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Private Secretary Aired from February 1953 until September 1957 on CBS.
Susie McNamara ( Ann Sothern) was private secretary to Peter Sands ( Don Porter), a very successful New York talent agent. She was attractive, efficient, and conscientious but she also had one serious falling. Susie couldn't tell when her responsibilities to her boss ended, and as a result kept getting mixed up in his personal life. Her efforts to help him with personal problems usually led to confusion and misunderstanding, despite their good intent. Vi Praskins ( Ann Tyrrell), the agency's receptionist/switchboard operator, was Susie's friend as was Sylvia ( Joan Banks), although the later was often vying with Susie for the affections of a particularly attractive man. Peter's chief competition in the talent business was fast-talking loud-mouthed , cigar-smoking Cagey Calhoun ( Jesse White).
" Cat On a Hot Tin Fire" ( a name -play on the then popular Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) was as typical an episode as any. Vi came in to Susie's office to tell Susie she found a cat that came in through the office window and wanted to keep her.Susie-dressed in black, as usual with a white tie told her not to bother Mr. Sands about it today " He's in his Simon Legree mood this morning." But Susie would see what she could do.
She brought Mr. Sands his coffee into his office, paneled with a philodendron on his desk. He saw the cat sleeping in a file cabinet and told her that it must go. So Susie put holes in Mr. Sands' new suitcase and took the cat around , seeing if she could find it a home. She gave the cat to a restaurant owner, but it came back. She decided to keep the cat in the office.
Mr. Sands announced that an important client was coming to the office-and she was allergic to cats. What to do? Susie and Vi schemed to get rid of the cat, but the haughty and overdramatic actress came early and started sneezing. Nobody could imagine why. But when Susie was sitting in on the meeting, the cat crawled in and went near the actress who jumped into Mr. Sands' arms. Their was a great deal of screaming and mugging and carrying on . The actress announced that she was going to sue.
Mr. Sands called her , as he often did when he was angry. He berated her when he discovered she let the cat in.
" There's not room in this office for the three of us. Now start counting."
Susie talked with Vi who had a hunch. She thought that that actress' alergy was psychosamatic and wanted to send her to a psychiatrist. They knew she wouldn't go so they had a psychiatrist friend of Susie's meet them in a restaurant-The Black Cat Cafe. As it turned out the actress once lost a part to a "catty rival" and had been alergic to cats ever since.The doctor and the actress hit it off and it looked like they might be seeing more of one another, and as a kicker the actress took a part in a play about cats and wanted to use the cat in the play. After the Lucky Strike Cigarette Commercial, there was the tag. The cat which they thought was a male-had kittens right in the office. " Susie" Vi squeeled, " we're Grandmothers!" The kittens even melted the cold, cold heart of Mr. Sands. And the show was over.
Ann Sothern was born Henrietta Lake in Valley City, North Dakota. A student of the violin, she played an original composition with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra when she was thirteen. Her mother became a vocal coach for Warner Brothers and Henrietta was discovered singing with her mother. She was in two notable Broadway shows-Smiles and Hotcha before she was brought to Hollywood in 1936. She was well known for living beyond her means ( even though her means were beyond most people) and each day she'd ride to work in a chauffered limousine.
In 1957 Ann Sothern quit Private Secretary after a dispute with producer Jack Chertok and she filed suit against him to get more than $93,000 that she claimed was owed to her in distribution profits. Chertok tried to resurect the show starring Don Porter without Ann Sothern but he couldn't find a suitable actress to replace her.
Private Secretary alternated bi-weekly with The Jack Benny Program. The series was syndicated under the title Susie.
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Apr. 20, 1953 Article
"I've been in show business for 20 years," says breezy Ann (Maisie) Sothern, hard-working star of her own CBS-TV show, Private Secretary, "and this is the toughest thing I've ever done." After Actress Sothern had made seven Maisie movies and broadcast 78 Maisie radio programs, she was so tired of the dumb-blonde character that "the very name made me frantic." .Several months ago someone handed her a TV script for Private Secretary, and Ann decided it was just right.
As Susie McNamara every Sunday night (7:30 p.m., E.S.T.), Ann is the "private right arm" of a show-business impresario, a glib, high-spirited girl in her thirties, who gets in & out of scrapes with sexy relish. Unlike Maisie, Susie dresses well, and "we try not to make her stupid. There are 5,000,000 secretaries in this country, and we want some sort of sympathetic association." After only a couple of months on the air, Private Secretary a sort of junior-size I Love Lucy has built up an audience of a good portion of those 5,000,000 secretaries, plus a few hundred thousand others.
