THE CORNER BAR (1972-1973)
By Cary O'Dell
For a series that endured for less than 20 episodes, ABC’s “The Corner Bar” (1972-1973) nevertheless contained a variety of unique, historical elements.
Since the first incarnation of the series (aired in 1972) starred actor Gabriel Dell, who rose to fame as one of the Bowery Boys, when Huntz Hall, another of the “Boys,” guest starred in the series’ ninth episode, it was a latter-day reunion of the long-running film comedy team.
Secondly, the second incarnation of the series (1973) brought Anne Meara to the small screen as the owner of the show’s titular establishment. It makes her an early (but certainly not the first) female sole proprietor as seen on TV.
But, mainly, TV’s “The Corner Bar” is best remembered for bringing to the airwaves the medium’s very first, out and proud gay character. He was played by actor Vincent Schiavelli, the tall, eccentric-looking actor who had a long career before and after this series and achieved a kind of immortality thanks to his role as a ghost in “Ghost.” On “Corner Bar,” Schivavelli played a character named Peter Panama, an ascot-wearing Broadway set designer who liked to hang out at this particular saloon.
Though this was TV’s first “official” gay character (soon to be followed by Ken Olfson’s character, Terry, on “The Nancy Walker Show” of 1976 and Billy Crystal’s character of Jodie on “Soap” beginning in 1977), it has not stopped many viewers from “finding” other “gay” characters throughout television history. Some of those most popularly deemed to be, in retrospect, “gay” though not “out” include everyone from Uncle Arthur (played by Paul Lynde) on “Bewtiched” to Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) on “Lost in Space” to female carpenter Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield) on “Green Acres.”
But as interesting (and publishable in “scholarly” journals) as the above speculation might be in terms of early TV characters, the practice is actually pretty prejudiced. Because ferreting out these (allegedly) gay characters is usually based on strictly on the most offensive of stereotypes i.e. this man is “flamboyant,” “fey,” “effeminate,” or just “excessively neat,” therefore he is gay. Similarly, female characters who are deemed to be “not feminine”—or not “feminine enough”--are therefore assumed to be lesbian.
Hmmm? Typecast much?
Additionally, in recent years, as the personal lives of various performers have become public, it has become common to then assume that the characters they played on screen were also gay. This has assumption has been applied to such performers as Victor Buono, Agnes Moorehead and Roddy McDowell, among many others. But, often, this presumption about a particular character is not born out by that character’s actual behavior in their actual series. For example, actress Nancy Kulp, lesbian but closeted when she starred as Miss Hathaway on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” has seen her secretarial character adopted in recent years as a kind of gay icon. But this belies the numerous episodes of “Hillbillies” where “Miss Jane” is seen lusting heavily after mighty-man Jethro.
Further, this “gay clocking,” or this deciphering of “queer-coding,” is often applied in a very pick-and-choose fashion. Despite being out about his sexuality now, Richard Chamberlain’s work on everything from “Dr. Kildare” to “The Thorn Birds” has not (to my knowledge) been subjected to a revised “gay reading.” It also a phenomenon that has also not been applied to Dick York (TV’s second “Darrin” on “Bewitched”) or Tab Hunter or many other latter-day out actors.
“The Corner Bar” was the creation of veteran stand-up comic Alan King and was produced by Howard Morris who cut his comedy teeth as a player on the legendary “Your Show of Shows.” “Bar” debuted on ABC on June 21, 1972.
Setting a sitcom in a local watering hole is, of course, a fruitful place for comedic situations. Writers proved that on “Duffy’s Tavern” back in the 1950s and, obviously, on “Cheers” during the 1980s. Hence, the New York pub Grant’s Toomb (two “O’s,” thank you very much) in which this series was set was supposed to be no different.
The aforementioned Gabriel Dell starred in the series as the owner of the Toomb and, as one might expect, his staff was a little…wacky. Langhorn Scruggs was Mary Ann, the waitress; Shimen Ruskin was Meyer, a waiter; and Joe, Joe Keyes, was the cook. Dell, as Harry Grant, tended the bar himself. Then, like most bars, this one had its set of “regulars.” They included Schiavelli’s Peter, as well as Fred (played by J.J. Barry), a NY cabbie, and Phil (played by Bill Fiore), a Wall Street-based attorney.
Upon its debut--which occurred immediately after another new sitcom titled “The Super”--“The Corner Bar” obtained mixed reviews. Joyce Wagner writing for the “Kansas City Mirror” hated “The Super” but called “The Corner Bar” “hilarious” and said it “rocked with ethnic and political humor guaranteed to elicit chuckles and, to the cast’s credit, some outright belly laughs.”
