DCS: mary philbin

In early 1920, teenage Mary Philbin won a beauty contest in her native Chicago. The contest, sponsored by Universal Pictures, put Mary on the road to stardom. She was signed to a contract by famed producer-director Erich Von Stroheim, touting the young actress as “A Universal Super Jewel.”

Mary made her film debut in a supporting role in the 1921 melodrama The Blazing Trail. She made eight films that year. She worked constantly through the 20s, making several pictures per year. In 1925, she was cast opposite Lon Chaney in the classic horror film The Phantom of the Opera. She was the critics’ darling, often being compared to some of the great dramatic actresses of the stage. Later she was featured in The Man Who Laughs to great acclaim. However, in 1929, Mary called it a career, leaving the spotlight to care for her elderly parents. She did, however, dub her lines for a talkie re-release of The Phantom of the Opera.

Mary remained a recluse for the rest of her life. She rarely made public appearances, preferring the stay locked up in her Huntington Beach home. She never married, despite early relationships with Paul Kohner and cowboy star “Big Boy” Williams. Mary’s relationship with Kohner was broken up by her parents who were strict Catholics. They were appalled that their daughter had taken up with a Jewish man. (Kohner later married actress Lupita Tovar and was the father of actress Susan Kohner.)

In 1989, Mary attended the premier of the Los Angeles production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera. It was her final public appearance. She passed away four years later from pneumonia at the age of 90.

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DCS: bridget hanley

Hopeful drama student Bridget Hanley worked as an office secretary while finding time to audition for acting roles. She landed a part in a Southern California touring company of Under The Yum Yum Tree. After four years, she was signed to a contract by Screen Gems Productions who billed the budding actress as “a young Maureen O’Hara.”

Bridget was featured in a slew of guest roles in Screen Gems properties, including including GidgetThe Farmer’s DaughterLove on a RooftopBewitchedI Dream of Jeannie and The Flying Nun. She became a favorite of prolific producer/director E. W. Swackhamer, who cast her as the female lead in his new series Here Come the Brides. During the run of the series, Bridget married Swackhamer.

After Here Come the Brides ended, Bridget continued to appear in sitcoms, Westerns and dramas. In 1980, she was cast opposite Barbara Eden in the sitcom Harper Valley PTA, when she played a member of a stuck-up family who constantly battled Eden’s character. As lesser-known Sherwood Schwartz creation, Harper Valley PTA lasted thirty episodes. She remained active in local theater and still performed in the occasional television production. She later did some teaching and lecturing on the college level.

Bridget was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and passed away on December 15, 2021 at the age of 80.

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DCS: helen mintiks

On July 23, 1980, Helen Mintiks, a one-time child prodigy who made her musical debut with the Seattle Symphony as a teenager, was sitting in as a freelance violinist with the orchestra at New York’s legendary Metropolitan Opera House. Just after the second part of the evening’s performance — Astor Piazzolla’s ballet Five Tangos — Helen and the rest of the orchestra took a 45-minute break. She rose, placed her violin on her seat and headed to the backstage area. She was not seen alive again.

At 9;30 pm, the orchestra returned to their seats to play Don Quixote, the next scheduled portion of the evening’s program. However Helen was nowhere to be found. The orchestra played with one empty seat, finishing up the night’s performance with Miss Julie by Ture Rangström at 11:30 pm. Helen’s husband, sculptor Janis Mintiks, was waiting outside for her, as he had done in the past. When she didn’t emerge from the building, he became worried and went to their apartment, thinking they had gotten their signals crossed. When Helen was not there either, Janis grew frantic and he returned to the Met. But authorities had already been contacted. A thorough search revealed that Helen’s street clothes were still in her locker and her beloved violin remained undisturbed where she left it before the orchestra break.

The Met was scoured from top to bottom by teams of investigators. At 8:30 the next morning, they made a gruesome discovery. Helen’s nude and bound body was found at the bottom of a ventilation shaft accessed from the roof. In the wake of the finding, detectives interviewed all 800 employees of the The Met over the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the New York Medical Examiner’s autopsy determined that Helen’s death was the result of the fall — meaning that she was alive when she was thrown into the six-story shaft from the roof. Further investigation found that the knots used to tie Helen’s wrists and ankles where specific to those used by stagehands.

A witness told authorities that she saw Helen speaking with a stagehand — later identified as Craig Crimmins, hired by the Met despite a reputation as a drug and alcohol abuser — just after the orchestra members resigned for their break. Crimmins was questioned several times, eventually breaking down and confessing to his crime. He explained that he had been drinking. He entered a backstage elevator with Helen and was angered when she rebuffed his unwanted verbal and physical advances. Enraged, he forced her to the roof, tore her clothes, tied her up and kicked her down the ventilator shaft.

A trial in early 1981 found Crimmins guilty of attempted rape and murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. His parole has been denied every year that he was eligible.

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DCS: peter robbins

As a child, Peter Robbins appeared in episodic television, from comedies to Westerns. At nine years old, he was cast as the voice of “Charlie Brown” in A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a documentary about the “Peanuts” comic strip. Peter went on the voice the beloved, yet hapless, character in six made-for-TV specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. His frustrated exclamation of “AUGH!!” (first heard in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) continued to be included in “Peanuts” specials long after Peter had aged out of the role.

