Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ugliest Girl in Town

In 1968, 'gimmick' shows were hot... think Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and Batman. Most of the out-there shows like Mr. Terrific and The New People never caught on. But the networks reasoned that the masses wanted mindless entertainment and, by God, they were going to get it. That's how The Ugliest Girl in Town made it to ABC's fall line-up, a series where the main character was running around in really bad drag.

You see, Timothy Blair (Peter Kastner) had a photographer brother named Gene (played by Garry Marshall, creator of Lavern & Shirley and regular on Murphy Brown). Gene lost some important photo shoot pics so he dressed Timothy up in Hippie chick garb and submitted those shots to his London publisher who think they've found the next 'Twiggy'... so 'Timmie' becomes the newest hot fashion model. As a girl, of course.

This works out great for Timothy, he gets to fly back and forth to London where his girlfriend Julie Renfield (Patricia Brake) lives and prance around go-go London in all the latest mod fashions. Today this show wouldn't seem so extreme, but in the uptight sixties this kind of thing was an anathema, not something middle America was about to turn on for fear of catching Teh Gay.

TVparty-er Laura writes: "A couple of episodes that stand out in my mind are one where s/he was ordered to pose as a nude model (he covered up his lack of feminine allure by posing in a bubble bath) and one where he had to sing in falsetto, but because he couldn't sing in key, a male janitor sang for him. The clothes were at their silliest Austin Powers-ish best. Very 60's airline stewardess-style clothing, puffy hats, go-go boots, big round sunglasses."

Linda Gillies alerts us to an inflamatory obituary of Peter Kastner, The Toronto Star obit states:

But after starring in a disastrous ABC sitcom, The Ugliest Girl in Town, in which he played a young man disguised as a young woman, his career tanked, and his life story turned into a bizarre twist on Sunset Boulevard, with Kastner turning into an updated Canadian male incarnation of Norma Desmond, the deluded former star of silent movies. After moving back to Toronto from the U.S. a few years ago, Kastner played coffee houses (including Free Times Café) and comedy clubs (including Yuk Yuks) with a one-man show. He not only milked the irony of his own career crash but attacked his mother, the late Rose Kastner, resulting in a bitter estrangement from his three siblings and other members of the family.

It goes on to quote family members about how troubled the actor was.

But Kastner's wife is crying fowl and tells another story. She states in part, "After he left acting he became a high school English teacher. He became a maker of quirky and interesting videos on a wide range of subjects. He mentored many teenagers, helped raise his step-daughter and was the constant delight of his grandchildren.

"Not only is the article inaccurate on a factual basis, it is also a gross misrepresentation of Peter's life after he left acting. The Peter I knew was actively engaged in the world, through his video work, his songwriting, his political activism and his many friendships. It would have been nice if Knelman had mentioned his first wife Wendy Miller, who also mourns him. The incomplete view presented by Knelman fails to capture the sweetness and soul of the good man who died in his parked car on September 18th, 2008."

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