As the boss of the filmed program (cost: $27,500 a week), Ann Sothern has to be practical about her art: "It's a business of compromise. Time is of the essence. Cost is paramount. If you're trying
I to honestly do a show of quality, then you are constantly frustrated. In three days we have to shoot an entire 26-minute show. And we do it just like the movies, with closeups, the whole works. But you know that isn't enough time. We start shooting promptly at 9 a.m. and never finish until 6. And still we don't have enough time. Some scenes that you see on the screen have never been rehearsed. I just read the script and they shoot it."
Ann also has to approve and edit scripts and help in casting and production planning: "If anyone tells you TV is easy, you can hit them for me. I live on Knox Gelatine and orange juice, just to keep going. In television you must give of yourself at such a pitch that it takes everything out of you."
Although Private Secretary is going great guns, Ann likes to say she would just as soon be out of it all. She says she never asked to be in show business anyway; it was all her mother's idea. Fortyish and divorced, she lives in Beverly Hills with her eight-year-old daughter Patricia, and "I hope Tish will never want to be an actress. I want her to grow up and have a lot of children so I can be a grandmother." What Ann really wants, she says, is "a man who is 40, rich and Catholic. Then I'll quit this business in a second." Until then, "I'll have to spend my time hermetically sealed on Stage 8."
Here is Don Porter's Obituary from the LA Times
Don Porter; Actor Played TV Bosses and Gidget's Father
February 20, 1997|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF
Don Porter, who portrayed consummate suave authority figures--the boss in "Private Secretary," the father in "Gidget"--has died. He was 84.
Porter died Feb. 11 in Los Angeles.
In "Private Secretary," one of television's earliest sitcoms, Porter played Peter Sands, the New York talent agent boss of secretary Susie McNamera, played by the series' star, Ann Sothern. The show ran from 1953 to 1957.
Porter was also Sothern's boss in "The Ann Sothern Show" which was aired from 1958 to 1961. In that show, he played hotel manager James Devery, who thwarted the promotion of Sothern's character, assistant manager Katy O'Connor.
In the mid-1960s, Porter put on his fatherly mien to play professor Russ Lawrence, the widowed father of the teenager Gidget. Based on the series of "Gidget" films, the television series introduced a newcomer named Sally Field as the lively title character. Porter also played Lawrence in one of the films, "Gidget Goes to Rome."
Born in Oklahoma, Porter served in World War II and then immediately began his six decades in show business. He started acting on stage in Portland, Ore., and eventually starred in more than 200 plays across the country. His Broadway hits included "Plaza Suite," "Any Wednesday" and a revival of "The Front Page."
In addition to his popular television series, Porter appeared in several television specials and movies. Among them were "The Legend of Lizzie Borden," "Christmas Miracle in Caufield, U.S.A.," "Frankie and Annette: The Second Time Around," "The Murder That Wouldn't Die," "All Together Now" and "Old Money."
On the large screen, Porter appeared in such films as "Youngblood Hawke," "The Candidate," "40 Carats," "Mame," "White Line Fever" and "The Women's Club."
An avid golfer and tennis player, Porter spent his retirement years organizing and participating in charity golf tournaments throughout the country.
Porter is survived by his wife and frequent co-star, actress Peggy Converse; his daughter, Melissa Converse, also an actress, and a son, Don Porter Jr., an architect.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Salvation Army or to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
Here is An Sothern's Obituary from The New York Times
Ann Sothern Is Dead at 92; Savvy Star of B-Films and TV
By ALJEAN HARMETZ MARCH 17, 2001
Ann Sothern, a deft comedian and talented singer who was known as the Queen of the B's at Columbia and RKO, where she made 18 movies between 1934 and 1936, died on Thursday at her home in Ketchum, Idaho. She was 92.
Perhaps never the star she might have been, Ms. Sothern was nevertheless one of the shrewdest actresses around. Her astuteness would eventually lead to her ownership of two early television series, ''Private Secretary'' and ''The Ann Sothern Show.''
In 1938 Ms. Sothern ditched her blond ingenue image and stormed Hollywood's greatest studio, MGM, only to be stuck in a wildly successful series of 10 movies about a tough, scatterbrained, down-on-her-luck Brooklyn chorus girl with a heart of gold, Maisie Ravier.
