One of the best comedies of the late ’50s, and one of the exceptions to the rule that late ’50s television tended to be pro-social and family-friendly, was The Bob Cummings Show (retitled Love That Bob for syndication), starring former movie star Robert Cummings as a playboy fashion photographer. It divided its time between his work and his home, except that his “work” involved photographing and dating beautiful women, and his home life was as a resolutely single man who had taken his sister (Rosemary DeCamp) and her teenage son (Dwayne Hickman) into his home. Also starred Nancy Kulp and a young Ann B. Davis (well, young-ish).
The show was created and produced by Paul Henning, one of the most original and underrated talents in television comedy. (He had a law degree, by the way, which makes him a lawyer-showrunner just like the creator of House.) Henning, like many other TV comedy writers, started in radio. But when he became a TV producer, he didn’t give up on radio comedy; instead he brought the style of radio comedy to television, cultivating a kind of vaudevillian, anything-goes style that made his shows different from most sitcoms. (He loved puns, misunderstandings, double entendres; it didn’t matter if a joke was old, or if it was weird, as long as it worked.) And when most television comedies were about nuclear families, Henning’s shows were full of bawdy jokes, boob jokes, jokes about Bob’s womanizing ways — dirty humour, but all done in a very clean way, of course. And he had superb casting instincts, filling his shows with a great mix of veterans and talented youngsters. Henning went on to create The Beverly Hillbillies (essentially a radio comedy for TV, and very underrated), executive produce Green Acres, and write the movie Bedtime Story, which had such a good script that much of it was remade verbatim in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
This episode is called “Bob Judges a Beauty Contest.” (Shows from this era did not take a lot of time over titles.) Guest stars include Rose Marie, pre-Dick Van Dyke, Madge Blake, and Peter Lawford.
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