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.

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Rerun Junkie- The Ghosts of Shows Past

This post features spoilers for the season 4 episode of NCIS: New Orleans, “Viral”, which aired October 24, 2017. Read at your own risk.

One of the interesting tics of being a rerun junkie is seeing the ghosts of episodes of shows long past in current shows. I have no idea if these influences are intentional or not, if the writers of these current shows have these old episodes in mind when they’re writing or if they’re unconsciously haunted by the phantoms of them or if they even know about them at all. The idea that I’m projecting isn’t something I’ve dismissed.

But my brain still makes connections whether they’re there or not, intentional or not.

For example, the other night I was watching NCIS: New Orleans, which is one of the few currently-in-production shows I watch with any regularity. In this episode called “Viral”, my beloved Sebastian, forensic field agent extraordinaire, shot someone during the course of a chase. If that wasn’t bad enough, it looked like he shot an innocent, unarmed man, not the armed and dangerous suspect he’d been chasing.

A cop shooting a suspect or an innocent person is a common story, both in the news and on police shows. However, this episode reminded me of two bygone episodes of cop shows from over forty years ago.

After the shooting, Sebastian is interrogated by an FBI agent about what happened. The way he’s questioned reminds me of an episode of Adam-12, “Log 33: It All Happened So Fast” (air date February 1, 1969). In that episode, Officer Jim Reed shoots a young man who’s shooting at him and his partner (also my TV boyfriend) Pete Malloy. A majority of the episode shows the repeated questioning that Reed is subjected to, some of which infuriates him because of the insinuations that he’s not telling the truth. He’s also upset over the fact that he had to shoot someone (as was Sebastian). Sebastian is subjected to similar questioning, though not for as long, obviously. There’s a mystery to be solved and a dangerous assassin to catch.

The real hitch in clearing Sebastian is, though he swears the suspect shot at him and that he saw him with a gun, there’s no gun to be found. This reminds me of an episode of Hawaii Five-O, “…And They Painted Daisies on His Coffin” (air date November 7, 1968). In that episode, my TV boyfriend Danno chases a young man with a gun into his apartment. When Danno shoots the lock, he believes he unintentionally shoots the man. However, there is no gun found on the suspect. Why? His girlfriend has taken it and fled the scene (running to the notorious Big Chicken), something that also happens to Sebastian when the wife of the dead “innocent” man (it turns out this couple isn’t so innocent) takes the dropped gun to protect herself and her husband and then shows up a few minutes later as the wildly grieving wife.

The twist in this case is less cop show, more masked hero adventure. The “innocent” couple was supposed to deliver the gun to the assassin so he could do a job. The shooting interrupts things and the assassin ends up killing the wife in order to get the gun. The gun is an air gun that shoots glass bullets. That made me think of The Green Hornet episode “The Silent Gun” (air date September 9, 1966). As the title suggests, the gun in question is a rare 17 caliber gun that’s absolutely silent when fired. This leads to a lot of people wanting this gun. (You can listen to me and Dan talk about this episode and all of the many names of people therein on Episode 33 of Eventually Supertrain.) The gun in “Viral” is just as coveted, at least by the assassin, and equally unique, though a little more believable. An air gun gets through security and glass bullets “disappear” on impact.

Like these old episodes, this new one ends happily. Sebastian is cleared (like Reed and Danno) and the bad guy is caught (the Green Hornet gets the gun AND Lloyd Bochner).

Because the good guy winning is an ending worth repeating .

Rerun Junkie–All of Your Favorites Are Problematic

One of my favorite episodes of The Monkees is called “Monkees Chow Mein”. The four guys inadvertently intercept a fortune cookie filled with top secret information at a Chinese restaurant. The CIA get involved. BJ Hunnicutt is there. Hijinks ensue.

And Joey Forman plays the head Chinese guy, Dragonman.

If you’re not familiar with Joey Forman let me assure you that he is a very funny man who is definitely not Chinese. His portrayal of Dragonman involved scotch-taped eyes and a stereotyped accent. It’s a somewhat less obnoxious version of yellow face, but there’s no doubt that it’s yellow face.

