On the third show of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s fourth season (September 28, 1970), stars Dan Rowan and Dick Martin prepare to welcome back a familiar face:
DAN: Aren’t you excited this week?
DAN: Goldie Hawn’s our guest star!
DICK: Goldie Hawn a guest star?
DAN: Guest star!
DICK: Well, she’s on every week!
DAN: She’s not a regular anymore…you didn’t see her the last…first two shows, did you? Did you see her last week? See her the week before that?
DICK: Nooooo…well, if she can’t show up regularly…let’s get rid of her!
DAN: Dick…Goldie’s been in the movies!
DICK: Well, that’s worse! Why can’t she go to movies on Wednesdays like the rest of us?
DAN: No…no…no…didn’t you see Cactus Flower?
DICK: As a matter of fact, I did…I saw it last Wednesday…heh heh…I’ve been meaning to mention it…there’s a little blonde in there that’s just great…we ought to get her to replace Goldie!
DAN: Yeah…well, that was Goldie…
DICK: Well…which one was Walter Matthau again?
Returning to Laugh-In as that week’s guest star, Goldie enters the stage in “star mode,” wearing a tiara, jewels and cape and carrying the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (which she hands off to Ruth Buzzi) she won for her performance in Cactus Flower: “And I’d like to thank all the little people who stood in my way before I pushed them aside,” she chirps immodestly. The cast and crew tolerate Hawn’s star trip for only so long before she’s doused with a few buckets of water, which causes her to revert to her lovable, giggly Laugh-In dumb blonde self (“For a minute I thought you guys had changed!”). Goldie’s “Old Home Week” return is just one of the many highlights of the classic telecasts available on the Time Life release of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Fourth Season—a standalone seven-disc set that hits the streets tomorrow (May 8) for those of us who couldn’t quite mow enough lawns to purchase the earlier entire Complete Series release.
Goldie Hawn was not the only Laugh-In veteran whose presence would be missed in Season Four; the show would also say goodbye to Jo Anne Worley and Henry Gibson (who does appear in a few fourth season installments—he even asks a question of William F(uh) Buckley in the December 28, 1970 telecast), not to mention newcomers Jeremy Lloyd, Pamela Rodgers, Byron Gilliam, and Teresa Graves. (Gilliam continued Laugh-In as a dancer, and Graves returned for back-to-back episodes in January/February 1971.) Among the new faces introduced in Season Four was Johnny Brown (“Hmmmmm…”), a talented black comic-impressionist who got a tryout in a few third season episodes (that’s why Goldie recognizes him as she meets “the new kids”…though she mistakes him for “Uncle Ben” [“I just love your rice!”]). I’ll wager that many members of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear faithful recognize Brown as landlord Nathan “Buffalo Butt” Bookman on the TV sitcom Good Times (on which Laugh-In scribe Allan Mannings as an executive producer) but if you’ve not been exposed to any of his Laugh-In work (he would remain until the end of Season Five) you’re in for quite a treat; Johnny does some first-rate impressions of Alfred Hitchcock, Ed Sullivan, Jim Nabors, W.C. Fields, and many more. One of the standout sketches on the fourth season set is in a January 4, 1971 show guest-starring Sammy Davis, Jr. that features Sammy and Johnny doing an updated version of Amos ‘n’ Andy; it may not be politically correct but the duo has fun playing the controversial team with posh, upper crust accents (Andy is now an investment banker).
Two further additions, Ann Elder and Barbara Sharma, eked out two season stints on Laugh-In: Elder on the strength of her utility playing (she picked up the torch originally carried by the likes of Judy Carne and Pam Austin) and her writing talent—she collaborated with another comic who had previously appeared on Laugh-In (and would return in Season Five), Larry Hovis. Elder left the show at the end of the 1971-72 season but later took home Emmy Awards as a member of the writing staff for two of Laugh-In co-star Lily Tomlin’s prime time TV specials in 1973 (Lily) and 1975 (The Lily Tomlin Special).
Tiny Barbara Sharma (“How about a little drinkie-poo?”) was one of the best things to happen to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in its later seasons; her bubbly vivaciousness coming to the fore with a recurring character decked out in red, white and blue offering heartfelt odes to Spiro Agnew…Barbara was convinced that he was the Commander-in-Chief, referring to the veep as “Mr. Pres-ee-dent.” (Sharma would accompany these tributes with a little tap dancing, which she also utilized for a meter maid character that turned up in many of Laugh-In’s filmed blackout bits.) Laugh-In composer-lyricist Billy Barnes went on record to state that Sharma and Alan Sues were “two of the funniest people in the world,” and I knew Barbara from her post-Laugh-In work on such sitcoms as Rhoda (she was Rhoda’s business partner), Frasier, and Becker.
