Abby Dalton cut her acting teeth under the tutelage of cult director Roger Corman, mostly playing uncredited roles as tough teenage delinquents. She totally changed her on-screen image to that of the wholesome — though innocently sexy — girl-next-door. She made guest appearances on many series in the early days of television. Abby was cast as “Nurse Lt. Martha Hale,” the girlfriend of star Jackie Cooper on the series Hennesey. At the end of the fourth season, Abby’s character married Jackie’s character and the series ended. Hennesey is rarely, if ever, shown in reruns and, although I love all things television, I have never seen this show and am not at all familiar with it.
I am more familiar with Abby’s career from her numerous appearances as a panelist on game shows through the 60s and 70s. She was often featured alongside Wally Cox and Cliff Arquette’s folksy “Charlie Weaver” on the original incarnation of Hollywood Squares as well as its Saturday morning incarnation, Storybook Squares. She also enjoyed stints on The $10,000 Pyramid, Body Language, Match Game, You Don’t Say, Password and many more.
Recently, Antenna TV, the retro television network, added The Joey Bishop Show to its regular broadcast day. When I was a kid, Joey Bishop was a favorite of my parents. They saw (and raved about) his comedy act at local venues in the Philadelphia area. (Joey was born right here in the City of Brotherly Love.) In the late 60s, Joey Bishop hosted a talk show that went head-to-head with the mighty Johnny Carson. In 1969, Joey’s talk show ended with a solemn Regis Philbin (Joey’s announcer) delivering a sort-of eulogy, as though Joey had died. Joey bounced back and continued making guest appearances on other talk and variety shows, even his onetime rival Johnny Carson.
But not much was said about Joey’s foray into sitcom territory. After seeing nearly every insufferable episode of The Joey Bishop Show, I can certainly understand why. The show was a spin-off from the highly successful Danny Thomas Show (known as Make Room for Daddy in its first three seasons). Joey played a nervous, incompetent publicity agent, with the intention of making the character the basis for a series. The Joey Bishop Show premiered in September 1961 with Joey Bishop as the same character and Danny Thomas’s daughter Marlo as Joey’s sister. The show was typical sitcom fare for the time. Actually, it was subpar. The writing was uninspired and relied on many tired old situations familiar to sitcom watchers. There was plenty of mistaken identities, misconstrued directions and wacky relatives. Joey’s character was constantly exasperated and regularly disgruntled about the hand that life had dealt him. The show’s ratings were awful. The network scrambled to “fix” it. Supporting characters were dropped. Others were replaced. Still nothing worked. By the end of the first season, the entire premise was changed and the final episode was a preview of the show’s new direction. Joey’s character would be the host of a network talk show.
Season two of The Joey Bishop Show premiered in color with a new cast and premise. Joey was married. He lived in a fancy apartment building with a bumbling superintendent and a wise-cracking maid. He had a business manager. The cast included annoying former “Stooge” Joe Besser as the building super, one-trick-pony Mary Treen as Joey’s maid and Guy Marks as Joey’s manager. Guy, however, was replaced by comedian Corbett Monica after just nineteen episodes, as Joey accused the nightclub comic of deliberately trying to upstage him. The show, in my opinion, was still awful. Every episode dripped with contempt and mistrust. Joey routinely traded insults with Treen and Besser — mostly the same insults. He was irked in some way with his guest stars (with some of the top stars of the day playing themselves). The only bright spot in this formulaic mess was Abby Dalton. Abby played Joey’s wife Ellie. She was adorable. Abby served as “straight man,” setting Joey up to deliver another jaded punchline — often while modeling the latest fashions of the day. Despite the hackneyed dialog and trite jokes, Abby remained cheerful, perky and endearing.
I watched the entire run of The Joey Bishop Show, even though I hated every minute. Sure, I am a glutton for punishment and I have done this with other series I don’t enjoy. The show never gets better. All involved appear to be going through the motions for the sake of a paycheck. Joey looks unhappy and just wants out. The guest stars seem to be unsure as to how they were even booked to appear.
Except Abby Dalton. Abby was a professional. Not necessarily a superstar, but a professional.
Abby passed away in November 2020 at the age of 88.