It’s problematic, to say the very least.

So, how can it be one of my favorite episodes? Two reasons. One, it’s funny and most of the humor in it could have been achieved just as successfully by Joey Forman (and his right hand man, Gene Dynarski) not doing yellow face. The lines and the antics would have been just as funny because it had nothing to do with the stereotype they were portraying.

Yes, I realize there’s a lot of privilege involved that it allows me to approach this episode from that angle.

And two, being a rerun junkie means that I’ve learned to accept that my favorites are going to be problematic.

It’s a simple matter of history, really. These shows are a product of their time, whatever their time is. That’s why you see a lot of racist casting (e.g. white people playing minorities) in the ’50s, ’60s, and even into the ’70s. The stereotypes continued all through the ’80s and beyond.  Misogyny and sexism has run rampant for decades, so it’s always available in reruns. To be fair, the shows can’t help it. And it’s far too late for them to change.

That’s not to say any of it is right, of course. These things might have been common then, but even at the time, folks had problems with it. Pernell Roberts reportedly objected to the racist stereotypes of the minorities on Bonanza. And Van Williams repeatedly tried to get Bruce Lee a bigger role on The Green Hornet, which the producers reportedly refused because they didn’t want to give too much focus to a non-white actor instead of the star.

So, when it comes to reruns, it’s a matter of acknowledging that at the time this was the practice. They’re time capsules of cringe-worthiness, syndicated reminders of our sketchy, shady, seedy TV past.

Even shows that did their best to be socially conscious (for their time) still stumbled. For example, Barney Miller often tackled topical 1970’s issues, some of which are still relevant today. And it largely succeeded in addressing those issues, at least in an illuminating sort of way. But there are some episodes that missed the mark and as a result have aged terribly. The episode “Rape” attempted to address the laws (or lack of laws) pertaining to marital rape. However, done in the confines of a 30-minute comedy…yeah. The tone-deafness only rings clearer as the years go by.

These are the landmines you risk as a rerun junkie. It can make for uncomfortable viewing and in some cases all of the logical rationale can’t save you from the oogy feelings. There are now episodes of my favorite shows that I avoid because I just can’t.

Retaining perspective is the key. It’s a good thing that these issues are noticed and that they cause discomfort. It’s a sign that things have progressed (somewhat) and that the old status quo has long spoiled.

Ideally, I’d like to do in-depth posts about the different issues that crop while rerun-watching.

But for now, I continue to come to terms with my problematic favorites.

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 Guest Stars–Jeanette Nolan

Jeanette NolanMe-TV has been showing holiday episodes of various shows, not all of which they carry on their usual line-up which is great, and I’ve been watching some of them.  Last week I caught a Christmas episode of MacGyver and it reminded me that I needed to write a guest star post about the wonderful Jeanette Nolan, who is pretty great in that ep.

Jeanette Nolan has 200 credits listed on the IMDB and most of them are TV shows. There is plenty of chances to catch this wonderful character actress in reruns, especially if you like Westerns because I think she was in every Western TV show that ever aired. That’s a slight exaggeration because she was never on Big Valley or High Chaparral, but she did do a whole lot, including: The Restless Gun, Lawman, The Rough Riders, Black Saddle, The Rebel, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Bat Masterson, Outlaws, Have Gun-Will Travel, Laramie, Wagon Train (with her husband John McIntire), A Man Called Shenandoah, Bonanza, Laredo, The Virginian (she did 27 episodes as a recurring character), Alias Smith and Jones, and Gunsmoke (which I will talk about more in a minute).

The woman had a niche for a good long while. Part of that was probably due to the fact that both she and her husband sort of specialized in playing characters that were much older than they actually were. You need an older, spitfire of a woman on the prairie, then you get Jeanette Nolan. Because there seems to be a touch of spitfire to every character I’ve seen her play and I’m not complaining about that.

