Looking Back -- Aug. 5, 2012

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

Students are heading back to school tomorrow in Dougherty County. Some systems have already returned and others will shortly. Here is a look back at school days on television, long before “90210” and “Glee.”

‘Our Miss Brooks’ ( 1952-56)

• Miss Brooks taught English at Madison High, rented a room from Mrs. Davis, got rides to school with student Walter, fought with Principal Conklin and tried to snag shy biology teacher Boynton. In the last year, she switched to Mrs. Nestor’s private school.

• The cast included Eve Arden as Connie Brooks, Gale Gordon as Osgood Conklin, Jane Morgan as Mrs. Margaret Davis, Robert Rockwell as Philip Boynton, Richard Crenna as Walter Denton and Gloria McMillan as Harriet Conklin.

• “Our Miss Brooks” ran for 130 episodes on television and won an Emmy before it was canceled in 1956. In the 1954-55 season, it overpowered its NBC competition, “Dear Phoebe,” starring Peter Lawford and Charles Lane.

• The program was considered groundbreaking for showing a woman who was neither a scatterbrained klutz nor a homebody, but rather a working woman who transcended the actual (or assumed) limits to women’s working lives of the time.

• Arden was made an honorary member of the National Education Association and received a 1952 award from the Teachers College of Connecticut’s Alumni Association “for humanizing the American teacher.”

‘Room 222’ (1969-74)

• “Room 222” aired on ABC from Sept. 17, 1969, to Jan. 11, 1974, for 112 episodes. The show was broadcast on Wednesday evenings for its first two seasons before settling into its best-remembered time slot of Friday evenings at 9 p.m. following “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family” and preceding “The Odd Couple” and “Love, American Style”.

• The series focused on an American history class at the fictional Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles, California. Located in Room 222, the class was taught by Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes), an idealistic African-American school teacher.

Reader poll

QUIK QUIZ: "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" (1992–97) -- The series finale was pre-empted, halfway through, as ABC News broke in with the story of:

  • (a) Princess Diana's fatal car accident in Paris. 50%
  • (b) 185,000 Teamsters Union United Parcel Service drivers walked off the job. 0%
  • (c) Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh formally sentenced to death. 0%
  • (d) Mother Teresa's death. 50%

2 total votes.

• Other characters featured in the show were the school’s guidance counselor, Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas), who was also Pete’s girlfriend; the dryly humorous school principal, Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine), and the petite and enthusiastic Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine), a student teacher.

• Pete Dixon delivered lessons to his students in tolerance and understanding. The themes of the episodes were sometimes topical, reflecting the current political climate such as the Vietnam War, women’s rights, race relations and Watergate.

• Guest appearances by folks that later went on to become major stars included Teri Garr, Jamie Farr, Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss, Chuck Norris and Kurt Russell.

‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ (1975-79)

• The stars on this TV show were Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, Marcia Strassman as Julie Kotter, John Sylvester White as Mr. Michael Woodman, Robert Hegyes as Juan Epstein, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack and breakout John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino.

• The basic idea for this series was simple — a compassionate teacher (Kotter) returned to his inner-city high school of his youth to teach a new generation of trouble making kids, the Sweathogs.

• The show was originally banned in Boston. The ABC affiliate did not want to air the show at first because they thought it was about busing, a very heated topic at the time. They eventually ran the show with no problems.

• Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson auditioned for the role of Julie Kotter.

• After the third season, Travolta’s original five-year contract was altered after the massive success of “Saturday Night Fever.” Finally, Travolta appeared in eight of the 22 episodes, for $2,000 an episode and, he was billed as a “special guest star.”

• The show always began and ended with Gabe Kotter telling his wife, Julie, a joke, except for the last episode. In that episode, Marcia Strassman had left the set after a dispute, so Gabe Kaplan told the last joke to a stuffed bear.

‘The Paper Chase’ (1978-9, 1983-86)

• The main characters in this series were played by John Houseman as Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., James Stephens as James T. Hart, Tom Fitzsimmons as Franklin Ford III and James Keane as Willis Bell.

• “The Paper Chase” was a television series based on a 1970 novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr., as well as a 1973 film based on the novel. It followed the lives of law student Hart and his classmates at Harvard Law School

• The series was critically acclaimed during its first season on CBS, but it never attracted a substantial audience. Part of the problem may have been that CBS changed its time slot three times in its first season.

• Showtime revived the series in 1983, where it ran for three years without commercials and was a great success.

• In the first year, the theme song was “The First Years,” written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, and performed by Seals and Crofts. Starting in the second year, a piano instrumental tune replaced it.

‘The Facts of Life’ (1979-88)

• A group of girls attending a boarding school experience the joys and trials of adolescence under the guiding hand of housemother Mrs.Garrett. Later in the series, Mrs. Garrett is promoted to school dietitian, and four of the girls move into new quarters above the cafeteria. Eventually she leaves the school and opens her own business, with help from her girls.

• The show lays claim to the longest running TV series with an all female lead cast. The series core cast from 1980-1986 was Charlotte Rae (Edna Garrett) , Lisa Whelchel (Blair Warner), Kim Fields (Tootie Ramsey), Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green) and Nancy McKeon (Jo Polniaczek).

• Tootie’s mother was played by Kim Fields’ real life mother, Chip Fields. Kim was only nine years old when she took the role, who was supposed to be 12. Her character was always on roller skates for the first year of the show.

• The character of Blair, was originally conceived as a down-home charming Texas girl. However, during her audition for the role Lisa Whelchel read several of Blair’s lines sarcastically. Producers were so impressed by Whelchel’s audition that they re-wrote the character to be that of a self-involved New York blue blooded socialite.

‘A Different World’ (1987–93)

• The main characters were: Jasmine Guy as Whitley, Kadeem Hardison as Dwayne, Darryl M. Bell as Ron, Charnele Brown as Kim, Dawnn Lewis as Jaleesa, Cree Summer as Freddie, Lou Myers as Vernon, Glynn Turman as Col. Bradford “Brad” Taylor, Sinbad as Coach Walter Oakes, Jada Pinkett Smith as Lena, Cory Tyler as Terrence, Ajai Sanders as Gina and Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable.

• The story: A group of students at a historically black university struggle to make it through college. A spin-off of “The Cosby Show,” the original premise of the series was abandoned after the first season when Lisa Bonet exited the show.

• The visuals of the campus buildings and entrance to the fictional Hillman College were of Spelman College in Atlanta.

• Originally, the character of Whitley was to only appear in the pilot. However, she became so popular that not only did she become a regular, but Jasmine Guy became the star of the show.

• The show’s theme was sung by Phoebe Snow in the first season. It was sung in seasons two through five by Aretha Franklin. In the final season, it was sung by Boyz II Men.

• Guy and Hardison were the only performers to remain with the show for all six seasons.