''Maisie'' (1939), which had been bought for Jean Harlow and then shelved when Harlow died, was an instant phenomenon. Letters addressed to ''Maisie, U.S.A.'' had no trouble being delivered. After ''Congo Maisie'' (1940), ''Gold Rush Maisie'' (1940), ''Ringside Maisie'' (1941) and ''Maisie Was a Lady'' (1941) and between ''Swing Shift Maisie'' (1943) and ''Undercover Maisie'' (1947), Ms. Sothern begged the studio head, Louis B. Mayer, to allow her to quit the series. Mr. Mayer always answered: ''No. Your movies pay for our mistakes.''
Through bad luck or fate, Ms. Sothern was never more than a minor star: ''a Hollywood princess,'' she once said, ''not a Hollywood queen.''
Joseph Mankiewicz, the Academy Award-winning director who cast Ms. Sothern in her best role, as the soap opera-writing wife of Kirk Douglas in ''A Letter to Three Wives'' (1949), said of her: ''Poor Annie. Annie was a damned good Broadway musical comedy actress. She had the sexiest mouth any woman ever had. But, at Metro, poor Annie got stuck in the Sam Katz unit. She never got the big break Gene Kelly and others did, of being with the Arthur Freed steamroller of talent.''
Ms. Sothern got a few chances to show off her her talent, her timing and her figure in MGM musicals, most notably ''Lady Be Good'' (1941) and in the Ethel Merman role in the film version of the Cole Porter musical comedy ''Panama Hattie'' (1942). And she got good reviews as a hard-boiled ex-waitress pressed into service as a nurse and doomed when the island of Bataan was conquered by the Japanese in the World War II drama ''Cry Havoc'' (1943). But it would be 35 years after ''Cry Havoc'' before she earned her sole Academy Award nomination.
In 1988, at the age of 79, she was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress for her performance as Lillian Gish's optimistic friend and neighbor in the 1987 drama of old age, ''The Whales of August.''
A few months before the nominations were announced, Ms. Sothern told an interviewer that her chances were dismal. ''I think Hollywood has been terrible to me,'' she said. ''Hollywood doesn't respond to a strong woman, not at all. I was too independent. How dare a woman be competitive or produce her own shows?''
Like her friend Lucille Ball, Ms. Sothern turned early to television. In their B-movie days at RKO, the two actresses had cried on each other's shoulders, with Ms. Sothern complaining that she got all the roles Katharine Hepburn did not want and Ms. Ball saying that she got all the parts Ms. Sothern did not want.
Ms. Sothern was savvy enough to produce ''Private Secretary,'' and to demand that the situation comedy be shot on film, to preserve it. As Susie McNamera, private secretary to a New York talent agent, Ms. Sothern became a heroine to secretaries all over America. The show alternated Sunday nights on CBS with ''The Jack Benny Show'' from February 1953 to September 1957.
When Ms. Sothern quarreled with the show's other producer over her right to take on movie roles, she left the series and sold her 104 episodes for well over $1 million. She immediately returned to CBS in ''The Ann Sothern Show'' as the assistant manager of a swanky New York hotel. Lucille Ball, as Lucy Ricardo, was a guest star on the first episode, and Ms. Sothern returned the favor several times as the Countess Framboise on ''I Love Lucy.'' In 1989, 28 years after ''The Ann Sothern Show'' went off the air, the actress sold the rights to the cable channel Nickelodeon, where the show became an unexpected hit.
Ann Sothern was born Harriette Lake on Jan. 22, 1909, in Valley City, N.D., where her mother, a concert singer, was on tour. She was the eldest of the three daughters of Walter and Annette Yde-Lake. Of Danish stock, she was raised in Minnesota by her mother and grandmother after her father, a meat salesman and womanizer, deserted the family when she was 5.
At 16 she was named the outstanding high school composer in Minnesota and sent to Detroit to represent Minnesota in a national contest. She spent a year at the University of Washington before joining her mother, who was a singing teacher in Hollywood. When half a dozen bit parts in movies got her nowhere, she tried Broadway with somewhat more success.
Florenz Ziegfeld offered her a part in ''Smiles'' with Marilyn Miller, but the star considered the 20-year-old Ms. Sothern too much competition and had her fired after the Boston tryout. In 1931 she played the ingenue in ''Everybody's Welcome,'' the play that introduced the song ''As Time Goes By''; she then toured for seven months in the George S. Kaufman-Morrie Ryskind-Ira and George Gershwin musical ''Of Thee I Sing.'' After the tour ended she took over the same role on Broadway, replacing Lois Moran. And Hollywood noticed.
