Question: When was The Courtship of Eddie's Father on?
Televisionary: The Courtship of Eddie's Father first hit ABC's schedule in September 1969. It was based on a Mark Toby novel that was earlier made into a feature film with Glenn Ford and Ron Howard in the lead roles. But it hit the small screen with the late Bill Bixby (whose TV credits include My Favorite Martian and The Incredible Hulk, which earned him a spot on our TV Titans roster) playing the titular Eddie's father or, as housekeeper Mrs. Livingston called him, "Mister Eddie's father."
The warm and fuzzy sitcom, as fans know, centered around widowered magazine publisher Tom Corbett (Bixby), his cute, freckle-faced tyke Eddie (Brandon Cruz, most recently the front man for legendary punk band The Dead Kennedys... and yes, you read that right), Japanese housekeeper Livingston (Miyoshi Umeki), and Eddie's attempts to hook his dad up with a new lady. Corbett was intent on remaining a single, swingin' guy, much to his son's confusion and frustration.
Interestingly enough, Corbett's position on marriage was pretty much Bixby's take. Matter of fact, Bixby was so set on bachelorhood, that he was able to break his thinking down into six neat components for a 1970 TV Guide interview. Among them: "[T]here is no security in the business of acting and I believe a man should be able to support his family"; "[S]upposing you suddenly get a series and achieve national prominence, the one thing that reminds you of your past and all your failure is your wife"; "One of the reasons I'm single is that I do demand a lot of variety. We all have our requirements."
Now, given my own experience as a married guy, I'd say it was undoubtedly very easy for the actor to remain single at the time; all he had to do was voice those last two sentiments to his dates. And if that didn't do it, I'm sure this did: "I was born to wear the trousers. I have no contest with a lady. The minute I'm contested, I say, 'You're wrong!' That may sound arrogant, but I refuse to contest the manhood part of it."
The thing was, Bixby's pal James Komack, who wrote and produced the show in addition to playing freewheeling magazine photographer Norman Tinker on it, never bought Bixby's single-or-bust ways, and he didn't think Bixby did, either.
"He's a fine, decent, legitimate, straight, stand-up kinda guy. He's a gentleman. He's got manners. He's got taste. He dresses well. He's polite. He lives a marvelous life with a canyon house in Beverly Hills... [and] a beach house in Malibu.... He's making an awful lot of money. He's got no one to answer to. And I wouldn't trade places with him for half a second," said Komack, who sported a wife and daughter at the time. "My personal life is what Billy professionally is portraying. Billy would like to be that man he plays on the screen. He sees me with my child and he would like to have that for himself. He's not done it because he's worked very hard and given up an entire life to his career. I chose my route; he chose his. Now he looks back and thinks maybe Jimmie chose the righter route. Billy said once during the rushes: 'You know, when I watch myself up there, I realize that I could really be like that.'"
Well, they say nobody can hurt you like your friends. And Komack and Bixby were very close. Their friendship dated back to 1960, when Komack was doing his actor-director-writer thing on CBS's navy comedy-drama Hennesey and Bixby, who was just starting out, showed up for a bit part. "I had one line: 'It's just down to the left of the captain's office, sir,'" Bixby recalled. "When Jimmie heard it, he stuck his head out of his dressing room and said, 'Hey, you're terrific!' I said, 'How can you tell I'm terrific from one line?' He said, 'I don't know. You got something. You and I are going to work together one day.'"
Score one for Komack. He was story editor on My Favorite Martian, the 1963-66 show on which Bixby co-starred with Ray Walston.
Now, I admit I can't offer an actual opinion on the show anymore because I loved it as a kid (and could sing Harry Nilsson's theme song, "Best Friend," in its entirety ), but now realize I was falling for the tried-and-true "awwwww" effect and didn't have enough experience watching hackneyed, manipulative entertainment to know the difference. TV Guide reviewer Cleveland Amory, on the other hand, did, writing in '69 that "for the one hundred and eighteenth time we have a bumbling widower, a little matchmaking monster and, of course, the all-wise housekeeper."
And since it was all new to me, I loved that overused all-wise housekeeper. I wanted my own Mrs. Livingston since I thought she'd be an easy babysitter to push around. Little did I know how tough Miyoshi Umeki, the singer-actress who played her, actually was. When Komack invited her in to test for the part (after Minnie Pearl turned him down just picture that role shift), she promptly let him know that she didn't test for anybody. If he didn't think she was right, he was welcome to ask the next actress in. The producer, improvising quickly, countered: "You don't understand Miyoshi. I want you to test only to make sure you like the part."
With that quick thinking, he had his Mrs. Livingston and, certainly, showed a little bit of why he was the boss. You don't get to be a successful Hollywood producer without being pretty darn good at the ego-management game.