For a variety of reasons, “The Bob Cummings Show” has never been recognized as a 1950s TV classic. Reruns (retitled “Love That Bob”) faded after about a decade and now only turn up occasionally, even though the series ran four-plus seasons in prime time. Some episodes have lapsed into public domain.
Maybe it’s because the stars, Cummings and Rosemary DeCamp, are better remembered for their movie work. Perhaps it’s because the show wasn’t all that funny. Cummings played a carefree, skirt-chasing photographer in L.A. (DeCamp was his widowed sister), and the best lines were risque for those times, horribly dated now.
But looking back, there’s more to this humble back-and-white series than meets the eye. It launched some astounding careers, as many TV historians have noted.
Paul Henning, previously an itinerant sitcom writer, was the creator and producer, in addition to providing many scripts. He would go on to create iconic properties for CBS – “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.” When CBS became disenchanted with rural-oriented shows, all proved to be gold mines in syndication.
Ann B. Davis played Cummings’ assistant, Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz. She was nominated for four Emmys and won twice, going on to greater fame a decade later as the housekeeper in “The Brady Bunch.”
The neighborhood bird-watcher, Pamela Livingstone, was played to perfection by the prim and proper Nancy Kulp. Henning later cast her as the banker’s spinster secretary in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” (A TV husband never came along, but an Emmy nomination did in 1967.)
The youngest member of the cast was the biggest breakout star. Dwayne Hickman played Cummings’ girl-crazed nephew Chuck while still studying at Loyola University. As the show was ending its run, Cummings tried to sell a spin-off called “Chuck Goes to College.” The idea likely was sound, but Hickman was to spend more time in high school, moving on to become a TV icon in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” a fixture on CBS from 1959-63.
What about the headliner? Cummings tried a couple of more sitcoms, including one where he played a psychiatrist entrusted to care for humanoid Rhoda the Robot (Julie Newmar). “My Living Doll” drew dismal ratings against tough competition and lasted only 26 episodes; Cummings was gone after 21 of them, apparently miffed that Newmar got far more attention.
Long before she matured into Catwoman, Newmar showed she had a good grasp of all things catty when she told an interviewer that Cummings was “trying to hold on to his long-gone youth.” Wonder if she has regrets now at age 83?