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Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Day With Steve Franken.

I'm going to take a break in my "Pioneer Women" series, and get back to it next time.
Something a little bit more timely has come up.

The actor Steve Franken died this last week.
He was best known as Chatsworth Osborne Junior, the overtly snobbish rich teenager
on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"
That was a show that I probably should have given honorable mention to when I was compiling my list
of best sitcoms of all time.
It had style, wit, wonderful writing, and several actors at the absolute tops of their games.
I'd had close encounters with several of its cast members.

Dwayne Hickman, after he hung up his acting gloves, became an executive at CBS.
He was a liaison to several of my flop series at CBS in the late seventies.
He was one of those rare things: A guy who gave network notes that weren't stupid.
He was smart in general, and knew enough to know that I knew what I was doing.
So when, in doubt, he kept things to himself.
We got along famously.
He was also far more qualified than most to do that job well, having been an integral part of two hit series.
He was someone worth listening to.

I met Bob Denver on his home turf in West Virginia, where he lived.
I flew there on a puddle jumper from Detroit, to try to convince him to do one of my
We did an out-and-out reading of it, and he was wonderful.
And nothing at all like Gilligan or Maynard G. Krebs. (The G. stood for "Walter")
He was erudite and intelligent, and it suited the part perfectly.
He had semi-retired at that point, because he had a severely disabled child
who needed his full attention.
But he said, if I could ever get a production going in West Virginia, count him in.
I never could.
I remember exactly when this happened. January of 1993.
Because it was the day of Bill Clinton's first Inauguration.
We stopped for about five minutes to watch it.

And then there was Steve Franken.
Steve Franken was hilarious on "Dobie Gillis"
He made Chatsworth Osborne Junior his outrageous own.
I'm afraid that it somewhat typecast him.
He never really did that much after that.
Certainly nothing that good or attention-getting.
He deserved better than that.
Very few people who remember the show at all remember that he was essentially a
replacement for another actor who played the spoiled rich teenager.
That actor didn't make nearly as much of an impression in the part, and left the show after the first season.
He didn't get typecast.
His name was, and still is, Warren Beatty.

It wasn't Warren Beatty, but rather Steve Franken, who showed up at my office
for the first day of casting for the principals of a pilot I did for CBS, which eventually became a series that
Dwayne Hickman was a liaison for, called "Busting Loose"
"Busting Loose" was a contemporary gang comedy, loosely based on the movie
"Next Stop Greenwich Village".
Which meant it was about Jews.
What the network essentially wanted was a young, contemporary, Jewish "Happy Days".
I was young, contemporary, Jewish, and had worked on "Happy Days".
So they came to the right place.
Of course, with networks being traditionally shy about doing anything Jewish since "The Goldbergs",
that element got lost pretty quickly.
So Steve Franken showed up at my office before anyone else did.
He had looked at the script before coming in and was totally embarrassed to be there.
His first words were "I know. I'm way too old for this."
He was probably in his late forties at the time.
My first words to him were "You know, you're way too old for this."
He said "I don't know why my agent sent me here."
I said "I don't know either."
I was looking for slightly more ethnic versions of Potsie and Ralph Malph.
And this grownup showed up.
But I had an opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed him on "Dobie Gillis",
and offered him the opportunity to help me read the other prospective actors who would be coming in to audition.
He took me up on it, having nothing better to do, I guess figuring that it
was an opportunity to score Brownie Points with me.
He did.
And he was wonderful in whichever part he was asked to read.
I made a mental note to cast him in something down the line.
Like so many mental notes, that one unfortunately got filed in the
"I forgot all about it" file.
And it stayed there until I read of his death this week.
He was a very nice man, and now it's too late to make it up to him.


My books ,"Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
If you'd like one, contact me at
And now, we've got my reading of my "Laverne & Shirley Movie" screenplay on YouTube.



  1. Steve Franken "never really did much" after "Dobie Gilis"?

    Reading your postings on various TV topics, I've deduced that you don't care much for "serious" programs - westerns, crime shows, and the like.

    Steve Franken's name was one I usually made a point to seek out in TV Guide every week, because he always "gave value for money", to use a British phrase.
    And much of that value came in straight, serious roles.
    Three come to mind right now:
    - Last night, MeTV ran an early "Mission:Impossible" episode set a Middle-Eastern country with a thriving slave trade.
    Steve Franken plays a native of the country who's helping Peter Graves & Co. set up their scam to expose the slavers. He's wearing dark makeup and using a dialect, but he's carrying it off, non-embarrassingly. (It's a two-parter; part 2 airs tonight at 2am, 1am central).
    - This past weekend I looked at a "Mod Squad" segment from that series's second season that featured Marvin Kaplan as a kindly TV repairman who discovered that his cousin (Noam Pitlik) was a secret slumlord, and took him before a Jewish court.
    Steve Franken played the rabbi who presided over the Beth Din. As such, his job was "laying the pipe" - explaining to a Gentile TV audience just what the Beth Din was, and what it could and could not do. Franken did a good job; my Irish Catholic family understood perfectly.
    - This third one is a little tricky.
    Steve Franken performed a brief film for Jerry Lewis's MDA telethon in which he personified Muscular Dystrophy.
    Franken played MD as a kind of James Bond villain: wearing a tuxedo, seated in a wicker chair, holding a snifter of something (I may be wrong on that last one). His delivery was silken and cruel, a kind of Uriah Heepish menace, escalating to a genuinely creepy finish. I looked for it this morning on YouTube, but apparently no one saw fit to thus immortalize it.
    I know that some viewers found this embarrassing, for Franken and for the MDA, but I couldn't stop watching; Franken's delivery had me.

    This is my tribute (however clumsy) to a true cahracter actor. Steve Franken could do just about anything, funny or serious, and deserved his long career.

    1. Sorry I'm so late to the game to honor this exceptional actor. Mark, you are correct that Mr. Franken's Chatsworth Osborne Jr. became the quintessential spoiled bratty rich kid, and an appearance I eagerly looked forward to each week.

      Mike, your recounting of Steve's personification of Muscular Dystrophy is spot-on. It was chilling and moving and one of the finest three minutes of film I've ever witnessed. I too have searched unsuccessfully for a posting of it somewhere. It still haunts me to this day.

  2. Mike,
    Compared to Chatsworth, what you described pretty much counts as "never really did much".
    He was really good, but Chatsworth was his moment in the sun.

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."