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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman ran from January 1976 until the fall of 1978 in first run syndication.
This was the classic soap opera to satirize all soap operas.
Mary Hartman ( Louise Lasser)was a "typical American housewife" living in the small town of Fernwood, Ohio. She was totally impressionable and rather slow-witted, with the most significant things in her life coming from television commercials, which she believed totally. One of her early concerns was the prospect of "waxy yellow buildup" on her kitchen floor and how to avoid it. Pigtailed and plain, her life was full of one crisis after another - her father George Shumway ( Phillip Bruns) disappeared, her daughter Heather ( Claudia Lamb), was held hostage by a mass murderer, her husband Tom ( Greg Mullavey),) was impotent, and her best friend - aspiring country music singer Loretta Haggers( Mary Kay Place) - was paralyzed. Eventually, Mary's implacable calm collapsed and she had a nervous breakdown, as well as an affair with local cop Dennis Foley( Bruce Solomon).
Mary's Grandfather, Raymond Larkin( Victor Kilian), was known to all as the Fernwood Flasher for his penchant for exposing himself in public; her sister, Cathy( Debralee Scott), was a local swinger; and her Mother, Martha( Dody Goodman), was decidedly flaky. Tom Hartman was an assembly-line worker at the local automobile plant where he worked with Loretta's husband, Charlie( Graham Jarvis). Jimmy Joe Jeeter( Sparky Marcus) was an 8-year-old Evangelist whose career was cut short when he was electrocuted by a television set that fell into his bathtub. His father, Merle( Dabney Coleman), was Fernwood's mayor. His mother Wanda was played by Marian Mercer.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the creation of producer Norman Lear and had been offered to the major networks, all of which rejected it as too controversial. Lear then sold the series to local stations as a syndicated entry in 1976 and had a much-publicized success with it. The novelty of satirical soap opera attracted many viewers (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman ran after the late local news in most cities). When star Louise Lasser left the show in 1977, it continued for another six months under the title Forever Fernwood with most of the original cast intact. However, Tab Hunter took over the role of Martha Shumway's husband George (with the explanation that George had fallen into a chemical vat and been restored with plastic surgery); and new characters included Eleonor Major ( Shelley Fabares), Tom Hartman's new love; Harmon Farinella( Richard Hatch), who sought an affair with Loretta Haggers; and Mac( Dennis Burkley), the truck driver.
A spin-off series Fernwood 2-Night staring Martin Mull aired during the summer of 1977 while Mary Hartman was on vacation. It returned in 1978.
CBS, the network that had first rejected it, aired selected reruns of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman as part of its late-night lineup for a few months in 1980
An Article From Time Magazine
Monday, Sep. 01, 1975 Article
The networks have passed up Producer Norman Lear's new idea, too. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is a soap opera with a difference. In the first two episodes, Housewife Mary, the thirtyish, pigtailed and sex-starved heroine, receives a number of rude shocks. No sooner has she seen her boyish but impotent husband Tom off to work at the Fernwood auto plant and settled down to watch the soaps than her sister, Cathy, drops by. "Say," observes Cathy, "your floors have waxy yellow buildup." A stunned Mary replies: "But the can says it's a lovely even glow." Cathy knows what the matter is; "It's Tom, isn't it?"
Mary hardly has her breath back before her neighbor Loretta, an aspiring country singer and child bride of the bald but virile Charlie, drops by to report a mass murder. "The Lombardis, their three kids, two goats and eight chickens." An astonished Mary says, "What kind of madman would kill two goats and eight chickens?"
Fernwood Flasher. That night Mary snuggles up to Tom, who is in bed loading a pistol he has bought to protect his family from the mass murderer. She nibbles his ear. Barks Tom: "Cut it out." Mary replies, "It's been five weeks." The Reader's Digest has counseled her to assert herself, but Tom has different advice: "Act like a woman." "You mean do nothing?" asks Mary. "That's right," says Tom.
