Thursday, February 18, 2021

Three's Company Deep Thoughts: The Show's Characters and Suzanne Somers Drama Including Her Rapprochement 31-Years-Later with Joyce DeWitt; Plus, Trying to Find the Season 1 Opening Sequence Spot of John Ritter's Bicycle Pratfall


OK, this is an entry that I've had in draft for two months -- waiting for some ideal time to post it -- and that I spent two months prior to that trying to complete. It features a deep dive into the 1977 - 1984 American television situation comedy Three's Company.

Yes, Three's Company.

The entry includes (1) an overview of the characters; (2) the off-air situation involving the original three main characters that culminated in a rapprochement 31 years after the fact between two of them, namely, Suzanne Somers, and Joyce DeWitt; and (3) locational trivia involving the early seasons' opening sequence, specifically, finding the spot where John Ritter's character had his famous bicycle beach-side path pratfall in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles, Calif.


Upfront, though, let me say that Three's Company is a show that I've been aware of since it was being made -- which is to say, the late 1970s, quite possibly all the way back to when the show debuted on March 15, 1977 when I was just 7 years old and living in Long Branch, N.J., with my grandparents and dad. I certainly was watching the show when the Ropers were part of the regular cast. Now 51 years old, this means I've been aware of Three's Company for 42 to 44 years.


Secondly, and for a variety of reasons, Three's Company is a show that for nearly that entire stretch of time, I didn't like and found difficult to watch. As a young child, I didn't understand all the sexual innuendo-based, libido-driven comedy of errors, misunderstandings, and outright farce that resulted in conflict-freighted sexual slapstick.


As I got older (into my teenage years), I disliked the fact that John Ritter's character Jack Tripper was supposed to be gay so that he could live there with two young women with the approval of his landlords -- first, Mr. Stanley Roper (Norman Fell) and then Mr. Ralph Furley (played to farcical effect by Don Knotts). I disliked this because, as a gay guy myself at a time when it really wasn't OK, it was so transparently obvious that Jack was not gay. That just offended me.


To be clear, it was a totally different world when the show was made and even into the 1990s in terms of having a gay character on prime time, open or stealth, or in the case of Three's Company, pretending to be when he so clearly wasn't.

In today's world, everything is so altered that simply having a straight horndog of a young white guy perfunctorily pretending to be gay wouldn't pass muster given Hollywood's and the larger leftwing identity politics-fixated pop culture.


Today, movies, TV dramas and sitcoms, and plays requires all manner of non-binary and non-cisgendered, BIPOC-focused this or that. Far more likely today, it would be a story about an 11-year old "coming out" as transgendered and being guided by some beneficient fully WOKE BIPOC adult on which of the schizophrenic collection of made-up gender pronouns to use. In short, a comedy like that couldn't even get off the ground today because pop cultural reality itself is so warped.


By the time I was in my 20s, I guess I wanted to like Jack Tripper and the actor John Ritter, but in the end, I never quite could. Of course, it was a terrible shock when Ritter died unexpectedly on Sept 11, 2003 six days shy of his 55th birthday resulting from an aortic dissection that arose, as I understand it, from an undiagnosed enlarged aorta.


I also didn't quite understand why Suzanne Somers character, "Christmas Noelle" (!) Chrissy Snow, disappeared and was awkwardly replaced by her cousin, Cindy Snow (Jenilee Harrison) and in the next season, by the nurse, Terri Alden (Priscilla Barnes). More on Somers' departure below.


As for the other main character, Joyce DeWitt's character, Janet Wood, I guess I was never really sure why, amid that sea of sexual slapstick, she was such an unrelent and even self-righteous killjoy. I guess it was meant to be a character counterpoint kind of thing.


In terms of the other characters and the sitcom's story arc, I especially didn't like it when the Ropers left since I liked Audra Lindley's character Helen Roper, wife of Stanley Roper. Mrs. Roper was a very likable character what with her fun-loving but perennially sexually frustrated personality expressed in comically sarcastic ways.

With her frizzy 'fro of hair that was sometimes flaming red, other times more muted, Mrs. Roper had, as aptly stated here: "a signature look featuring colorful flowing caftans and muumuus and oversize chunky necklaces."

I didn't like it when the Ropers left precisely because I liked Mrs. Roper. By contrast, I didn't even understand the character of Mr. Furley, the Ropers' replacement.

The Roper's eponymous spin-off sitcom, The Ropers, lasted for all of one season. I recall Jeffrey Tambor was on the show.

As an aside -- and I'm not making this up -- I distinctly remember associating Mrs. Roper's first name -- Helen -- with the eruption of Mount St. Helens. (Yes, she was gone from the show by 1980, which indicates that I had been watching the show back into the 1970s.)