But in a surprising and blistering article from Gerald Nachman of the “New York Daily” news published at the time, Nachman blasted the show for its “cookie-cutter stereotypes of every race, color and creed”—black, Jewish, gay and “Noo Yawk.” He further slammed the then very popular so-called “lovable bigot” Archie Bunker and the other prejudiced characters that Archie brought to the airwaves in his wake. Nachman then accused the “Corner Bar” of trying to “out-bigot Bunker,” a goal that certainly seems less than lofty. He also stated about the then current climate of TV, “Any night now I expect to see a Stepinfetchit special.”
In his book “Total Television,” author Alex McNeil also laments “The Corner Bar's” trading in tropes and types, describing its cast of characters as the “token black, token homosexual, [and] token Jew.”
Season one of “The Corner Bar” endured for 10 episodes with the mini-“Bowery” reunion (in the 9th episode, “The Navy Reunion”) airing on August 16, 1972.
But if the series often went for easy ethnic laughs, it still sometimes approached—albeit with comedic elements—larger social issues. For example, in episode #10, “The Strike,” the Toomb’s staff go on strike in solidarity with a sister union. But, though they are sympathetic to the cause, the bar’s regular customers don’t want boss Harry to suffer, so they volunteer to act as his workers, though none exactly excel at their new jobs.
(FYI, in the Ohio newspaper that recounts this episode, they describe the Peter character as “the swishy dress designer.”)
Programmed to lead off ABC’s Wednesday night, “The Corner Bar” did not set the Nielsens on fire, though it did do well enough to come back as part of the network’s lineup for fall…sort of.
But, first, the network decided to re-tool the series. Jettisoned from the cast was lead Gabriel Dell, as well as the actors Schiavelli, Keyes, and Scruggs. Even the name of the bar was changed—Grant’s Toomb became, simply enough, The Corner Bar. The new leads were the show biz vets Anne Meara and Eugene Roche. Meara played Mae, the widow of the bar’s original owner and Roche was Frank Flynn, her not-so-silent business partner. But Sam and Diane, they weren’t. Also joining the cast was Ron Carey as struggling actor Donald Hooten.
The second incarnation of “Corner” bowed on Friday nights, the first episode of the “new” hitting the air on August 3, 1973.
But, seldom, if ever, do heavily re-tooled programs like this make it on their second attempt. “It’s About Time,” “Tattinger’s” and the first network-based incarnation of “It’s A Living” are just a few examples of the shows that failed (again) when they attempted to reinvent themselves quickly after their debut.
And, for better or worse, “Corner Bar” 2.0 would be no different. In fact, the new “Bar” lasted even fewer episodes than its earlier version, ending after just six aired installments. In fact, the revamped show barely made it past is debut month with its final episode airing on September 7, 1973.
While some media “scholars,” like Kutulas, have been dismissive of how impactful short-run series can be, I would argue that even a series as fleeting as “The Corner Bar” (in both of its incarnations) can/did have an importance and influence. We must recall that at the time that this show was on the air, TV was only, basically, three channels--no cable, no streaming, no Netflix. And since TV audiences were far less spread out, even the most “low-rated” series often obtained millions of viewers per week. Finally, “TV Guide” was, at the time, the number one most subscribed to magazine in America and ABC, CBS and NBC knew it and filled that digest’s pages with full page promos and ads touting their newest programs; even “failed” shows often garnered a lot of attention back in those days.
Hence, despite a few rough edges, thanks to the presence of Meara’s already-mentioned working woman/business owner plus both seasons’ sense of working class unity, “The Corner Bar” (of either iteration) is not without its merits. Additionally, though stereotyped, the Peter Panama character, depicted as neither evil or tragic but just “normal,” an “average joe,” no doubt helped to break the “rainbow ceiling” on reoccurring gay characters on television. In the process, paving the way for later the characters found on “Ellen,” “Will & Grace,” “Glee,” “Modern Family” and “Queer as Folk.”