Dawn has hardly broken over the unhappy Hartman household when the phone rings. It is the police, who have arrested Mary's Grandpa Larkin as "the Fernwood Flasher." A shocked Mary says, "I can't talk now; I'm on the phone." Meanwhile, Tom is at work being regaled by Charlie with the song that his Loretta wrote about mass murder —from the murderer's point of view. "That's not a subject for singing," says Tom. "Course it is," replies Charlie. "Country and western is all about real things like murder, amputations, faucets dripping in the night . . ." Then he breaks into I'm an Engineer.
To the 9½ million soap followers, the fast and funny scenario may sound too good to be true. The average soap has a torturously slow plot so full of digression that weeks can go by before the heroine is forced to decide whether to paint her nails pink or red. Sex and violence only simmer; it can take years for marriage and divorce merely to be broached.
For seven years, Norman Lear has longed to change all that. In between producing Maude, Good Times and The Jeffersons, he mulled over the soaps. Then last fall CBS put up $100,000 for a couple of episodes. He told writers to work up something with mass murder, exhibitionism and impotence. They thought he was joking, but he denies it: "It isn't satire—that's five minutes on a variety show. I wasn't trying to get comedy from mass murder or impotence —they aren't funny—but from people's reactions to them."
Finally, Ann Marcus, a veteran soap writer, came up with a script that met all Lear's requirements. He then persuaded a reluctant Louise Lasser, Woody Allen's ex-wife and co-star in Bananas, to play Mary. "I was a little afraid of the material at first," says Lasser, whose lethargic portrayal of the permanently stunned Mary is a comic turn on its own. Before long, she fell in love with what she calls "the Frankenstein soap."
So far, Mary has attracted inquiries from local stations, but no takers. Lear is a patient man, however. It took him four years to get rid of that show nobody even wanted to look at let alone buy. Its name: All in the Family.
Another Article From Time Magazine
Tickled to Death
Monday, Jan. 19, 1976 By R.S. Article
It must have seemed a good idea doing a parody soap opera. For the opening minutes of its first episode last week, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman — which Producer Norman Lear is syndicating because, he claims, the networks were afraid of it — still seemed like a good idea. There was the bird-brained heroine in the dreary suburb pouring endless cups of coffee for her girl friends.
Their conversation revolved hilariously around the question of whether or not a waxy yellow buildup was forming on Mary's kitchen floor. The scene was an expert put-on of the soaps' traditional method of stretching a thin script to full length.
But the art of parody lies in brevity. The trick is to catch and tickle to death a form's conventions and hastily flee the scene. In a very few minutes any reasonably clever group of comic writers and players can exhaust the rather limited parodistic possibilities inherent in the soaps. Then the problem is what to do next. The only answer, of course, is to do exactly what the soaps do — give the characters some issues to turn over and over in their tiny minds. There is a mass murder down the block, the grandpa who is discovered to be a flasher, the husband suffering from impotence.
These matters do not turn out to be the height of hilarity. In fact, they are depressing. Drawing the characters in the series not from the middle-class world where most soap opera people live but from the blue-collar class where most of their viewers reside seems, like so many Norman Lear notions, condescending rather than clever. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is silly stupid, silly stupid.
Another Article From Time Magazine
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Monday, Feb. 23, 1976 Article
Mary Hartman is currently suffering through separation from her husband, exposure to venereal disease and the lack of tranquilizers around the house. But how is she, really? For all her troubles, very well, it seems. Norman Lear's soap-opera sendup, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, is now in its seventh week, the most talked-about new show of TV's numb-drum season. Most followers of loopy Mary and the other soap-flake characters of Fernwood must indulge their new addiction either in the afternoon or late at night. Shunned by the networks, the syndicated five-day-a-week serial appears on nearly 70 stations, generally in non-prime-time slots; 30 more stations will start showing it soon. The program is averaging a 10 rating in major cities—healthy for its time slots, though obviously less than what a prime-time hit registers. In Los Angeles and New York, Mary, Mary's share of the audience has topped the local night news of the CBS affiliate—a fact Executive Producer Lear must relish, since CBS first backed—and then backed out of—the series.
