Friday, February 22, 2019

Guest Who: "Snoop"-ing Around!

Readers of Poseidon's Underworld have been so generous to me in a variety of ways from not only their loyal visits to the site, but also through thoughtful e-mails and an almost embarrassing number of treats mailed to me. One recent gift that thoroughly delighted me was a DVD set of the heretofore unseen mystery show The Snoop Sisters.

The short-lived program was part of the rotating wheel of shows to be found on the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie (the other components were Tenafly, Faraday and Company and Banacek, the latter being the only one to maintain any sort of ratings foothold.)  The first group of mysteries, by now part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (McCloud, Columbo and McMillan & Wife) were always more popular than any of the rest.

Things really got started, as far as The Snoop Sisters is concerned, when a 1971 TV-movie was made from a suspense novel called Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate. The gently comedic yet captivating movie brought to the screen four notable actresses of a certain age (a ten year span between them, but all over sixty.) Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick, Myrna Loy and Sylvia Sidney (from oldest to youngest, believe it or not) starred.

The story had these four senior citizen friends inventing an imaginary female computer date, but running afoul of a deranged killer (Vince Edwards) when the "woman" declines to meet the man she's been matched up to! A police detective (John Beradino) becomes involved with the old gals. A separate, but similar, project was developed not too long after regarding two elderly sisters who help solve crimes.

Thus, Hayes and Natwick, who'd demonstrated a certain chemistry together in Spindle, were placed together in The Snoop Sisters. In this, they would play a famous mystery novelist (Hayes) and her widowed sister (Natwick), who helps transcribe the books and bounce ideas around.

For the pilot episode of The Snoop Sisters, the ladies were seen living in a nicely-appointed townhouse with Hayes coming up with her latest murder yarn as Natwick takes it all down.

Their nephew (Lawrence Pressman) is a police detective who finds himself contin- uously trying to prevent his impish aunts from getting embroiled in dangerous situations. He frequently wants to send them packing from crime scenes or other questionable places, but they will have none of it (and, of course, are skilled at figuring out whodunnit!)

Aiding the gals in their pursuit of the truth is a probationer-turned-chauffeur (Art Carney) who is always on hand to tote the ladies around the city in their vintage automobile. Though under orders from Pressman to keep his lady friends in line, he frequently falls under their spell and lets them talk him into disobeying their nephew.
A plethora of guest stars were on-hand, many of them veterans of the small and large screen, as the mystery unfolded. Some were suspects, some were merely colorful associates of the ladies. First up is Bill Dana. Dana was a popular comic actor and skillful writer (he penned the All in the Family script that featured Sammy Davis Jr) who scored big with a Bolivian character he created called "José Jiménez, though it was later retired as sensitivity to racial stereotyping came into play. Modern audiences most likely recall him as Sophia's brother Angelo on The Golden Girls.

A former purse-snatcher running a newsstand was portrayed by Charlie Callas. Callas was meant to be a regular character should the series be picked up, but it didn't come to pass. The slippery-tongued comic later played a variation on this part on the series Switch as a former conman-turned- restaurateur.

Also popping up is Kurt Kasznar. Kasznar worked in many a 1950s movie, often as a blustery or colorful ethnic type of character. He also was Tony-nominated for originating the role of "Uncle Max" in Broadway's The Sound of Music. (Tom Bosley in Fiorello! won the award.) Later, he played a boisterous troublemaker on two seasons of Land of the Giants.

Kent Smith appeared as a banker and ex-flame of Natwick's. Smith had been a busy actor in 1940s films and an accomplished stage actor as well.  Among his better-known movies are Cat People (1942) and Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Fountainhead (1949) and The Damned Don't Cry (1950.) On TV, he scored as the destructively set-in-his-ways Dr. Morton on Peyton Place.

Among the potential suspects is Craig Stevens. Stevens was a film actor of the 1940s and '50s who segued with success into television and enjoyed a fifty-year career. He had his own private eye series, Peter Gunn, for a few seasons, which had a very popular theme song. He's also noted for having been wed to actress Alexis Smith for nearly fifty years, ending with her death in 1993.

