Monday, June 10, 2013
TV's Funniest Old Ladies
Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies: Granny was the breakout character in this series, a genuine phenomenon, America's favorite TV character on the number one show in the nation. The episode where Granny finds a "Giant Jackrabbit" is to this day one of the highest-rated TV programs of all time, the most watched half-hour episode of a sitcom ever. Sadly Irene Ryan died just a couple of years after this production ended in 1971, while she was on the Broadway stage as an original cast member of Pippin, a final career triumph.
Mother Dexter on Phyllis: Judith Lowry wasn't just the funniest character on this show, she was the only funny thing about the program period. But that was enough to get me to tune in. Lowry didn't have much of a voice in terms of projection so you really had to pay attention to get her lines and that may have contributed to the success of the character. She got all the best quips and delivered sarcasm with a zing. Lowry died midway through the show's second and last season, the production couldn't survive her passing.
Mother Jefferson on The Jeffersons: This was another case of the old gal stealing the show. The Jeffersons was never so funny as when Zara Cully as Olivia "Mother" Jefferson was on screen with her cutting remarks aimed at her daughter-in-law and her obsequious devotion to her son. She was seen often in the first season but more sporadically during the second. She missed the first 17 episodes of the third season due to pneumonia. That's when I lost interest in the show. Cully died in 1978 during the show's fourth year, three months after her last episode aired.
Having two CBS shows in two years where one of the lead characters died early into the production's run (not to mention Ellen Corby's stroke and Will Geer's death plaguing The Waltons at the same time) made producers reluctant to hire actors in their seventies or eighties for a permanent role on a TV series in the future.
Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls: When this sitcom was cast producers went with an actress in her sixties to play a woman in her eighties. Like Granny before her, Estelle Getty became a national sensation with her caustic portrayal of a slightly demented old lady. Her character was so popular after Golden Girls and Golden Palace left the air she did two more seasons as Sophia on Empty Nest.
Madame from Madame's Place: The TV version was a watered down affair compared to Wayland Flower's raunchy and much funnier nightclub act but Madame's Place is all the more fun to watch because of the schlocky production values found on those 1970's syndicated shows. Flower's exuberant delivery and keen wit brought Madame vividly to life, here's an episode of their tacky 1980s syndicated sitcom.