Local Kid Shows / Movie Stars on TV / Saturday Morning Shows / Video Vault / TV Goodbyes / Fabulous Fifties / Unseen Scenes / Game Shows / Requested Forgotten TV Shows / The Super Sixties / The New * * Shows / 1980's Wrestling / TV Blog
|TV's Embarrassing Moments / Action Shows of the Sixties / TVparty Mysteries and Scandals / Variety Shows of the 1970s / The Eighties / The Laugh Track / 1970's Hit Shows / Response to TVparty / Search the Site / Add Your Comments|
Hit Shows of the Seventies: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy / Gene Roddenberry in the 1970s / 1977-1978 Superhero & Science Fiction TV Shows / Funniest SNL Skit Ever! / Remembering Suzanne Somers / Prisoner: Cell Block H / Why John Amos Left Good Times / Reviving Match Game / How Betty White's 'Happy Hommaker' Came About / Remembering Cindy-Williams / Creating The Rockford Files / TV Dads Talk Sex & Fatherhood / TV Shows We Watched 50 Years Ago / How Maude Came About / Rare Audio of Bette Davis' Broadway Bound Flop 'Miss Moffat' / Orson Welles' Last Interview / Remembering Ed Asner / Bruce Vilanch on Writing for Donny & Marie / Writing For Fernwood 2 Night / Kris Kristofferson vs Barbra Streisand on A Star Is Born? Kinda... / Remembering Gavin MacLeod / Cher Reviews Her Iconic Outfits Since 1965 / Best Columbo Episodes / Star Maidens Sci-Fi Series / Sonny Bono's Last Show 1974 / Interview with Cindy Williams (Lavern & Shirley) / One of the Most Controversial Episodes of All In The Family / Outside Chance / The Night Johnny Carson Broke Down / Gavin MacLeod on His MTM Castmates / Norman Mailer & Muhammad Ali / Charles Nelson Reilly Flops on Broadway / Chuck Norris vs Eva Gabor / Dear Detective / Dirty Sally / Peggy Lee & Anthony Newley's Weird Pre-Show Rituals / The Protectors / Chevy Chase Talks Hollywood Cocaine Parties / 1977 Season Show Openings / Love Boat's Oscar Winning Guest Stars / Henry Fonda's 4 Favorite Films / Tom Snyder Interviews Star Trek Cast & Harlan Ellison / The Corner Bar / Tim Conway's 'The Dentist' Sketch / Roy Radin Revue: Drunken Ronnie Spector / Henry Winkler on His Happy Days Audition / Patrick Duffy of Dallas Interview / Time Express / Wonder Woman Leaves Paradise Island / 1972-73 TV Season / George Burns on the Carson Tonight Show in 1989 / Best Season of Dallas Ever? / Cloris Leachman Remembered / Ken Berry Interview / Why Barney Miller Ended / Vivian Vance Almost Joined the Cast of Rhoda / Marilu Henner Talks About Andy Kaufman / Cher on Mike Douglas 1979 / TV Show Book Tie-Ins / 1972 Jackie Robinson Interview / Dr. Strange 1978 TV Movie / Kathy Garver Interview / Space: 1999 / Paint Along with Nancy Kominsky / Mary Kay Place Albums of the 1970s / The Supremes - Mary Wilson vs Diana Ross / When Bruce Dern Killed John Wayne / 1974 Tom Snyder Our Gang Special / Remembering Ken Berry / Bruce / Caitllyn Jenner? / Billy Crash Craddock Interview / Melissa McCarthy Almost Quit Acting Days Before Landing Gilmore Girls / Bar Rescue's Wildest Customers! / TV HITS - By the Numbers / Alex Baldwin On His TV and Film Roles / Ray Charles' BIG Problem With TV / Top Ten Sitcoms of the 1970s / James Cameron Made No Money for Titanic / Growing Up In The Playboy Mansion / Ed McMahon Drunk on the Air! / Lucy Interviewed by Barbara Walters / Valerie Harper Cancer / Jeff Bridges Breaks Down His Iconic Roles / Dallas vs Eight is Enough / 1974 MAD Magazine TV Special - Never Aired! / Iconic M*A*S*H Restaurant Coming To Kroger? / When Lucy Got Fired / Partridge Family and Brady Bunch at Kings Island theme park 1972-73 / Awkward Talk Show Moments / Allan Blye Interview / Jack Benny's Last Tonight Show 1974 / Patricia Heaton's Audition for Everybody Loves Raymond / Luke Perry's Last Role / Johnny Cash's Last Interview / Judy Garland's Last Film / Who Was Bob Gordon? / Richard Dreyfuss vs Bill Murray / Jeff Ross vs Everybody / Tennessee Williams 1972 Interview / Ed Asner Interview / Norm Macdonald vs OJ Simpson / Tony Kornheiser Interview / Freddy's Nightmares TV Series / Emmy Award Multiple Winners / Nathaniel Taylor aka Rollo Lawson / Mary Kay Place Albums of the 1970s / That Girl & TV's Single Working Women / Can You Identify These Stars? / Betty White vs Joan Rivers / Paul Lynde's Greatest Hollywood Squares Zingers / Sonny Comedy Revue / Star Trek Animated / Dark Shadows / Hal