Slapstick Tragedy. The most obvious thing about the show is its broad exaggeration of soap-opera calamity. Mary is held hostage by a crazed gunman, then propositioned by the rescuing police officer. Her friend, Loretta, who dreams of a career as a country singing star, is battling paralysis after her car was struck by another car full of nuns.
But slapstick tragedy is not the only reason why people are watching Mary Hartman. The show's fascination lies in its oddly shifting tone. Almost all of the characters are confused. Mary herself is usually slack-jawed with bafflement—about her sister, who has fallen in with the local massage-parlor king; her grandfather, "the Fernwood Flasher"; and most of all by her stolid and truly enigmatic husband Tom. Though he is having an affair with Mae, a comely co-worker at the plant, he is impotent with Mary. The situation makes him terse and glum. If he can't do it, poor, dead-voiced Mary wants to talk about it. In one of the show's more venturesome scenes, written by Lear himself, Mary complains that she cannot masturbate while Tom fumes with silent humiliation. "I can't do it and you can't talk about it," she says finally.
No matter how many car crashes or family arrests occur, the atmosphere in Fernwood is torpid. Many of the laughs stem from people's misunderstandings of the simplest things. The real threats come from family and close friends. Mary's kitchen telephone is an instrument of bedevilment. The wonder is that she still picks it up; she has rarely heard any good or even neutral news over it. Many lines, especially in the kitchen scenes, can seem funny and pathetic at once. Informed by a caller of yet another crisis, Mary replies, "I can't talk now, I'm on the phone." Actress Louise Lasser somehow turns that Gracie Allen yuk into a more everyday kind of bewilderment. Even Mary's usual costume can be described several ways. A silly little mini with a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves, it could be a saucy nurse's uniform, a chaste skating costume or just a child's dress.
All these ambiguities are catnip to critics, especially those with a sociological bent. Many observe that the show is a kind of barge to float all the garbage of American culture out to sea. Yale English Professor David Thorburn, who uses the show in one of his courses, has called the Hartman family "an American house of Atreus," although there has been no slaughter so far. Several enthusiasts have compared the show with Ingmar Bergman's film, Scenes from a Marriage—to Bergman's disparagement. Perhaps because he wears a warm-up jacket, Tom has been likened to John Updike's puzzled hero, Rabbit Angstrom. Commentators have noted, almost with reverence, that the characters are "human" and that Mary is "vulnerable," as if these qualities were very rare. With tough, raucous programs like All in the Family dominating prime time, perhaps they are.
Norman Lear, who gave Archie Bunker to the world, is now in love with Mary Hartman, an idea he thought up seven years ago. He does not see Mary as a soap satire; it is a way "to show humanity and comedy true to life in society—but perceived through a bent glass." He spends more time on the show than on any other project. In fact Lear may even be Mary. Says Chief Scriptwriter Ann Marcus: "If Mary sees an article in a magazine, that usually means Norman saw the article in a magazine." But despite suggestions from Lear and virtually everyone else on the set, Marcus finds the pace leaves hardly any "time to work out where the story is going." The original 60-page "bible" that traced planned story lines was expected to last at least six months. Restless Mary consumed it in three weeks. At the moment the writers are only a harrowing eight scripts ahead of each day's taping.
Crude News. Like any good producer, Lear loves the controversy that has surrounded the show. Mini-campaigns have broken out across the country to get it banned or at least limited to a time when the kids are not around. But only in Richmond, Va., where Mary played at 3:30 p.m., was the reaction of worried parents enough to get the show canned. Suburban Seattle Housewife Christine Matkovick has been calling executives of companies whose products are pitched on Mary, at 5 p.m. locally, and at least half a dozen sponsors have pulled out. But with youngsters deserting the competition—Leave It to Beaver reruns—the Seattle station is so far standing pat.
Still, Mary Hartman's most fitting habitat does seem to be opposite the late news. Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Bob Greene thinks that time slot lets viewers avoid "the merely hesitatingly slapstick news shows and instead enjoy genuine entertainment in the classic Chicago tradition: crude, snickering, dirty and easy to follow." Greene may be right. Mary is doing fine late at night. For a show with a soap-opera format, it is quite contrary. Quite contrary.
Another Article From Time Magazine, This One On Producer Norman Lear.