She was signed by Columbia Studios, which changed her name to Ann Sothern and her hair color from red to platinum blond. From ''Let's Fall in Love'' in 1933 through ''The Hell Cat,'' ''Blind Date'' and ''Kid Millions'' with Eddie Cantor in 1934, the Maurice Chevalier musical ''Folies-Bergere'' in 1935 and a dozen more lightweight but pleasant musicals and comedies, she bubbled and sang.
Married to the bandleader Rogert Pryor and living in a huge rented house in Beverly Hills, she decided she had had enough of B movies. ''I found a much smaller house in Hollywood,'' she recalled. ''We lived cautiously, not as extravagantly, for a year. I was just so sick of those pictures, I decided I wasn't going to do them anymore.''
After making seven movies in 1937, she was off the screen until 1939, when she returned with fourth billing in an A movie, MGM's ''Trade Winds,'' as Fredric March's manipulative secretary. When he saw ''Trade Winds,'' Walter Ruben, the producer of ''Maisie,'' refused to cast one of MGM's contract actresses as Maisie; he insisted on Ann Sothern for the role that would define her career for the next decade.
In 1950, with her MGM contract coming to an end, she collapsed on the ski slopes at Sun Valley, Idaho, with a near-fatal case of hepatitis and was in and out of hospitals for a year. She had divorced Pryor in 1942. In 1943 she married the actor Robert Sterling and had a daughter. That marriage also ended in divorce.
Her movie career was essentially over, too, although she had solid parts in Gore Vidal's satirical political drama, ''The Best Man,'' and the Olivia de Havilland thriller ''Lady in a Cage,'' both in 1964. In 1965 she played her most bizarre role, as the voice of the mother of Jerry Van Dyke reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile in the television series ''My Mother the Car.''
Like many former stars she turned eventually to summer stock and dinner theater, with disastrous results. In 1974 on a stage in Jacksonville, Fla., falling scenery broke her back and smashed the nerves in her legs. She finished the performance, held together with silver gaffer's tape.
Told she would probably never walk again, she refused to accept the diagnosis. Immensely athletic, she was a crack trap shooter and deep sea fisherman, and her MGM contract gave her three months off each winter to ski in Sun Valley. She never came to terms with what the accident had done to her body. But she did walk, with a cane that she used reluctantly and constantly misplaced. And, a decade after the accident, she moved out of Southern California to Ketchum, where she could see Dollar Mountain, which she used to ski, through the window of her house.
A different kind of accident brought her one more chance for glory. The producer of a television remake of ''A Letter to Three Wives'' thought it would be a great marketing ploy to get one of the original stars, Jeanne Crain or Ms. Sothern, to play a cameo role. Ms. Sothern's bit part let Lindsay Anderson, the director who would be making ''The Whales of August,'' know that Ms. Sothern was still alive.
Mr. Anderson had retained ''a memory of her charm'' from Ms. Sothern's early musicals. ''In a sense she was too good an actress to be a star,'' he said. ''Being a star requires elephantiasis of the ego.''
Ms. Sothern is survived by her daughter, Tisha Sterling, an actress and designer; a sister, Sally Adams of Boise, Idaho; and a granddaughter.
Summing up her career after ''The Whales of August,'' Ms. Sothern shook her graying gold ringlets and said, ''I've done everything but play rodeos.''
Correction: March 20, 2001, Tuesday An obituary of the actress Ann Sothern on Saturday misidentified the distributor of ''Trade Winds,'' a 1938 film in which she played a supporting role. It was United Artists, not MGM. Because of an editing error, the article also misidentified the television show on which she appeared as the Countess Framboise. It was ''The Lucy Show,'' not ''I Love Lucy.''
To watch episodes of Private Secretary go to http://www.solie.org/alibrary/PrivateSecretary.html
To go to Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20100114101646/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/privsec.html
For an episode guide go to http://ctva.biz/US/Comedy/PrivateSecretary.htm
For a look at a crossover between Private Secretary and I Love Lucy go to http://poobala.com/lucyandprivate.html
For a Page dedicated to Ann Sothern go to http://www.lucyfan.com/annsothern.html
To watch the 1988 Leonald Maltin interview with Ann Sothern go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RODaRVzIBtE
For more on Private Secretary go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_Secretary_(TV_series)
For some Private Secretary -related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/private-secretary
To watch the opening credits go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QKQ9wPI2R8
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Keywords: Private Secretary (Links Updated 5/23/2017)