Abbott and Costello

The advent of the Internet, long-range cameras and a host of other privacy invading technologies have introduced us, the viewing public, perhaps too closely, to the egomaniacal eccentricities of today’s television and film stars. Rarely does day go by without the disclosure of the animosity between two business partners, former friends or erstwhile lovers. This situation has not always been the case.

There was a time, once, when Hollywood jealously guarded the private lives of their stars. Any hint of acrimony was assiduously buried away with not the merest hint for the viewing public. Times change and new information leaks out. Here’s an inside look at some of the greatest partnerships in the 20th century that were not as amicable as portrayed by the media.

Who's on First?

Abbot and Costello (1950s)

Two of the more lovable characters to come out of the 1940s and ‘50s were Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. This comedy duo rocketed to fame in the 1940s and eventually made over two dozen films movies together. These days, they are probably best remembered for their television series and the immortal comedy bit, “Who’s on First.”

Despite their on stage antics, the camaraderie, itself, came to be staged. Inveterate gamblers, the two were constantly in debt and each considered the other a source of bad luck. In addition, the lovable Lou began to suffer from delusions of grandeur. Towards the middle of their careers together and at the height of their popularity, Abbott and Costello would come to despise each other.

Although the pair would continue to work together, the magic never returned. Tragedy occurred. Lou Costello lost a young son in a swimming pool accident. Both comedy stars eventually lost their homes and the bulk of their assets to the IRS over tax disputes. The act was irrevocably ended in 1959 when Lou Costello tragically died at the age of 53.

Someone's Got Some 'Splainin To Do

Fred and Ethel Mertz (1960s)

The I Love Lucy show captivated audiences for more than half a century. Integral to the success of the show was the constantly bickering couple of Fred and Ethel Mertz. The two served as a foil or the Ricardos and that couples undying love, the devotion of the Mertz’s to each other was never in doubt.

The reality of the relationship between the actors, William Frawley and Vivian Vance, who portrayed the couple, was not quite as amicable. From the beginning, Ms. Vance, 25 years younger than Mr. Frawley, was upset that she was cast against such an older man. In addition, a clause in her contract allowed the production company, Desilu, to drop her without compensation should Mr. Frawley die or become too incapacitated to work.

The relationship was quite frosty from the beginning and deteriorated from that point. Both actors, in their own words, described the other as “loathsome.” The situation was so bad that a potential spinoff never materialized because Ms. Vance would not work with Mr, Frawley under any conditions whatsoever. Reportedly, Ms. Vance turned down $50,000 (about $400,000 in 2012) bonus for the series, When Mr. Frawley was informed, he completely stopped talking to the actress unless it pertained to their work on the I Love Lucy series. Unfortunately, the erstwhile Fred died a few years later, in 1966, with the rift left unhealed.

Oh, Jack!

Janet Wood and Chrissy Snow (1970s)

In this, almost contemporaneous, remake of a successful British comedy, Man about the House, John Ritter portrays the irrepressibly ebullient but inevitably awkward Jack Tripper.  His character is fated to live with two of the cutest characters and most endearing characters of the 1970s, Chrissy Snow and Janet Wood. Unfortunately, the character of the actors did not jibe with that of their imaginary personas.

By most accounts, Joyce Dewitt was a demure and accommodating member of the cast but the increasingly onerous demands of her putative costar, Suzanne Somers, finally strained their relationship. For better or worse, the executives in charge acceded t Ms. Somers demands but the result was a bizarre season where Chrissy never appeared on screen with her costars. Instead, to alleviate any animosity on the set, Ms. Somers taped all her scenes on days when no other cast members would be present. This situation lasted for an entire year.

At the end of the season, Ms. Somers’s contract expired and the series continued without her She and Ms. Dewitt would not speak for another three decades even through the untimely death of their costar John Ritter. One wonders what self-serving minutiae finally healed the breach.

Out of this World

ALF and the Rest of the Cast (1980s)

Please continue to willfully suspend your disbelief as we have no intention of defending the believability or even the meager attraction of this abomination of a sitcom. It nauseates us enough to know that this show was once one of the premier and highly touted shows broadcast by the NBC network in the late 1980s.

The show revolves around an inanimate puppet manipulated by a concealed human and a normal, everyday family played by, surprisingly, some actual human actors. The animosity between these two sets of “artistes” develops when the puppet starts to make inordinate demands.

Paul Fusco was a moderately talented puppeteer who created the ALF character in the mid-1980s. With the help of then NBC president, Brandon Tartikoff, he then developed a TV series based on the character. The series took off and all was well until Fusco started to believe that the ALF character was real.

In particular, major alterations were made to the studio stage to facilitate the use of the puppet, albeit to the detriment of the human actors. In addition, all staff, including the other actors, were required to converse directly with the puppet rather than with Fusco himself.

The situation led to many bitter if somewhat surreal confrontations. In the end, everyone involved moved on to other projects with the exception of Fusco himself who continues to live in Southern California with ALF and, possibly, his actual family.

That's Caine, Horatio Caine.

Davud Caruso and His Audience (2000s)

Please keep your protestations to yourself that his show, CSI: Miami is a drama. It is not. Evidence, most dramatically, the patently ridiculous attempts at puns delivered, straight-faced, at the beginning of every show. No pressure, short of actual waterboarding, is likely to change my mind on this matter. Simply stated, the show is an out and out comedy.

Before you start arguing, explain these simple facts. Why are all the scenes, interior and exterior, shot in California? Why does David Caruso incessantly beam a bemused smirk above raise eyeglasses? Why does Khandi Alexander’s ubiquitously sport and outrageous cleavage and why the butt shots of Emily Proctor’s oddly, though still attractive, mechanical walk?  Most damming of all, why include Adam Rodriguez’s complete insipidity? Pure and simple, this show was malevolently developed as an inside joke on its viewership and it was incredibly successful.

So what went wrong between Caruso and his audience?

It seems that Mr. Caruso, towards the end of his first successful series, NYPD Blue, took a left turn at the sanity station and concluded that he could actually act. In his mad rush for fortune and fame, he made some decidedly poor career choices including the dismally received feature film, Jade. He was promptly brought to task and universally panned.

With nothing else left in the tank, he was forced to reprise his original character, John Kelly, in the reworked role of Horatio Caine and he was not happy with the situation. With unforgiving vigor, he has, once again, plumbed the abysmal depths of a character with no substance and a decided lack of humor. While the show has been successful, we can only pray that the true ugliness of the relationship will end soon and never rear its abominable head again.