Peter continued in on-screen roles during his time as a voice actor, including guest parts in The Munsters, Love on a Rooftop and F Troop. He landed the role of young “Alexander Bumstead” in a short-lived sitcom based on the Blondie comic strip. An appearance in a 1972 episode of My Three Sons was his final acting role.

With his acting career behind him, Peter went into the real estate business, however a life-long battle with bipolar disorder interfered. Peter fought mental demons, turning to alcohol and drugs in an effort to self-medicate when wrongly-prescribed treatment failed him. He often had run-ins with law enforcement, stemming from accusations of stalking, harassment and even death threats. Peter was arrested multiple times and served several prison sentences. In December 2015, Peter was sentenced to four years and eight months as part of a plea agreement for threatening the manager of the mobile home park in which he lived. He was released on parole in October 2019 on the condition that he stop drinking alcohol and stop using drugs.

In 2020, Peter appeared to be getting his life together. He was prescribed new medication and was making appearances at entertainment conventions where he signed autographs and mingled with fans. He was booked and confirmed to appear at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September 2022, a gathering I have attended many times.

In January 2022, Peter’s family reported that the actor had taken his own life. He was 65 years old.

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DCS: sherwood schwartz

Although it may seem otherwise, Sherwood Schwartz’s life began way before Gilligan’s Island. The New York native moved to southern California in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Biology. In desperate need of money, the naturally-funny Sherwood began writing jokes for Bob Hope’s radio show — a program on which Sherwood’s older brother Al was already employed as a gag writer. Comedian Hope took a liking to Sherwood’s consistently funny output and offered the young writer a permanent position of the show’s staff. Weighing his possibilities — curing the world of disease or making the world laugh — Sherwood chose a steady paycheck and the world of entertainment.

Sherwood went on to write for The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Alan Young Show and I Married Joan until he was named “head writer” of the popular Red Skelton Show. Sherwood was awarded an Emmy Award in 1961 for his work on the variety show.

At the beginning of the 60s, Sherwood Schwartz pitched his idea for a sitcom to CBS. The show would tell the humorous adventures of a group of survivors of a shipwrecked charter boat. Sherwood envisioned Jerry Van Dyke in the title role, but he turned the part down in favor of the lead in My Mother, The Car. Sherwood went elsewhere to assembled a memorable cast. Gilligan’s Island premiered in 1964 and proved pretty popular with television viewers. With Gilligan’s Island to his credit, Sherwood pitched another idea to the network. Using the timely interest in space travel as a backdrop, Sherwood proposed a series involving two astronauts accidentally travelling back in time to the “caveman” period. The show, It’s About Time, starred comedian Imogene Coca and Car 54, Where Are You‘s Joe E. Ross as a prehistoric couple. To save costs, sets and props from Gilligan’s Island were reused for the new show. Sherwood appeared to be CBS’s “golden boy.” It’s About Time initially produced high ratings, but soon it began to plummet. The premise was reworked, switching the locale to modern times and introducing the cave-people as “fish out of water.” It didn’t work and the show was cancelled after a single season. A short time later, Gilligan’s Island was canceled as well.

As the decade drew to a close, Sherwood pitched a third idea. This wholesome family comedy surrounded a widower with three sons and an “unmarried.” woman with three daughters getting hitched. (The marital status of the woman was not clear if she was widowed or divorced — and the script was fairly ambiguous.) Contrary to popular belief, the premise was not inspired by the recent hit films Yours Mine and Ours or With Six, You Get Eggroll. Sherwood’s original script was conceived years before their 1968 releases. However, Sherwood shopped the show to all three networks, each taking an interest and each suggesting changes. As far as casting, Sherwood pushed for an unknown, up-and-comer named Gene Hackman in the role of widower “Mike Brady.” ABC insisted on the more recognizable Robert Reed, fresh from the legal drama The Defenders. The Brady Bunch was first broadcast on September 26, 1969 and ran for five seasons. Sherwood and Reed would continually butt heads during the series’ entire run. It didn’t matter that it was panned by critics. The show was hugely popular among a young target audience and it continues in reruns — nearly uninterrupted — to this day.

When The Brady Bunch ended its run, Sherwood Schwartz was kind of stuck. He regularly pitched variations on a theme — that theme being either Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch. First, there was Dusty’s Trail, a carbon-copy of Gilligan’s Island with the setting switched from a desert island to the rocky terrain of the Old West. “Gilligan” himself, Bob Denver, played “Dusty,” the inept second-in-command of a wayward wagon that has been separated from the rest of the wagon train. The other characters were blatant copies of the characters from the Island. All three networks passed on the project, though the show found life in first-run syndication. It lasted only 26 episodes of a proposed 33. Sherwood wasn’t as subtle when he presented The Brady Brides, A Very Brady Christmas or the ill-fated and much-maligned Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

Over the years, whenever nostalgia reared its ancient head, Sherwood was front and center with the cast members who were willing to participate. Whether it was current sitcom offering a Gilligan or Brady-themed episode or a flat-out reunion, Sherwood was there with a smile on his face. Sherwood passed away in July 2011 at the age of 94. He outlived most of the Gilligan’s Island cast members, as well as his on-set nemesis Robert Reed.

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