Monday, Apr. 05, 1976 Article
"I'm damned glad to be Norman Lear," says Norman Lear. "I'm having a helluva good time being me." But which Norman Lear? The creator of Archie Bunker, superbigot? The real-life Udall liberal? Lear the TV assembly-line vulgarian? Or Lear the audacious idea man who zaps taboos all the way to the top of the ratings?
With eight shows on the air, watched by an estimated 120 million Americans weekly, Lear is the most successful entrepreneur in the history of the medium. However, he considers himself "a writer, first and foremost," and is the most trenchant, uninhibited and influential of the TV breed. Not since Disney has a single showman invaded the screen and the national imagination with such a collection of memorable characters. Indeed, perhaps no American entertainer has created so raucous or raunchy a crew as Archie and Edith, Maude and Walter, J.J., the Jeffersons, Sanford and son—and this season's most improbable heroine, Mary Hartman. Next season the monarch of sitcom will have two new shows on the air, and these too seem likely to slice through prime-time jabberwocky to hit Americans in nerve end and funny bone.
Stratified Sitcoms. One reason for his long reign has been Lear's almost teleological ability to have at least one new talk-provoking show on the air before his last hit has settled into acceptance. In January 1972, just a year after All in the Family made its debut, Lear produced Sanford and Son, his first black sitcom, and watched it soar into the top ten rated shows. It was followed that September by Maude, a spin-off from Family, whose mercurial, politically liberal protagonist taught a nation's housewives the imprecation: "God'll getcha for this." Then came two more socially stratified black sitcoms: Good Times, wherein J.J. and his ghetto clan give a new meaning—and pronunciation—to dynamite, and the middle-class Jeffersons, which demonstrates weekly that blacks also can be bigoted. This year there were signs of Lear jet lag. One Day at a Time, a story of a divorced woman's travails with her two unlovable teen-age daughters, has fairly healthy ratings, but The Dumplings, a somewhat unbelievable celebration of love and cholesterol, seems unlikely to survive.
Last January came Lear's most tantalizing show, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman—MHII, as it is known in the trade—the parody soap opera. Because the networks, according to Lear, were afraid of the freaky show, MH II is syndicated to almost 100 stations. It often runs late in the evening and is thereby changing the viewing habits of millions of Americans. (In Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, where it appears at 11 p.m., it regularly beats out one or two news shows.) Its success, confounding the early critics (including TIME), fills Lear with unholy joy.
"I love Mary Hartman," he told TIME'S Leo Janos last week. "It's outrageous . . . outrageous! And the freedom! It's a story that goes on forever. No first-act curtain to worry about; no second-act resolution scene. Soap opera is a hell of an exciting form. Especially the way we are doing it, on two levels. Funny on one level and an intense human interest story on the other."
MH II is pop tragicomedy, Lear's real forte, in which one man's yuk can be another's yecch. In one recent episode, he decided to hold a funeral service in Mary's kitchen for a sports coach who had drowned in a bowl of chicken soup. "I just thought it was off-the-wall funny," says Lear. "When I told my wife Frances about the idea, she said, 'Norman, this time you've gone too far—even for you.' But it worked. It was funny." So funny that the New York Times's critic called it "ten minutes of the most hilarious TV that is likely to be seen this year." The scripts may be uneven, but the show boasts an infectiously loopy cast headed by the irresistibly dolorous Louise Lasser, whose Mary is a birdbrain worthy of Audubon, and Greg Mullavey as her flaccid husband Tom.
Stifled Wife. Lear's casting is always impeccable, but what makes the shows run—and run and run—is close-to-the-bone conflict that is stolen shamelessly from his own life. "I've always used material right out of my own life," he boasts. "Nowadays, if we're stuck in a scene, I just reach into my gut and extract something." Archie is based on Lear's Russian-Jewish father Herman, who really did tell his wife to "stifle." When Mary Hartman went to a psychiatrist, says the writer, "she told the same story I told my shrink." His daughter Maggie, 16, had problems with her boy friend; so they became an episode of One Day at a Time. Even Walter's 50th birthday on Maude was all in Lear's family. "My father had a thing," he recalls. "He'd pinch the skin on top of his hand, and when he'd let go and you could still see the impression, he'd say it was a sign of growing old. I did that on my 50th birthday, and so did Walter."
