Gerald McRaney spent eight years as private investigator Rick Simon in the series “Simon & Simon” on the CBS Television Network, then returned to the Network for four years as a U.S. Marine in “Major Dad.” Since the latter series ended its run in 1993, McRaney has become a valuable and reliable character player in many highly rated television films and mini-series.
McRaney was born in Collins, Miss. and became interested in acting when a football knee injury in junior high school sidelined him. He joined his school’s drama club and went on to major in drama at the University of Mississippi. Although he briefly segued out of acting and onto the Louisiana oil fields, he landed a job as an assistant stage manager with a New Orleans repertory company and was eventually cast in some of its stage productions.
McRaney made his television debut in an episode of “Night Gallery.”
Tony Randall was born Leonard Rosenberg in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1920. At age 12 he attended a school play and decided he wanted to become an actor. At age 20, after a year studying acting with Northwestern University’s Theatre Department, he set out for New York and the Neighborhood Playhouse.
There he trained tirelessly for a career in which the odds of making a living were totally against him. Luckily he drew support from his parents – $10 a week. In the early 1940s, it was enough to avoid starvation. In 1941, he married Florence Mitchell, from Northwestern, and started to find steady work in radio. His rich voice was heard on soap operas such as “Portia Faces Life.” He also made his New York stage debut and appeared with Ethel Barrymore.
The next year, Randall reported to the Army and served until 1946. In 1947, he was back on the boards appearing in The Barretts of Wimpole Street and Anthony and Cleopatra. In 1952, he joined Wally Cox as a regular on the hit show Mr. Peepers. By the end of the decade he was starring in Hollywood movies opposite stars such as Jayne Mansfield, Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
In 1960 he appeared with Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love. In the 1970s Randall was teamed with Jack Klugman in the TV series The Odd Couple. From there he hosted his own The Tony Randall Show and appeared often in films and on TV. He returned to Broadway in the late ’80s in the triumphant M Butterfly.
Film and TV actress Barbara Eden was born Barbara Jean Huffman on August 23, 1934, in Tucson, Arizona, to, Alice Huffman and Harrison Connor Huffman. Eden was a cheerleader in high school and a pop singer as a teenager. She graduated in 1949 from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, California.
Eden is most indelibly associated with her role as the genie in the bottle in the long-running TV sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, co-starring Larry Hagman.
In I Dream of Jeannie, Major Anthony Nelson (Hagman) is a NASA astronaut who finds a decorative pink bottle on a desert island after he splashes down in the ocean. The bottle has a beautiful blond genie in it (Eden), who immediately assumes that Nelson is her master. He brings her home to live in Cocoa Beach, Florida. In each episode, the forbidden use of Jeannie’s well-meaning mystical powers alters reality in some wacky way that must be carefully explained away by Nelson. No other person knows of Jeannie’s existence except for Nelson’s bumbling friend, Major Roger Healey. Together they conspire to keep her secret from everyone else, especially from Nelson’s commanding officers at NASA.
The sitcom gained a cult following, and Eden appeared from time to time in commercials and cameos that poke gentle fun at her former role.
Before focusing on a TV career, Eden had parts in a series of unremarkable films in the 1950s and 1960s. Her first film role was in Back from Eternity (1956). In 1957, she starred on TV in How to Marry a Millionaire (1957) and after I Dream of Jeannie’s successful five year run from 1965 to 1970, she starred in Harper Valley PTA (1981-82). She published her autobiography, Barbara Eden: My Story, in October 1986.
Actress and singer, Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diann Johnson on July 17, 1935, in the Bronx, New York.
When Carroll was just ten years old, she received a Metropolitan Opera scholarship for studies at New York’s High School of Music and Art. She went on to study sociology at New York University, working part-time as a model, in TV bit parts, and as a nightclub singer. Carroll’s Broadway debut was in the Harold Arlen/Truman Capote production House of Flowers (1954), and her film debut was in the immensely successful Carmen Jones (1954), a modern version of Bizet’s opera Carmen, performed by an all-black cast. She also appeared in the film version of Porgy and Bess (1959). Carroll was back on Broadway in 1962, winning a Tony Award for No Strings.
In 1968, she broke important ground in Hollywood by starring in the TV sitcom Julia, about a beautiful and independent single career woman and mother, who happened to be black. This was the first TV show to star a black personality, and her character’s dignified occupation as a nurse was a significant improvement over the stereotypical roles often assigned to black performers on TV in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1968, Carroll was nominated for an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Julia, and she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress the same year.
Although a sweetheart on TV in the 1960s, Carroll returned to the small screen with a completely different type of character in the glitzy 1980s, portraying the glamorous, scheming businesswoman Dominique Devereaux, in the nighttime soap opera Dynasty (1984-87).
Carroll’s second Emmy nomination came in 1989 for a guest appearance in the comedy series A Different World, as actress Jasmine Guy’s mother. In 1974, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Claudine. In 1995, she starred as Norma Desmond in a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. In 1998 and 1999, she toured the country singing classic Broadway songs in Almost Like Being in Love–The Lerner and Loewe Songbook.
Carroll published her autobiography, Diahann, in 1986, and in 1997 she launched a signature line of clothing and eyewear targeted to the needs of African-American women. In 1998, Carroll was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following successful treatment, she became the spokeswoman for the National Women’s Cancer Research Alliance, and an outspoken advocate of early cancer prevention and detection. She is also well known for her work on behalf of AIDS research.
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