Then there is Fritz Weaver, playing his idea of a gay character. I suppose that in itself was a wee bit daring in 1971. Check out the rings and wrist cuff. Weaver was one of televisions busiest character actors, appearing in countless episodes of various series. Thirty when he first worked on TV, he continued acting right up until his death at age ninety. 

One of the chief guests in this pilot episode is one Jill Clayburgh. Having worked on Search for Tomorrow and in a couple of minor films, Clayburgh was - unbeknownst to her - about to emerge as one of the 1970s cinema's more notable leading actresses. By the end of the decade she would be nominated twice for the Best Actress Oscar with An Unmarried Woman (1978), losing to Jane Fonda in Coming Home, and Starting Over (1979), losing to Sally Field in Norma Rae.

Though she remained a busy, working actress right up until her death from leukemia in 2010, her popularity in the cinema waned by the mid-'80s. She'd been battling the illness for two decades, working as much as possible along the way. Fun fact: Her daughter is actress Lily Rabe of American Horror Story and other shows.

Clayburgh's mother in the story is the murder victim and I saved her until the end. More than fifteen years after her last movie and having not done television since 1964, this would prove to be her final on-screen performance. Know who she is?

Yes, it's Paulette Goddard. Goddard was all but lined up to portray Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) until the details of her marriage to Charles Chaplin were deemed too sketchy, putting the project at risk from scandal were she and the legendary comic actor not truly wed while living together for years. A hot star of the 1940s, she was Oscar-nominated once for So Proudly We Hail (1943), but the award went to Katina Paxinou in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Now retired and married to author Erich Maria Remarque, Goddard was hesitant to return to a set, but the temptation to appear in a project with Hayes and Natwick won her over. (Thing was, she shared no scenes with them in the program... Everything she did was with Clayburgh.) Whatever she'd had done in the way of cosmetic surgery had left her with a seemingly permanently arched eyebrow and an almost fixed expression of distress.
The mantra of almost any actress of a certain age: Let there be light and plenty of it!
She was only sixty-one at this point. Think about some ladies you know right now who are sixty-one. For the most part, we've really changed the way we age nowadays! Somehow the credits list Art Carney as the special guest star and not Goddard! He was still a few years from his Oscar for Harry and Tonto (1974) while she was a long-famous movie star. Nevertheless, it was neat to see her one final time, even if briefly. She died a very wealthy woman in 1990 at age seventy-nine.
When The Snoop Sisters proceeded to becoming a regular series - brief as it lasted - a number of changes were made. One thing that went bye-bye were the thick, round glasses that Hayes sometimes wore. There were obvious reflection issues with them in this pilot. Also, she would not be seen again in the deep red lipstick shown here, but with more pastel shades befitting an old biddy.

Also, Lawrence Pressman was replaced in the role of the nephew by Bert Convy. Convy an amiable Broadway actor-turned-TV performer was likable in the part, though hardly credible as a police detective. (He later was in the pilot for Police Woman, only to be replaced himself by the more street-smart seeming Earl Holliman!) Convy found his greatest success as a game show host on Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw before succumbing prematurely to a brain tumor at fifty-seven.

Aside from the dropping of Charlie Callas' character, still another change was the recasting of the sisters' chauffeur and general helpmate. In Art Carney's place was now familiar TV and movie actor Lou Antonio.  Star Trek fans will recall Antonio from the episode with Frank Gorshin involving aliens who are half-black and half-white, literally!
The gals were shown on this second installment jogging (!) - if you can call it that - along a New York street. The creators of the show loved giving the ladies a variety of interests, some of them amusing, as well as placing them in locales that seemed humorously at odds with where we might have thought they belonged. Both Hayes and Natwick were highly adept physical comediennes, something that generally went unheralded over the courses of their long careers.

