Thursday, August 13, 2020

Don't "Love That Bob"

Some people are a bit surprised that lovable sitcom legend Bob Cummings could be petty if not obnoxious on the set of "My Living Doll." It's always a bit surprising when somebody who projects a light or comic image is not always so pleasant (see: Godfrey, Arthur, see Cosby, Bill, etc. etc.) 

It seems that Bob's reputation was well known, and in the decade after "My Living Doll," apparently got worse as his ability to find work decreased. Why else, this very odd moment from "The Match Game," airing in 1980? 

FILL IN THE BLANK: 

“You may not know this, but after filming, Lassie goes to her dressing room, takes off her beautiful fur coat, and then the truth is known. Lassies is really a……….” 

Robet Pine said chihuahua

Brett Somers said greyhound

Charles Nelson Reilly said cat…

Bill Daily said… Robert Cummings 

ROBERT CUMMINGS?????

INSIDE A BITCH COSTUME?????

If you want to see for yourself, the episode is on YouTube:


Bob seemed to have an increasing amount of problems in his life, and Bill Daily, among others, knew it. They certainly knew that Bob had been married five times, and was known to take a Dr. Feelgood "vitamin" shot each day that happened to have some amphetamine in it. In fact, Bob was addicted to the drug since the late 50's, and not even the intervention of beloved TV personality Art Linkletter could cure him. Fortunately, like a variety of people from Peter Lorre to William Burroughs, Cummings was able to keep working by at least controlling the amount and duration of the needed "meds." Still, some fans who heard the rumors that he was linked to Dr. Feelgood (Dr. Max Jacobson) were a bit queasy about the doctor's claim that his special elixer was merely powerful herbs and vitamins along with...sheep sperm and monkey gonads!   

Bill Daily, a long time member of the sitcom world as well as a Hollywood insider, probably knew of Bob's arrogance and nefarious scheming, which wasn't nearly as funny as the sitcom plots of his dopey shows, like "My Hero" his first TV outing circa 1952. He fired a writer on that show (he was already swell-headed). Soon after he made headlines when he refused to be handed a summons while in his car. Instead, he gunned the engine and dragged LA County Deputy Sheriff William Conroy along a stretch of road. Lawsuits against Bob were not uncommon. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper reported on four of them in the late 40's! 

Cummings was a vegetarian, which is laudable. But not so laudable, and not so lawful, was his pyramid scheme in 1972 that ended up with complaints of fraud against "Bob Cummings Inc.," purveyor of vitamin supplements. Only three years later, squeaky clean Cummings was embarrassed by an arrest for owning a "blue box," which allowed him to make free phone calls. This was all quite the reverse of his image as a sitcom actor as Republican as Buddy Ebsen. 

Cummings was a capable leading man in the 40's. He shouldn't be painted red like some kind of devil. He had his good points, and the fact that he was used so often in movies points to him being worth any minor troubles involved. 

Of course he became a big star thanks to his role as a leering Lothario in the "Love That Bob" sitcom (1955-1959). Too bad things slid after that. "The New Bob Cummings Show" flopped in 1961, and "My Living Doll" (1964-65) struggled with a killer time slot (opposite "Bonanza") and an iffy chemistry on screen and off between Cummings and Julie. The word is "iffy" because watching "My Living Doll" isn't too "cringeworthy" because of him. He has his moments where he gets some smiles registering chagrin, embarrassment and confusion over the sitcom plots and the uncontrollable and guileless behavior of the beautiful robot in his charge. He was aging; perhaps an actor more like Danny Kaye, twitching and swooning and pratfalling, or a sexless goofus ala Red Skelton doing similar takes and looks of surprise, could've worked better. A male with ANY kind of testosterone opposite a female robot that can be programmed...is going to raise, er, eyebrows. 

Given Bob's reputation as a creepy ladies man, many viewers were a bit uncomfortable wondering what a man who looked twice Julie's age, was doing with an easily-programmable robot. That he played a psychiatrist and "seemed" to have girlfriends in his life didn't reduce the smarm-level or raise his charm level. He never gave Rhoda a suggestive request? Really? 

The role required finesse. Bob Crane was considered for the job, but he would've been worse. Crane, a truly creepy man off-stage, also exuded a strange sexual vibe. One would be even less trusting of him opposite Rhoda the Robot than Cummings. Jack Mullaney, who became the co-star when Cummings was finally fired, was a better choice, but he too had an air of untrustworthy desperation about him as 'Peter." The built-in solution on "I Dream of Jeannie" was having Larry Hagman play a stalwart astronaut...a man of impeccable morals. The solution on "Bewitched" was to have Samantha married to her man (as well as clearly someone with more power and control!) The solution on "My Favorite Martian" was to have two men co-starring. Could "My Living Doll" have worked if an Imogene Coca or aging Lucille Ball played opposite the robot? Hmm....

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