At 53, Lear is not about to quit, but he may ease his frenetic pace a bit. He certainly does not need his income from residuals. At the end of its 26-week run, MHII will go on vacation for 13 weeks before returning for a full 39-week season in the fall. Though the break goes against soap opera's nonstop tradition, Lear says simply that "we need rest time."
Besides, he has those two new shows to develop. One will star the redoubtable Nancy Walker as a Hollywood agent who suddenly has to face living full time with her husband of 29 years, a sailor who until now has been away from home for all but two months a year. The other, All's Fair, is about the May-December marriage of a 50-year-old newsman whose views are to the right of William Buckley and a 23-year-old professional sport photographer on the fringes of Jane Fonda; their spats will raise decibel levels on CBS in September.
Gut Guffaw. Both shows will probably roil anew the ulcers of network censors who still fight a Learguard action against TV fare that throws even a risible semblance of reality back at the viewer. That is what Lear's art is about, the guts of the guffaw. Nor will it change. As he puts it: "I consider myself a writer who loves to show real people in real conflict with all their fears, doubts, hopes and ambitions rubbing against their love for one another. I want my shows to be funny, outrageous and alive. So far, so good." And farther, and better.
Another Article From Time Magazine
Monday, May. 24, 1976 Article
Caught in a breakfast-nook indiscretion with a local cop, Mary Hartman begs Husband Tom for forgiveness. Meanwhile, Mary's neighbor Loretta tells Bedmate "Baby Boy" she is postponing her country-music career to become a missionary. Suddenly, the traumas are interrupted by a series of boffo bulletins. "Tonight, we'll tell you more about Howard Hughes' sex habits ... We'll chase a runaway baboon at the airport ... and check out wedding bells behind prison walls ... Be informed and have fun, beginning in three minutes on Metro News, MetroNews."
More than half the 450,000 or so people in Los Angeles who watch Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman usually stay tuned to KTTV's MetroNews, MetroNews. Their loyalty is understandable; most of what they will see and hear could have come straight from Mary. Instead of repeating the substantive news stories other stations serve up at 11 p.m., Los Angeles' Metromedia affiliate courts its carryover MH2 audience with an 11:30 extravaganza it forthrightly calls "news for people who don't like news."
"Our goal is to keep hip, antinews types from going to bed or switching to Johnny Carson," says KTTV News Director Charles Riley of the 30-min. show. "If we offered straight news after Mary Hartman, all you would hear is the sound of sets clicking off." Instead, MN2 is clicking with an audience that has doubled since the program went on the air three months ago. It now tops Los Angeles' five other independent stations in its time slot and is challenging ABC and the CBS late movie.
Seedy Set. In the irreverent MN2 mix, serious news is usually engulfed by the fanciful. Stripper Fanne Fox once delivered the weather report; Disc Jockey Wolfman Jack analyzed the New Hampshire primary results; Actress Terry Moore submitted to a polygraph test about shipboard sex with Howard Hughes. Porn Queen Amber Hunt and Mobster Mickey Cohen both graced one of last week's shows with filmed interviews, she on what thrills, he on forged wills. The zest of MetroNews comes from the ham and hard-boiled-egg match-up of extrovert Anchor Man Charles Rowe, 37, and Reporter-Inquisitor Charles Ashman, 40. A bionic-perfect baritone, Rowe is the ideal foil for Ashman, a sardonic "everyman" who shows up each night with yesterday's stubble. Operating in a seedy city-room set torn from The Front Page, they go about earning the sobriquet given them by miffed competitors: the "outhouse news."
But MN2 offers inside news, too, thanks mainly to Ashman, a former attorney-author who has produced noteworthy scoops. Among them: disclosure of the partial Government subsidy of Nixon's trip to Peking; Barry Goldwater's rapprochement with Nelson Rockefeller; a six-part series on the American Escape Committee, which is responsible for arranging two recent breaks from Mexican jails. Ashman, who admits to some qualms about the MN2 format, notes: "Two minutes after I broke the story on Nixon's China trip, I was reporting from inside a nudist camp, and four minutes later I was interviewing a goat."
