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The Incredible Inman: 'I Love Lucy' blazed a trail with live studio audiences

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Q: I was watching an “I Love Lucy” rerun and was wondering if the laughter was from a live audience or from a recorded laugh track. It seems to me, studio audiences didn't start for a few years after the Lucy shows.

A: That was a live audience, all right. “I Love Lucy” was a trailblazing show in many ways. It was one of the first filmed TV shows. When it premiered in 1951, most shows were still done live. And it was filmed like a play in front of an audience of actual people with three cameras to capture the action. This production system was worked out between Desi Arnaz, who was also the show's producer, and legendary Hollywood cinematographer Karl Freund, and it's been in use ever since.

Q: I think I saw a movie or TV movie a number of years ago about the Black Dahlia murder. Is it available on DVD or video? I'm not interested in the later version with Scarlett Johanssen.

A: What you remember is an above-average 1975 TV movie called “Who Is the Black Dahlia?” It was based on the famous unsolved 1947 murder and dismemberment of a young woman found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. The newspapers named her the Black Dahlia to drive circulation, and because she always wore black. The detectives on the case were played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Ronny Cox, and in flashbacks the victim, Elizabeth Short, was played by Lucie Arnaz. The movie isn't on DVD.

Q: I am a big “Perry Mason” fan. My question is how many “Perry Mason” TV movies were there?

A: Well, first we should note that the Perry Mason TV movies were so popular that they continued even after the death of the star, Raymond Burr, in 1993, when they became known as “A Perry Mason Mystery.”

From 1985 to 1993, there were 26 Perry Mason TV movies, with Burr as Mason and Barbara Hale as longtime girl Friday Della Street. Then, there were four more movies without Burr, with three of them starring Hal Holbrook as the Mason surrogate, attorney “Wild Bill” MacKenzie. (Paul Sorvino played the lead attorney in the fourth.)

Q: As a huge fan of the TV show “Parenthood,” I watched the season finale recently. So many loose ends were tied up that I got a sinking sensation this show might be over. Please say it isn't so!

A: It isn't so — at least not yet. The NBC schedule for next fall won't be announced until early May. There is reason for concern, however — the show's ratings are decent, but its large cast makes it very expensive to produce. We'll see what happens.

Q: I have been trying to locate a video or DVD of a version of “Cinderella” on TV in the late 1950s. It was an earlier version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein “Cinderella” that aired in the 1960s. Can you tell me who played the roles in this version and if it's on DVD?

A: That version of “Cinderella” aired on CBS in 1957 with a youngster named Julie Andrews in the title role. The cast included Edie Adams, Alice Ghostley and Ilka Chase. Prince Charming was played by Jon Cypher, who went on to play Chief Daniels on “Hill Street Blues” (NBC, 1981-87) and General Craig on “Major Dad” (CBS, 1990-93). It's on DVD.

Q: Some years ago (maybe 20), I watched a detective series. The man was handsome and tall, and I think he was an ex-ball player. His sidekick was, or looked like, Suzanne Pleshette. Can you tell me the details?

A: Ah, that was “Hunter,” which ran on NBC from 1984-91, and there were TV movies in 1995 and again in 2003. Fred Dryer, a former pro football player, was Det. Sgt. Rick Hunter of the LAPD, and Stepfanie Kramer was his Pleshetteish partner, Det. Sgt. Dee Dee McCall. And for those golden years, the City of Angels was crime-free.

Q: There was a TV movie in the 1970s about an interracial couple who were abducted by a UFO. Can you tell me the title and if it's on DVD?

A: That's “The UFO Incident,” a 1975 TV movie with Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones as the couple and Lou Wagner as “The Leader.” Oooooh. The movie isn't on DVD.

Q: My husband and I are having a dispute about the commercials for Palmolive dishwashing liquid that aired back in the 1970s. They featured a manicurist, and when her customers didn't believe that Palmolive was soft on hands, she'd say, “You're soaking in it.” My husband says the character's name is Marge or Maggie, but I know her name was Madge. If I'm right, I get a steak dinner and a movie, and if he's right he gets to watch anything related to sports. Please set him straight!

A: Oh, so you want to know about MADGE, the manicurist played by actress Jan Miner for 27 years worth of commercials? The MADGE who did commercials in French, German, Danish and Italian? That MADGE? Enjoy your steak!

Write David Inman in care of The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal, 525 W. Broadway, P.O. Box 740031, Louisville, KY 40201-7431; or email him at Questions of general interest will be answered; personal replies are not possible.

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