The new year is only three weeks old and we’ve already lost three icons from the Golden Age of Television. In addition to the great Suzanne Pleshette, two other amazing talents have left us: writer/actor Bill Idelson and actress Lois Nettleton.
Idelson was the former writing partner of our close family friend, Sam Bobrick (my dad met him in his kindergarten class in Chicago in the 1930s and they’ve been best buds ever since). Together Bill and Sam wrote some of the most beloved TV shows of the 1960s from “The Andy Griffith Show” to “The Flintstones” to the brilliant “Get Smart.” Bill Idelson also achieved fame as an actor, from his days in early radio to priceless stints on shows like “My Three Sons,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “Perry Mason.” His biggest claim to fame, at least to people who worship the old “Dick Van Dyke Show” (and what sentient being doesn’t?), was his recurring role as Herman Glimscher, Sally Rogers’ schlemiel of a boyfriend who was permanently attached to his unseen mother’s apron strings. Idelson was also a sitcom producer—his biggest show was, strangely enough, the original “Bob Newhart Show” starring Suzanne Pleshette. Bill’s wife of 56 years, Seemah Wilder, is a close friend of our pal and fellow blogger, Naomi Caryl. We recently saw Seemah give an incredibly moving performance in a local production of Paul Osborn’s “Morning’s at Seven” co-starring Betty Garrett. She and Bill met when they appeared in a play together almost six decades ago. In more recent times, Bill Idelson taught writing workshops and wrote a bunch of books including the popular “Writing for Dough: Adventures of a TV Comedy Writer.” His brand of writing cannot be beat.
Lois Nettleton was another favorite of mine (ironically, she also knew Sam, having appeared in one of his plays as well as one of my father-in-law’s). Although she never became a household name, she was an actor’s actor, always superb on the stage and in her countless appearances on television. “I’m a character actress,” she said once in an interview. “I always wanted to be as different in everything as possible.” And boy was she. From the WJM-TV station manager who had the hots for Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to Dorothy’s lesbian friend who had a crush on Rose in “The Golden Girls,” Nettleton could be called on for any type of role and she’d always seem real and entirely believable. She won an Emmy for playing Susan B. Anthony and appeared on a terrifying episode of “The Twilight Zone” that I recently watched in which she portrayed a New York artist who was trying to cope with the increasing heat and imminent doom caused by a change in the Earth’s orbit. Nettleton was always a great screamer—I’ll never forget her blood-curdling howl and collapse when the temperature reaches 140 and her oil paintings start to melt before her eyes!
My favorite Lois Nettleton role was her star turn in the Norman Lear late-night soap opera “All That Glitters” in 1977. This nightly show, coming just after Lear’s success with “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” depicted a complete role reversal between the sexes. Women held all the power and were the primary breadwinners while men were little more than sex objects for the women. I’m sure the show would seem terribly dated today but it was a hoot at the time and spawned a lot of thoughtful dialogue about gender roles in this country. The great cast included Eileen Brennan, Linda Gray, Jessica Walter, Gary Sandy, Greg Evigan, Anita Gillette, and Barbara Baxley. Nettleton played corporate honcho Christina Stockwood who was having an affair with her hunky secretary (Gary Sandy) while married to her schlubby overweight househusband played by Chuck McCann. She attacked the role with relish and played one of the best sexist pigs seen on TV in the 70s!
Bill Idelson and Lois Nettleton were born in the neighboring Chicago suburbs of Forest Park and Oak Park. Nettleton attended the Goodman School of Drama and was Miss Chicago 1948. I’m sure the paths of these two talented people passed in my home town and in my current one. They will be missed everywhere.