Linden Interview / Dark Shadows Movies / Dark Shadows Novels / The Night Stalker / One of the Funniest Carol Burnett Show Skits Ever / Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson / Johnny Carson interviews Lucille Ball / Dawn Wells / Betty White : An Appreciation / Bette Davis' 2 Best Interviews 1971 / Barbara Eden Interview / Gavin McLeod / Spider-Man 77 / The Next Step Beyond / The Music Dark Shadows / 1970 TV Shows / Mike Connors Remembered / Mike Wallace, Virginia Graham & Jim Longworth / Dick Clark / Woody Allen Hosts Tonight Show 1971 / Carson Tonight Show / Alan Alda Interview / Jackie Gleason Show / 1973 TV Shows / Thriller / Post Modern Sitcoms / Elvis in Greensboro / Remembering Dick Van Patten / TV Dating Shows / The Jacksons TV Show / Fall Previews of the 70s / Lance Link, Secret Chimp / Star Wars Holiday Special / Alias Smith and Jones / 1977 Year in Review / Top Ten 1970-76 / The Rockford Files / All in the Family / Sam Hall (Dark Shadows) Interview / Actor Ed Nelson / Death of Archie / Battlestar Galactica / Wonder Woman / Network Jingles / Class of '74 / Happy Days / Good Times / Mr. Bill / Dinah! / Maude / Doris Day Show / Pamelyn Ferdin Interview / The Bicentennial Minute / Jingles & Catch Phrases of the 1970s / Early Cable TV 1970s / TV commercials for Women / TV Moms / Country Music TV Shows of the 1960s & 1970s / Betty White Show / Ron Palillo / Shirley Jones Interview / Tom Bosley / Rodney Dangerfield / How Sanford & Son Ended / Sanford & Son Spin-Off Grady / Great Memoirs / Virginia Graham Show / The "N" Word on TV / 10 Classic Comedy Routines You Have To Laugh At Before You Die / Hollywood Squares / 1970's Teen Idols & The Hudson Brothers / TV Stars with 3 Hit Shows / The Rookies / Unsold Pilots / Jackie Cooper / The Good Guys / Match Game / Make Room For Granddaddy / Mannix & Gail Fisher / Bette Midler in the 1970s / Bonus 1970's Stuff: Silent Star Marion Mack / Biff Burger / 1970s Fast Food Chains / Latin Casino / Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire / 1970's Daytime Talk Shows / The Fess Parker Show / Brady Bunch Sex Dungeon? / Love, Loss & What I Watched
|Classic TV Commercials / 1950's TV / 1960's TV / 1970's TV / Lucy Shows / Classic Cars / John Wayne / Gene Roddenberry / Rockford Files / Sea Hunt / Superman on DVD / Toy Gun Ads / Flip Wilson Show / Big Blue Marble / Monty Hall / Carrascolendas / Mr. Dressup / Major Mudd / Chief Halftown / Baby Daphne / Sheriff John / Winchell & Mahoney / Fireball X-L5 / Mr. Wizard / Captain Noah / Thanksgiving Day Specials / Disney's First Christmas Special / Saturday Morning Cartoons / The Magic Garden / Amahl & the Night Visitors / Holiday Toy Commercials / Lucy & Desi's Last Christmas Show / Joey Heatherton / Fat Albert / The Virginian / Bewitched / Death of John Wayne / 1974 Saturday Mornings / Chuck McCann / Rudolph Collectables / Shrimpenstein / Local Popeye Shows / New Treasure Hunt / 1966 ABC TV Shows / 1967 TV Shows / 1968 TV Shows / Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes & Baby Doll / Fridays / TV Moms / Red Skelton / George Lindsay / Star Wars / KISS / Lancelot Link / Saturday Morning Cartoons / The Magic Garden / Wonder Woman / Classic Comic Books / Andy Griffith / Cher / TV Shows on DVD / Outtakes & Bloopers / 1967 TV Shows / Romper Room / ABC Movie of the Week / The Goldbergs / Daws Butler Commercials / Saturday Morning Commercials / Captain Kangaroo / Chicago Local Kiddie Shows / Boston Local TV / Philly Local TV / NYC Local Kid Shows / Amos 'n' Andy / Electric Company / Bette Davis / Judy Garland / Christmas Specials / Redd Foxx / Good Times / Sitcom Houses / What's Happening! / Winky Dink & You / Sonny & Cher / Smothers Brothers / Commercial Icons of the 1960s / Soupy Sales / TV Terrorists / Irwin Allen / The Untouchables / Carol Burnett Show / Batman TV Show / Green Hornet / Today Show History / Our Gang / Doris Day Show / 1970's Commercials For Women / Bill Cosby in the 1970s / The Golddiggers / Lola Falana / 1970s TV Shows / David Bowie on TV / Hudson Brothers / Jackie Gleason / Hollywood Squares / Match Game / Bob Keeshan / Gumby / The Flip Wilson Show / Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour / The Bobby Darin Show / The Richard Pryor Show / George Burns / Celebrity Commercials / Rudolph / Movie Posters & More!|