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–Following the Stars

Ross Martin not being Artemus Gordon.
Ross Martin not being Artemus Gordon.

I like to follow the stars of my reruns. Call it a symptom of my rerun junkie habit. Call it lazy, harmless stalking. Whatever you call it, I do it.

Once I get hooked into a show, I’ll start looking for its stars in other things when I go through the TV schedule for the week. It doesn’t matter what it is, new or old, movie or TV show, I’m just looking for the face.

To me, it’s neat. Here’s someone’s first TV appearance. Here’s their most recent movie. Here’s that same face that you love on this TV show that was made before you were born, the person that plays this character that you adore, doing something totally different.

And I have little to no shame in regards to this TV stalking. If I have taken an interest in you, then I will look for you. And if I see you are going to be on my TV this week, I’ll make a note of it on my phone so I don’t miss it (not kidding; I set an alarm and everything).

Randolph  Mantooth not being Johnny Gage, but doing it with a fantastic mustache.
Randolph Mantooth not being Johnny Gage, but doing it with a fantastic mustache.

Because of this peculiar habit, I’ve seen Johnny Crawford on Little House on the Prairie and Hawaii Five-O; Randolph Mantooth on Charlie’s Angels (with a fabulous mustache) and Criminal Minds; Larry Storch on Love, American Style and Gilligan’s Island; Forrest Tucker on Bionic Woman and Marcus Welby, MD; Ross Martin on The Bold Ones and The Return of the Mod Squad (honestly, my Ross Marin fixation deserves its own post); Kevin Tighe on Law and Order: SVU and Leverage; Kent McCord on Ironside and JAG; and Martin Milner on The Millionaire and The Virginian.

(I don’t think I have to tell you that I’m not listing ALL of them.)

Larry Storch not being  Randolphy Agarn.
Larry Storch not being Randolphy Agarn.

It’s because of this peculiar habit that I realize how many of these people I’ve seen dozens of times BEFORE I found them on my reruns. Do you know how many times I’ve seen Kevin Tighe in Roadhouse and Kent McCord in Airplane II? Well, let’s not discuss it. I’ve seen those flicks an embarrassing number of times. The same goes for anyone that’s been on Murder, She Wrote, because I’ve seen all of those episodes ten times at least. I’ve seen Martin Milner be the hero and Randolph Mantooth get killed sooooo many times.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are so many faces I’ve seen multiple times BEFORE they became significant faces to me. It’s fun to go back and see them again now knowing them.

And you thought I couldn’t have any more fun with my reruns.

Rerun Junkie–Gilligan’s Island

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…about a show that ran for three years in the 60’s and then lived forever in syndication.

For the five people with Internet access that have never heard of this show, here’s the rundown.

The theme song pretty much fills you in on the back story.
The theme song pretty much fills you in on the back story.

The Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.) and his first mate Gilligan (Bob Denver) along with their five passengers, the Professor (Russell Johnson), farm girl Mary Ann, (Dawn Wells), movie star Ginger (Tina Louise), and the millionaire Howells, Thurston (Jim Backus) and Lovey (Natalie Schafer), were on a three hour tour of the Hawaiian Islands when they were blown way off course by a sudden storm and ended up stranded on a deserted island where hilarity ensued.

Our seven castaways.
Our seven castaways.

The show wasn’t exactly heavy on realism. For a group of people on a day trip, they ended up taking a whole lot of clothing with them (though there must not have been any room for the Skipper, Professor, or Gilligan to bring their wardrobes). The Professor could make anything from coconuts, bamboo, and palm leaves, but a boat. Everyone else in the world could arrive and leave the island as they pleased, but the castaways were perpetually stuck. Speaking of, anything in the world washed up on the shore or dropped down from the sky -mines, lions, space capsules, robots- but not a damn message could off of the place.

A few of the people that washed up on the shores, and then later left, included: Vito Scottie (four times!), Zsa Zsa Gabor, a 14 year old Kurt Russell in a loin cloth swinging from trees, Mel Blanc (voice only, of course), Hans Conreid aka Wrongway Feldman, Denny Miller, Larry Storch, Harold J. Stone, Nehemiah Persoff (taking a break from drama, I guess), Vincent Beck, Richard Kiel, Phil Silvers, John McGiver, Don Rickles (he shows up everywhere), Strother Martin, and Rory Calhoun as a big game hunter hunting Gillian, which should have been gruesome, but instead was pretty funny.

It was that sort of silliness that has most people writing the show off as stupid.  Silly, yes. Unrealistic, of course. Stupid? I wouldn’t say that.

If you pay attention, it’s funny. Not just the slapstick and sight gags, but the dialogue. Okay, none of it is quite as cutting and brash as something you’d see today, but the back and forth is pretty great, particularly if Mr. Howell is involved. There’s some really hilarious, LOL stuff that you wouldn’t expect to find on this wacky island.

Besides, the show is supposed silly. It’s supposed to be a complete deviation from reality, a break from it. Embrace that and enjoy it.

I will say, though, now that I’m watching it as an adult, I’m realizing just how often and how quickly the other castaways take advantage of Gilligan. If this was as realistic as people think it should be, Gilligan would have been the first one killed in the eventual murder rampage that no doubt would have gripped the island. And those that survived would have eventually died of some malnutrition related disease because you can only eat so many coconut cream pies and bananas.

Yeah, so maybe it’s better the show went with silly rather than realistic.

So sit back and relax and enjoy.

Hit the music.

Rerun Junkie–Confession: Gilligan Was My First

Bob Denver as Gilligan on Gilligan's Island

That’s right. Gilligan’s Island was my first rerun love. (What did you think I was talking about, you perverts?)

It was on TBS when I was a kid and I remember watching it every afternoon. It didn’t bother me that the castaways had an endless supply of clothes or The Professor couldn’t fix a boat or they could fashion anything and everything (except a boat) out of coconuts or that nobody lost weight or died of scurvy or how those other people came and went and the castaways were always stuck. I was only concerned with the fact that Gilligan was silly and did silly things and Mary Ann should have been his girlfriend and the Skipper should have had some more patience.

Jinjer MaryannI was so taken with the show that I named one of my dolls Ginger Mary Ann. Except I spelled it Jinjer Maryann because five year olds are crap at spelling. Also the doll was probably supposed to be a boy, but it had red hair like Ginger and it had a sweet face like Mary Ann so I decided it was a short-haired girl.

Anyway, it was the only doll I ever named after characters on a TV show, therefore, it’s noteworthy.

I can remember daydreaming about being on that island with the castaways. I would have helped Gilligan and wouldn’t have made him feel like such a screw-up, even though everything he touched pretty much exploded in his face. Even at five, I felt very protective towards Gilligan.

I related to him because he was like a kid. He tried his best, but he messed up a lot. He was goofy and playful and seemed like the most fun. It’s not that I didn’t like the other characters; I did! I could have made my doll a boy and named him Gilligan, but I didn’t (she looks nothing like a Gilligan anyway); I named her after two of the girls. I was fond of all the castaways.

And I still am.

Little did I know that this show would set me off on my course. Like the Minnow’s two-man crew and its five passengers, my young self set sail in a sea of entertainment and like the inexplicable pull of that uncharted island, I’ve repeatedly found myself washing onto the shores of reruns, particularly when my life’s been stormy. I realize now that the shows I’ve liked best are the shows that remind of that fantasy world comfort I first experienced with Gilligan’s Island. No, the shows I love aren’t all silly, but there’s something about them that involves me yet puts me at ease the way the antics of the castaways did.

Only for me would naming a doll after a character establish the gold-standard of a television show.