Among the guests this time out were Donald Moffat, an English actor who very effectively portrayed American characters over his long career (including playing U.S. Presidents in The Right Stuff, 1983, - okay Vice President, but soon to be President - and Clear and Present Danger, 1994.)

Sam Jaffe, another guest, is one of those people who - when I see his name - causes me to immediately think of the word "ancient!" He was already playing age-old geezers back in 1937 when he portrayed the High Lama in Lost Horizon! True, he was about forty-five then, but he just always seemed incredibly old to me in everything I ever saw him do! LOL

Victor Buono was no stranger when it came to working with gals of a certain age, having done What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte (1964.) The colorful, inventive, but considerably obese, actor died of a heart attack at only forty-three, cutting short what would have surely been a long career of character parts.

Lean, tall, blond Kaz Garas was a frequent TV guest during the 1970s. You can name almost any hot crime or medical show of the decade and he was on it at least one time. Marcus Welby, M.D., Hawaii 5-O and The Streets of San Francisco were among the many series he appeared on.

One of our faves, Neva Patterson showed up in this episode as co-owner of a toy company. You can read all about her here. Incidentally, she and Natwick were just about the same age! Miss Neva put forth an entirely different type of persona.

Appearing briefly as a boozy doctor is character performer Logan Ramsey. The distinctive-looking actor popped up in countless movies and TV shows from Star Trek to Mission: Impossible to Walking Tall (1973) to Scrooged (1988.) But did you know that his wife was Anne Ramsey, the craggy, gravel-voiced mother to Billy Crystal in Throw Momma From the Train (1987)?

A key guest in this episode is one dog-loving socialite the ladies interview. Note the bottom-left inset when has Hayes hilariously being pinned to the couch by an English sheepdog!

The lady in question is the much-lauded stage actress Geraldine Page. Also working in many movies, Miss Page was nominated seven times for an Oscar (which I won't list here) before finally landing the trophy for The Trip to Bountiful (1985.) Unfortunately, she was felled by a heart attack only two years later at age sixty-two. She was starring on Broadway in Blithe Spirit at the time.
Moving on to the third installment, the sisters found themselves embroiled in a mystery surrounding a professional basketball player. Bernie Casey played the man in question. The 6'4" Casey had actually been a professional football player in real life before establishing a successful acting career. He rode the Blaxploitation wave and then segued into many mainstream hits from Sharky's Machine (1981) to Never Say Never Again (1983) to Another 48 Hours (1990.)

He really demon- strated some slick '70s fashion elements from wide-collared shirts open to the abs, flashy jewelry and brightly colored/patterned separates.
The ladies might be in over-their-heads this time out! One scene has them looking for the basketball team's "meeting room" only to get a glimpse of the locker room, with towel-clad players strolling to and fro!
Casey's ladyfriend in the show was played by Gloria Hendry, a former model who worked as a Playboy bunny before making an impression as the first black woman to go to bed with James Bond (Roger Moore at the time) in Live and Let Die (1973.) She also worked in several Blaxploitation movies of the '70s, though not in ones with Casey. Sporadic as her acting career has been over the years, Hendry still works today in minor movies.

Appearing as himself in this episode is Steve Allen. His talk show serves as the reason for all the characters to meet one another for the first time. Allen was considered something of a genius and was highly talented in a lot of ways, but I have to confess he's one of those people I just never was able to warm to much, even while recognizing his abilities. His look here is no help!

There's a blink and you'll miss it cameo at the TV studio by this pretty young thing, former model Karen Jensen. Jensen started acting in the mid-1960s and was a regular cast member on Bracken's World, but by the end of the '70s she was out of the business entirely.

Showing up as a crotchety judge is Maurice Evans, a classically-trained stage actor who worked in films from the 1930s on and appeared on TV up until the early-1980s. He gained iconic status for his role (under heavy makeup) as Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes (1968) as well as for playing Elizabeth Montgomery's father on a dozen episodes of Bewitched.

