It was a producer’s hunch and more than a little bit of luck that set Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour off “on the road” to a series of seven popular comedies.
The genesis of the road movies lay on the golf course (where else for such addicts as Hope and Crosby) when the boys made up a foursome with producer Harlan Thompson and director Victor Schertzinger. Such fun was had (Crosby and Hope were long time friends and loved to poke fun at each other on their long running radio shows) that Thompson and Schertzinger realised what a great on-screen team Crosby and Hope would make – even better both were under contract to Paramount. Quickly bringing Dorothy Lamour on board for a spot of glamour the quartet started work on Road to Singapore. The script that had been around the blocks twice already, once as an intended vehicle for George Burns and Gracie Allen and then for Jack Oakie and Fred MacMurray.
Thank to great camaraderie and wise-cracking between the boys and the added frisson of them both desperate to get with Lamour and Road to Singapore was a massive hit, which of course left Paramount wanting more.
The next in the sequence was Road to Zanzibar (1941) which thankfully had it’s original title of Find Colonel Fawcett changed. In this extremely funny movie Hope is stuntman Fearless Frazier, the living bullet and Crosby is his conniving manager Chuck. Lamour is the girl they rescue from slave traders. Zanzibar is also the one in which Hope wrestles a gorilla.
Like Webster’s dictionary we’re Morocco
1942 saw the arrival of very possibly the best movie of the series, Road to Morocco, with the zaniness really cranked up a notch – something Mabel the talking camel could readily identify with remarking at one point “this is the screwiest picture I ever was in.”
In 1944 the trio returned for Road to Utopia set during the days of the Alaskan Gold Rush. Crosby and Hope played washed up vaudevillians. Robert Benchley also had a prominent role wandering in and out of scenes as himself and trying to remember just what was going on with the plot.
The last Road film to appear in the forties was 1947’s Road to Rio and it was another winner. Bob and Bing played Scat Sweeney and Hot-Lips Barton and there were also appearances from singing trio The Andrew Sisters and the crazy acrobatic troupe Three Weire Brothers.
It looked like that was it for the Road films and then somewhat surprisingly Paramount announced that 1952 would see the arrival of an all new and all colour Road movie. Road to Bali was once again right up there at times especially with scene stealing cameos from Jane Russell and Humphrey Bogart (looking for his boat The African Queen!)
One for the road
That was definitely it until in the late 1950’s Paramount announced that the gang would be making Road to the Moon – this ended up not being made but Paramount (as well as Bing and Bob) were evidently committed to one more for the road as it were and in 1962 Road to Hong Kong was released. Sadly the times had changed and this was just not up to the par of the other road movies – worse still glamour girl Lamour was barely in it – the young Joan Collins had the female lead. The movie was filmed in the UK and the most notable thing about it was the number of guest stars who popped up including Peter Sellers in full Indian Doctor mode, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, comedian Dave King and Zza Zza Gabor.
Although still part of the canon most fans prefer to give this final film a miss, concentrating instead on the not to be missed quintet of the 1940’s.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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