Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
      ( 2/28/2006 05:55:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WHERE HAVE THEY GONE, THESE STARS OF OUR YOUTH? – Damn, more deaths: this time of three familiar figures from my teevee-addicted childhood. Was never a big fan of Don Knotts – but I suspect this was more a matter of the material not being up to the man than of Knotts himself. (I've seen some snippets of his work on the old Steve Allen Show, and I'd love to see more of it since I suspect that's the material most worth re-watching.) Though it ran through my childhood – and has been a syndicated staple ever since – I never connected to The Andy Griffith Show, while the less said about Three's Company, the better. As for the string of low-budget family films he made over the years, I have better memories of 'em as Dell/Gold Key comics than I do as movies.

Darren McGavin is another story, though. I remember him as hard-boiled Mike Hammer on fifties series, as the much-tested uniformed mentor in Jerry Lewis' The Delicate Delinquent, as any number of hard-workin' authority figures – and, of course, as the anti-authoritarian Carl Kolchak and the Fieldsian Old Man in A Christmas Story. A reliable actor who was as skilled with a comic slow burn as he was a no-nonsense tough-guy delivery: my kind of teevee star.

And then there's Dennis Weaver, who resided somewhere in between Knotts and McGavin: as the limping deputy Chester on Gunsmoke, he was closer to Barney Fife than Andy Taylor (remember reading once that the reason his character was originally given a limp was to hide the fact that he was as tall as series star James Arness), but as the Coogan's Bluff-inspired Deputy McCloud, he came into his own as a leading man. Used to watch the show regularly when it was a part of the Sunday Night NBC Mystery Movie package, and if it wasn't the best of the bunch (that honor would have to go to the inimitable Columbo), it remained an entertaining cop show thanx in large part to Weaver's warm presence.

Reading of the death of this threesome, I find myself wondering who – if anybody – is groomed to be their replacements. As professional actors who came into television in its early years, they staked their places in the medium, arguably making their biggest impression on the small screen. So who, in the current realm of teevee regulars, is currently capable of filling Darren McGavin's well-scuffed shoes?
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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