I love Sharma, and I’m also a big fan of Nancie Phillips, whose tenure on Laugh-In was unfortunately too brief (according to Hal Erickson’s “From Beautiful Downtown Burbank”: A Critical History of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, 1968-1973, Phillips left the show after 26 weeks…but her departure was even quicker than that; before the season was over, she was only appearing in previously filmed inserts/bits). In correspondence with mystery writer John MacDonald, Dan Rowan had much praise for Phillips, believing her to be “as versatile as Ruth Buzzi and is prettier” but apart from a few characters—including a Scarlett O’Hara-like belle in the “Party” sequences (“That’s tacky!”) and a dead-on impression of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—Phillips was never really used to her full potential (I thought she had a nice Eileen Brennan quality about her, with a smidge of Jo Anne Worley for spice). She was definitely funnier than two other fourth season comers, the British Harvey Jason (most unmemorable) and Glenn Ash, who I know only from his two Mayberry R.F.D. appearances (“The Pet Shop” and “The New Farmhand”).
The Laugh-In newcomer who had the most staying power (he was there until the show bowed out in March of 1973) was Dennis Allen, memorably described by Erickson as “he of the Ichabod Crane deportment and basset-hound face.” Allen excelled at physical slapstick, but he was no slouch in the verbal comedy arena either; among his memorable characters were a flustered policeman in the “Party” segments, news commentator Eric Clarified, and chaplain Bud Homily. One of my favorite fourth season episodes (telecast December 7, 1970) features Phil Silvers—who gets a taste of his own medicine when Dan and Dick teach him to say, “Sock it to me” by manipulating his mouth (“Pear shaped tones!”) in familiar Silvers fashion (“I’ve seen this bit somewhere,” observes Phil). Later, Phil conducts a “physical comedy” tutorial with a wooden board and poor Allen on the receiving end (a screamingly funny bit).
All twenty-six episodes from the show’s fourth season are included in this collection, and I’ll have to admit a little bias when I say the ones I enjoyed the most place emphasis on top comedy talent (Don Rickles, Zero Mostel, Tim Conway, Bob Newhart, Carl Reiner, Jack Benny. etc.) but it’s interesting to note that two of Mayberry’s favorite sons, Ken Berry and Andy Griffith, also guest star in shows (I will reiterate that Ken Berry was a member of Laugh-In’s original cast in the pilot…and had they agreed to take him on full-time we would have been spared Mayberry R.F.D.). The season opener, with Art Carney, is a hilarious show with a funny sketch featuring Art as “The Masked Lobster,” looking for work as a crimefighter; he interviews with employment office head Lily Tomlin, and I had to smile because I was reminded of their sublime teaming in the 1977 hard-boiled detective homage The Late Show. There’s also this cherce (as Ed Norton would say) bit toward the end of the show:
DAN: Hey, Art…look at that guy down there getting mugged, and the crowd’s just standing around watching him…
ART: The Burbank audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!
One of Laugh-In’s most beloved telecasts (an October 26, 1970 Halloween special cheekily titled “Rowan and Martin’s Boo-In”) is also in this collection; Hal has a nice write-up on it in his Burbank but suffice it to say it’s an hour of unbridled hilarity with guest star/obedient servant Orson Welles tongue-in-cheekily reprising his role from The Shadow (Orson: “Who knows…what evil…lurks in the hearts of men?” Johnny: “The Shadow do!”) and participating as the narrator of a radio show entitled “Horror Theatre” (Dennis Allen is a riot as the sound effects man menaced by the actual monster Welles is describing to his audience). Another fondly remembered installment features William F(uh) Buckley, invited onto the show to answer questions from Dan, Dick, and the rest of the cast; if you’re a fan of Buckley’s you’ll find it most amusing…but if you remember (like me) that Bill began his 1950s conservatism as a defender of white supremacy (the magazine he founded, National Review, was started to promote this)…you may be scratching your head as to why Laugh-In offered him such a platform in the first place.
This Time Life release demonstrates that even though Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was no longer the nation’s most popular TV offering (it forfeited the top spot in the Nielsens to Marcus Welby, M.D.) there was still plenty of life in the comedy hour (it ranked #13 in the 1970-71 season, making it NBC’s fifth most popular series) despite changes in cast and crew. There’s much to enjoy here, including Dinah Shore as a dominatrix-stripper (bet you won’t get that image out of your head soon) and Marcello Mastroianni removing his toupee, and the fourth season set also includes featurettes from surviving members Lily Tomlin (a continuation of the one she did for the Season Three set) and Arte Johnson. (Johnson recalls that his celebrated “Tyrone F. Horneigh” character was inspired by both Edgar Buchanan and a gentleman Johnson knew in real-life who “spent a little too much time at the playground.”) Many thanks to my good friend Michael Krause for providing me with both the screener…and a lot of king-sized laughs.