Jack Riley appears as a classical musician caught up in the whole mess thanks to his being a guest on Steve Allen's show. Riley worked on countless television programs over the course of his fifty-year career, but is likely best known for his many appearances on The Bob Newhart Show as one of Bob's neurotic group therapy patients, Elliot Carlin.

This episode's principle "throwback" guest star is Walter Pidgeon, a once-popular 1940s leading man who had formed a highly-successful screen partnership with Greer Garson. Two of the films they did together led to Oscar nominations for him: Mrs. Miniver (1942), with the award going to James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Madame Curie (1943), with the Oscar going to Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine.

Pidgeon's fifty-year acting career spanned from the 1920s up through the late-1970s with films such as Two-Minute Warning (1976) and his last, the execrable Sextette (1977) opposite Mae West.

My own favorite guest this time out is Swedish-born, but American-raised Bo Svenson. At 6'5-1/2", he also towered over the old gals on screen. Svenson began acting in 1965 and is busier than ever still today. Having taken over the leading role from Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall II (1975) and Walking Tall: Final Chapter (1977), he also starred in the brief TV series Walking Tall, the role he is probably most closely associated with.
The sisters really "looked up" to Svenson.
For the fourth episode of The Snoop Sisters, the gals were tossed into the world of devil worship and the occult. Hayes on an in-bound flight meets up with a young man who befriends her. The furry-faced guy seemed familiar to me, though I knew it wasn't the Geico Caveman in an early appearance.

It turned out to be none other than Lawrence Casey, once the gleaming blond hunk of The Rat Patrol! His role in minuscule here, though he did continue to act on TV up through the early-1990s.

Greg Morris (of Mission: Impossible and, later, Vega$), shows up in a familiar guise as one of Convy's police cohorts who specializes in matters of the occult.

As a creepy visitor to Hayes and Natwick's apartment is George Maharis. Maharis had starred in Route 66 and segued into feature films, but an arrest for lewd conduct in 1967 brought things to a bit of a halt. By the time of this appearance, he'd starred in The Most Deadly Game and done a nude layout for Playgirl, but within months he was arrested again on the same charge as his earlier one. Nevertheless, he appeared as a TV guest with relative frequency until about 1990. He's still alive today at age ninety.

Barbara Baxley appeared as a cat-loving fortune teller. Baxley had a forty year career playing all sorts of kooks, though she could also turn on the drama such as when she played Sally Field's world-weary mother in Norma Rae (1979.)

Likewise, Joan Blondell was on hand as another fortune-telling madame. Blondell was of the same generation as Hayes and Natwick and had been acting in films since 1930, though she somehow seemed to maintain a more zestful, bubbly image rather than appearing as an elderly lady. An Oscar nomination for 1951's The Blue Veil went to Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire.

By this time she had moved more towards television with Here Come the Brides and Banyon, though in 1978 she worked on the mega-hit Grease as a snappy diner waitress. She was still acting regularly when leukemia claimed her in 1979 at age seventy-three.

As still another member of the occult was this gent, who played a tacky proprietor of plastic skulls and other spooky memorabilia. Any clue who he might be?

This is acclaimed stage actor Cyril Ritchard who won a Tony in 1955 for his role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan opposite Mart Martin. The two repeated their stage roles for a television presentation of the show which became a perennial favorite to children of the era. He took home an Emmy for that as well.
Craziest of all guest stars for this installment (and for the entire series) was the use of shock-rock star Alice Cooper as a satanic-oriented singer. It's not every day that you breathe the names Helen Hayes and Alice Cooper in one sentence...!
The pairing was deemed exceptional enough to warrant coverage in the entertain- ment print media. Though the two shared a fairly lengthy scene with one another, they are only in the same frame for a limited period of time. This was Cooper's legitimate acting debut, to be followed up by such crazed projects as Sextette (1977) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978.)

He never acted a great deal, though he did appear last year in the television presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (2018) featuring John Legend. Personally, I thought he could have given it more - both spectacle and energy - instead of basically expecting viewers to be entertained by the mere fact that he was present.