And Rowe has his moments of worry. At first he thought MN2 would prove to be a "highly perishable commodity." Now he just wishes the show had a bigger staff. Its needs? "Either a street reporter or a comedy writer."
Another Article From Time Magazine
Monday, Oct. 18, 1976 Article
"I want to be a plant," drones a glassy-eyed Mary Hartman from the Fernwood Receiving Hospital's mental ward. Who could blame her? As a pig-tailed Fernwood housewife on television's most talked-about series last season, Mary's doorstep had been darkened by adultery, impotence, venereal disease and an ax murderer, not to mention waxy buildup on her kitchen floor. No wonder Mary went bonkers on the show's closing episode. So what is next for poor Mary and her loopy friends in the new season that premiered last week?* It does not sound therapeutic.
As the world turns on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman this season, the eight-year-old Rev. Jimmy Joe Jeeter, boy evangelist, comes to a sorry end when a television set rigged up over his bathtub falls in and electrocutes him. "He died for the 6:30 news, Lord. For the sins of the 6:30 news," wails Mary's friend Loretta Haggers, who happened to be out of the room at the crucial moment, hunting for the reverend's rubber duck. Meanwhile, Loretta's oversexed husband Charlie—shot in the groin in a tussle with Jimmy Joe's dad, Merle Jeeter—prepares stoically for television's first testicle transplant. As for good ole Merle, he becomes a "born-again" politician. Also tripping into view will be a Miss Tippytoes, a glamorous CB radio freak who Mary thinks has a handle on her husband Tom. Then there is Gore Vidal, who visits Fernwood to see if there is a book in the larger meaning of Mary's breakdown. Says Norman Lear, executive producer of MH2. "My bent as a mature human is to entertain with the material that life affords." Oh.
* This season 125 stations are carrying the syndicated show, up from 80 last season.
Debralee Scott's Obituary
Actress Debralee Scott appeared in 'Mary Hartman' and on game shows , dead at 52
April 8, 2005
( AP) AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Actress Debralee Scott, a regular on the TV sitcom "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," and frequent face on the 1970s game show circuit, has died. She was 52.
Scott died of natural causes April 5, three days after her birthday, at her home in Amelia Island, said her sister Jeri Scott, a talent manager in Beverly Hills. The exact cause was not released.
Scott came from a family of show business insiders. Her eldest sister, Scott Bushnell, produced many of director Robert Altman's films. Middle sister Jeri Scott is an agent turned manager.
The two older Scotts moved to San Francisco from their home town of Elizabeth, N.J., as young adults. A few years later, their father said their younger sister Debralee was "getting restless" and he asked if she could join them, Jeri Scott recalled Friday.
"She was 16. She was supposed to finish high school, but I doubt she showed up," Scott said. "It was the '70s in San Francisco. It was wear a flower in your hair."
Scott eventually met an agent in Los Angeles, and got her first major role on "Mary Hartman" at age 22. She later played the role of Hotsy Totsy on the show "Welcome Back Kotter" and appeared in two of the "Police Academy" movies.
She had been engaged to John Dennis Levi, a police officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Scott had just moved to north Florida to be with her older sister.
Funeral plans were pending.
Graham Jarvis's Obituary
April 21, 2003] Graham P. Jarvis, a familiar character actor died Wednesday of multiple myeloma at his home in Pacific Palisades. He was 72.
Perhaps best remembered for his role as Charlie Haggers in the 1970s series "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," Jarvis more recently turned up playing Charles Jackson on "7th Heaven" and Bobo on "Six Feet Under." In classic TV, he appeared on "Maude," "M*A*S*H," "The Odd Couple," "All in the Family," and a few dozen more.
His theater career included roles in productions as wide-ranging as "The Best Man," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Rocky Horror Show."
He is survived by his wife, JoAnna Rader; two children, Matthew and Alex; and a sister, Kitty Blair.