Hard to believe, but actor John Travolta turns 60 today. As most of us classic TV fans know, the veteran film star (Carrie, Grease, Look Who’s Talking, Pulp Fiction, Urban Cowboy) got his start on 1970s television. He first appeared on Emergency!, then later guested on Medical Center and The Rookies.
Travolta starred in the made-for-TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, but he’s best known as one of the Sweathogs on the classroom comedy Welcome Back Kotter. Side note: I actually met Travolta once on a movie set. My roommate at the time was in a movie with him called Perfect (unfortunately the movie didn’t live up to its name at the box office!).
Also celebrating a birthday: George Kennedy. The 89 year old is well-known for his roles in the Airport and Naked Gun movie franchises, but he also has an impressive classic TV resume. Kennedy guested on a number of shows, including Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel. He was in the cast of Dallas and starred in two shows of his own: 1971 drama Sarge (he played a priest) and 1975 crime drama The Blue Knight.
A number of classic TV friends were born on February 18 but have since passed. Bill Cullen was a legendary game show host (including The $25,000 Pyramid, Blankety Blanks, Break The Bank, The Price Is Right) who also appeared often as a panelist. Character and voice actor Allan Melvin had roles on All in the Family, The Brady Bunch, Gomer Pyle USMC, McHale’s Navy, The Phil Silvers Show and many more classic shows of the 1960s and 70s. He was also the voice of Magilla Gorilla.
Other classic TV contributors passing this day include screenwriter Sam Rolfe (created The Delphi Bureau, Delvecchio, Have Gun Will Travel) and Jack Palance. The boxer-turned-actor guested on shows like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Playhouse 90. He starred in the 1963 series The Greatest Show on Earth and 1975 crime drama Bronk. Personally, I always enjoyed his hosting work on the 1980s version of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Palance later won an Academy Award for his supporting role in the movie City Slickers.
February 18 also marks the day we lost some TV favorites. Actor Richard Bright was best known for his role in the Godfather films, but he also guested on classic TV series The Defenders and Studio One. Baseball broadcaster Harry Caray was the longtime voice of the Chicago Cubs, and also called games for the Athletics, Cardinals and White Sox. Andy Devine, the raspy-voiced cowboy sidekick in the movies, co-starred in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and guested on Flipper, The Twilight Zone and The Virginian.
Also leaving us this day were actress-model Maggie McNamara (guested on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Ben Casey, starred in the “Ring-a-Ding Girl” episode of The Twilight Zone) and actor-director Noam Pitlik. He acted on many shows in the 1960s and 70s, including Ben Casey, The Bob Newhart Show, The Fugitive, Hogan’s Heroes and Sanford & Son. Pitlik went on to direct such shows as Barney Miller, One Day at a Time and Taxi.