero killing machine the villain came up with. However, they’d always manage to escape at the last possible second and end up catching the bad guy in the end. This drama played out over two episodes shown on consecutive nights for the first two seasons, but was cut down to one during the third and final season.

The costumes, the bright colors, the clever camera angles (the villain scenes were all filmed at a slant because they’re crooked, you now), the BAM! ZAP! BIFF! during the fight scenes, the breathless narrator (Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!), and sometimes (okay, lots of times) corny dialogue made it quite comic book-like and of course, ramped up the camp factor. And if there’s one thing pop culture loves, it’s camp.

Batman’s utility belt, his penchant for labeling everything at bat-whatevers, and Robin’s holy exclamations had staying power when it comes to clever pop culture witticisms.

Holy WTF, Batman!

As silly as this show is, it was the show to be on back in the day. The guest stars weren’t doing this gig because they didn’t have anything else going for them; they did it because they were clamoring to be on the show. Hard to believe, I know, but think of it as the precursor to the people that show up in SyFy movies that you don’t think should be there (William Katt? Why are you here and why are you wearing your mother’s glasses?).

Guest stars included Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newman, John Astin, Eartha Kitt, Art Carney, Ethel Merman, Joan Collins, Shelley Winters, Milton Berle, Victor Buono, Cliff Robertson, Carolyn Jones, Vincent Price, Eli Wallach, Tallulah Bankhead, Jill St. John, Anne Baxter, Doodles Weaver, Rudy Vallee, Glynis Johns, Ethel Merman, Lesley Gore, Liberace, and Roddy McDowell.

Demand to be on the show was so great, that “window cameos” were created. As the Dynamic Duo climbed up the side of a building (walked along the floor holding onto a rope with strings holding their capes out while the camera filmed sideways), a celebrity would pop out of a window. Those cameos included Sammy Davis Jr, Jerry Lewis, Don Ho, Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer), Lurch (Ted Cassidy), Edward G. Robinson, Dick Clark and Art Linkletter.

Batman and Robin were joined in Gotham City by the Green Hornet and Kato (Van Williams and Bruce Lee) for an episode (they also appeared once in a window) which led me to nearly explode with glee. In the third season, Barbara Gordon, commissioners daughter and Batgirl (Yvonne Craig), was added to the regulars. Her lace trimmed Batgirl Cycle is truly a sight to behold.

While I love most of the villains, if I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite, I have to go with King Tut. Joker, Riddler (Frank Gorshin version), Penguin, and Catwoman are all fabulous, but Victor Buono brings that added oomph to the camp that I just adore.

This show is so much fun and it never seems to get old, no matter how many times I watch it.

I admit that when I say I’m busy on Saturday nights, what I mean is I’m watching Batman.

Batusi, baby.


Where I Watch It