Jeanette Nolan as Dirty SallyJeanette Nolan plays one of my favorite characters in all of the reruns I watch or have watched. Dirty Sally is a recurring character on Gunsmoke (she was in 8 episodes, three of them playing Dirty Sally, but the rest of them playing different characters, including Festus’s aunt, I believe) and she ended up getting her own series called Dirty Sally that only ran for 14 episodes and I’m sorry I’ve yet to see it. Dirty Sally is a fabulous character. A dirty, old, toothless woman that uses chewing tobacco and tells everyone what she thinks and saves Dack Rambo and pals around with drunk Jack Albertson in various episodes. It’s an incredibly fun character and Jeanette Nolan owns it with every fiber of her being. She made herself look toothless and about twenty years older than she actually was. Fantastic.

But a good character actress, and Jeanette Nolan is a good character actress, cannot be contained. So along with all of the Westerns, she also did a lot of police/detective shows including: Dragnet (1958), Peter Gunn, Perry Mason, Hawaiian Eye, Hawaii Five-0 (a nifty episode that I like a lot), Ironside, the Longstreet pilot (how I miss TV movie night on Me-TV), Mannix, The Streets of San Francisco, Police Woman, Columbo, Charlie’s Angels, Hart to Hart, TJ Hooker, Matt Houston, Cagney and Lacey, and Hunter.

If you like medical shows, she did Ben Casey, Marcus Welby MD, Dr. Kildare, Medical Center, Trapper John MD, and Emergency! (her character in that episode is a woman spending her 80th birthday in the hospital; she would have been 61 when the episode aired).

Jeanette Nolan on Golden GirlsIf you prefer family friendly fare, she was on Lassie, My Three Sons, The Mothers-in-Law, and The Waltons. If your family is weird, you can find her on Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Twilight Zone, and Night Gallery. If your family is funny, she appeared on F-Troop, Night Court, and Golden Girls (playing Rose’s mother even though she was only 11 years older than Betty White).

And if none of that excites you, then perhaps knowing that she did both Love Boat and Fantasy Island will.

Because we all know that’s gold.

And so is Jeanette Nolan.

Rerun Junkie–Gunsmoke

It’s the longest running western. It’s tied for the longest running prime-time drama (thanks, Law & Order). Twenty years is a long time on the air and 635 episodes is a lot of episodes.

Twenty years also means different opening credits.
Twenty years also means different opening credits.

Set in Dodge City, Kansas, Gunsmoke is the story of Marshall Matthew Dillon (James Arness) as he tries to bring justice to the Wild West. Assisted over the years by friends Doc (Milburn Stone), Chester (Dennis Weaver), and Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds), deputies Festus (Ken Curtis), Thad (Roger Ewing), and Newly (Buck Taylor), and the saloon owner Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) and her bartender Sam (Glenn Strange), Matt faced off against a host of bad guys, troubles, injuries, moral quandries, and injustice.

And let me tell you, there was plenty of all of that. I haven’t seen every episode of this show. Probably haven’t even seen half of them (and it started out on the radio with William Conrad as the voice of Matt Dillon, so the saddle bag of history overflows). But I can tell you that they did not skimp on the drama, nor skirt some of the heavier issues. In addition to the usual robbery, revenge, and death you expect on a western, the show had episodes involving rape, white slavery, racism, bigotry, abuse of all kinds, greed of all kinds, murder of all kinds, and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head. I think every one of the main cast was falsely accused at one point in time and a few even faced the rope, only to be saved at the last minute. I know Festus was nearly hung on several occasions, head in the noose and all before he was saved, and when he was saved NO ONE EVER APOLOGIZED. Really. Nobody ever bothered to be like, “Hey, sorry we nearly killed you. Our bad.” Nothing. I think if you nearly hang someone  and then find out he’s innocent just before you kick the horse out from under him, you should at least have the decency to say you’re sorry. But that’s just me.

This is the cast configuration I know best. See the smiles? The Wild West wasn't a total downer.
This is the cast configuration I know best. See the smiles? The Wild West wasn’t a total downer.