We're now at the fifth part of this unexpect- edly epic-length post! For the series' finale, the sisters were hurled into the world of vintage scary movies. At a classic horror film festival, a hearse pulls up and a quartet of shirtless executioners remove a coffin, stand it on its end and open it.

Who else but horror legend Vincent Price is discovered inside, wearing garish vampire makeup! (You just know ol' Vince was enjoying the sight of his helpmates!)

Price was extremely well known for his many roles in horror films, quite a few for producer Roger Corman, though he had led quite a varied career beforehand. An expert at playing erudite, sneering types of roles, he had underrated ability as an actor versus his great success as a sometimes hammy performer. (My own first exposure to the man was as the creepy commercial spokesperson for those shrunken heads made from apples! Remember that?!)
As his wife, an unlikely candidate to be sure, is Tammy Grimes. A two-time Tony-winning actress, Grimes found success on TV as well as the occasional movie. Her distinctively gravel voice had her often portraying quirky characters. Once the wife of Christopher Plummer, she was the mother of actress Amanda Plummer.

David Huddleston played an attorney who may or may not be involved in some shifty shenanigans. The brawny actor was one of those all-purpose fellows who could be counted on to portray all sorts of characters from amusing to ominous, often with a dollop of slick, wily sarcasm.

Another actor who was adept at slipping wry sarcasm into his lines is William Devane, who played a potential suspect. Devane worked in movies like McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and Report to the Commissioner (1975) along with being noted for playing JFK in The Missiles of October (1974.) In 1983 he found a comfortable home on Knots Landing, costarring on that show for a decade.

Do you recognize this lady? Close to the start of her on screen career, she was busily gaining roles all over television and would eventually star in two hit shows herself.

Katherine Helmond, as Devane's sister, soon found herself starring on Soap and later scored again with Who's the Boss? She and Devane both worked for Alfred Hitchcock in his final film Family Plot (1976) not long after this. Now nearly ninety, she still works occasionally.

Finally, we have Roddy McDowall as still another suspect in the episode's mystery. A child actor since the late-1930s, he was one of the few who was able to continue working steadily as an adult. Having done The Poseidon Adventure (1972) not long before this, his character lived on a boat here, albeit a far less nicely appointed one than the S.S. Poseidon!
The Snoop Sisters appears to have been before its time. The concept of two seemingly innocuous old ladies being able to solve murders - the whole thing peppered with name guest stars - should have been a "can't miss," but for whatever reason it didn't last. About a decade later, Angela Lansbury came along with Murder, She Wrote - about a "mature" mystery novelist who solves murders amidst a cavalcade of famous faces - and scored a tremendous hit!

Hayes has her own tribute here. Twice nominated for Oscars, she won both times - with a gargantuan span between them. There was The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931) and then Airport (1970.) It's true that this show sometimes seems like "Ada Quonsett Loves a Mystery," but it's so much more than that because of her chemistry with Natwick. Two two play off each other expertly, amusingly exchanging glances and finishing one another's sentences.

Natwick led a wonderfully varied and prestigious career, most often in support of others. Her sole Oscar nomination came for 1967's Barefoot in the Park, though Estelle Parsons won for Bonnie and Clyde. However, she was granted an Emmy for her work in The Snoop Sisters (beating her costar Hayes in the process!) Both actresses did great work on the show, with many an amusing moment, but this was a rare chance for Natwick to really shine as a lead.

Both ladies lived on into the mid-1990s, working as long as they could through the mid-'80s. Hayes died in 1992 at age ninety-two of heart failure. Natwick lived until 1994, passing away of cancer at eighty-nine. We hope you had fun snooping through the guests of their show.

I leave you with this shot of them in the final episode, dressed up in costume for Price's horror movie event. The hilarity of diminutive Hayes as Frankenstein's monster is matched by the surprisingly wondrous way Natwick looks as the Bride of Frankenstein. It was an inspired bit of costuming if you ask me!