Not every episode was heavier than a blacksmith’s anvil. Many of them were light and quite funny. Typically, anytime Festus was heavily involved, especially if any member of his family showed up, it’s going to be a good time. Festus episodes tend to be my favorite. But no matter what the nature of the episode is, any conversation between Festus and Doc is going to be gold.

Gunsmoke is one of those shows that could have a post of it’s own on just the guest stars. That’s what happens when you’re on forever. Everyone ends up on your show. But here area  few I find worth mentioning: familiar names Nick Nolte, Gary Busey, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dreyfus, Jodie Foster, Diane Ladd, and Charles Bronson; Bruce Dern, Royal Dano, John Dehner, John Anderson, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Harry Carey Jr, and Claude Akins, who were required by federal law at the time to appear in every western TV show; my favorites Ross Martin and Joyce Jameson; J. Pat O’Malley, Nehemiah Persoff, Virginia Gregg, and Vitto Scotti, who were required by federal law at the time to be in every TV show; Kurt Russell and his daddy Bing; Buck Taylor’s daddy Dub; Brock Peters, Cicely Tyson, Yaphet Kotto, and Keye Luke; Ron Howard and his brother Clint; John Saxon, Sid Haig, and Richard Jaeckel; and leading ladies Bette Davis, Vera Miles, Margaret Hamilton, and Gloria DeHaven.

This isn’t even the tip of the ice berg. It’s a mere clump of snow on an ice planet.

Like many of my reruns, I started watching Gunsmoke because there was nothing else on. Having seen episodes from the last eight or nine seasons multiple times now, I can see why this show was on the air for so long. There was always a problem to be solved, a danger to overcome, a gunslinger to tame, a thirst for revenge to quench. This show had it all, right down to the romantic tension between Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty (how scandalous!).

Dodge City may have faced drought a time or two, the drama well never ran dry.

Bless Festus, his mule, and his abused hat.
Bless Festus, his mule, and his abused hat.

Rerjun Junkie–The Last of My TV Boyfriends

Pete MalloyI have three TV boyfriends: Artemus Gordon, Dan Williams, and Pete Malloy. These three characters (from The Wild Wild West, Hawaii Five-O, and Adam-12, respectively) managed to capture a little piece of my rerun junkie heart that no other character could. Sure, there have been crushes. Like Jim Rockford, for example. But these three guys really make it for me. Don’t ask me to tell you why because I don’t know. You can’t explain love.

So my heart was understandably broken when I heard on Monday that Martin Milner had passed away. A wonderful man and a wonderful actor, there are a whole lot of people sad and rightfully so.

But I’m doing a fair bit of mourning, not unlike what I did when James MacArthur died back in 2010. Ross Martin passed away back in 1981, long before I identified as a rerun junkie and discovered him, but I imagine I would have mourned just as much for him then if I had.

My last TV boyfriend is gone.

There’s a very odd sort of emotional duel going on in my being right now because the actor died, but the character I love will live forever because that’s how reruns work. That’s not to say that I don’t adore Martin Milner, because I do. I love watching him in other stuff, too. He’s in one of my favorite episodes of Murder, She Wrote and I’ve seen him in Route 66 as well as in some of my other reruns. I’m delighted to see him in anything, just as I’m delighted to see James MacArthur or Ross Martin play different characters. It’s a trip to see James MacArthur, Danno for crying out loud, play a right jerk and do it well. And Ross Martin is probably one of my favorite actors of all time because the ease at which he could seem to play any character, from psychotic bastard to wounded, vulnerable human.

Those three people are gone, but their characters live on.

Pete Malloy will never die. He’ll never wither, he’ll never age. There’s no risk that he’ll get cancer or suffer a stroke. Any injuries he sustains, any illnesses he contracts, he’ll recover. I know he’ll recover. Because I’ve seen it all before. He’ll always exist in a sort of frozen bit of time, a safe place where my TV boyfriend will always be waiting.

But the man that brought Pete Malloy to life, that gave him the essence and personality and emotion and face that I love has passed away and I’m really bummed about that.

Safe travels across the horizon, Mr. Milner. Thanks for everything. I really appreciate it.