As for Audra Lindley's first name, it confused me: Not only did I not know anybody with that name, but it was so similar to and yet oddly different from "Audrey," a name I knew because I had a great Aunt Audrey. (She was a wife of one of my paternal grandma's dozen brothers). Oh, and just fyi, I have yet in my life to meet anyone named "Audra."

One other point about Audra Lindley: Her big pile of red hair and her comedic persona suggested a sort of down-market, flea-market version of Lucille Ball's Lucy Ricardo. This is relevant in that Lucille Ball herself was a big fan of both John Ritter as an agile and talented physical comedy actor and the show Three's Company.

Simply put, if Lucille Ball liked you for those reasons, you were doing something really right.


Ball even guest-starred as a sort of MC of the synopsis episode "The Best of Three's Company" consisting of Parts 1 and 2 that aired in an hour-long special on May 18, 1982. During her appearance, she remarks how much she personally enjoys the that the comedy of Three's Company is designed not to solve the world's problems but simply to make people laugh.


That last point brings up something I'd like just to say flat out here: If only Debra Messing could have dispensed with the bull-dozing, suffocating, soul-crushing, social media-based social justice shit, she could have really been a present-day version of The Queen of Comedy. Indeed, Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, seems to agree in principle. Alas, given Messing's relentless behavior, it's too late now.


As for Don Knotts' neurotic, sex-starved, preeningly officious yet regularly sniveling character, Mr. Furley, he just annoyed me -- unlike now when I watch it and find him quite funny. As an adolescent and a teenager, I didn't understand his humor or role in Three's Company, as opposed to these things in The Andy Griffth Show.


Oh, and I really hated Richard Kline's Larry Dallas character and to some extent, I still do. As played too well by Richard Kline, Larry Dallas was a free-wheeling sexual perpetual motion machine and sleazy moral gigolo who -- looking back on it 40+ years later -- was a real-time parody of the 1970s Sexual Revolution.

The character's cocky arrogance and his bushy bouffant of hair combined with a caricature of a 1970s wardrobe that consisted of plunging neck-lined and thoroughly gaudy polyester shirts, brightly-colored slacks, and general "bling" jewelry, made him (to me) deeply unappealing and tremendously annoying.

It's worth noting that in 1996, Kline reprised elements of this Larry Dallas character on -- where else?? -- Married, With Children, specifically, in the episode "Torch Song Duet" when he played the publisher of Al Bundy's favorite nudie rag, Big 'Uns.


Kline played Flint Cuccione, a hilarious portmanteau, of sorts, of the names "Larry Flynt" and "Bob Guccione," not to mention the word "coochie." Flint Cuccione wasn't just the publisher of Big 'Uns, he was also ran the Big 'Uns Brothel.


In the episode, which coincided with the 1996 Summer Olympics, Al unfairly loses out on winning a radio contest involving the Olympic torch and, in turns out being named the Big 'Uns "Man of the Year" -- a title that would have won him a "lifetime key" to the Big 'Uns Brothel and presented by Cuccione himself.


You see, it was Al who gave his coworker, Griff, the correct answer to the radio contest winning question -- and did so because, in quintessential Al Bundy fashion, he had previously been banned from having anything to do with the radio station for some weird infraction.


Returning to Three's Company: There was also a recurring character of the angry and bad-tempered restaurant owner Frank Angelino (Jordan Charney). I found him both annoying and intimidating. (Remember that Jack was a gourmet chef and worked in various restaurants, eventually ended up as the chef in Angelino's restaurant.)


Finally, there was the busty sex kitten, Lana Shields (Ann Wedgeworth), whose weird accent and very presence didn't make a lot of sense. But then again, the show in its farce really wasn't supposed to.


I won't even touch on the endless parade of dates that they roommates had to include all of Jack's ladies. That was, after all, the heart of the show's sexual slapstick and endless comedies of error, often physical in nature for John Ritter.


Now, of course, no discussion of Three's Company is worth anything without delving into the real-life drama that led to Suzanne Somers' departure in the 1980 - '81 season. My understanding way back then had been that Somers was just super greedy -- wanting a multi-fold increase in compensation.

However, it appears the story was somewhat more complicated. As she explains in a series of three clips from a FOUNDATION series interview from 2012 (posted below), she was just trying to get paid on par with what Ritter was receiving. What's more, given that she had played a key role in helping the show become as popular as it was, her request to the network wasn't unreasonable.


Somers explains (as she has in other interviews), she genuinely believed she was just asking for her due precisely because John Ritter, the show's notional star of stars, was earning vastly more than either she or Joyce DeWitt and yet it was the trio of them that made the show such a success.

Now older and a lot wiser, she also admits that she and her husband, Alan Hamel, who was negotiating for her, really had no idea what they were doing and sort of barreled into something that required a lot more finesse. To that point, Sommers also didn't anticipate the anger bordering on hatred that the show's producers felt toward her for what she was doing.

Suzanne Somers, her husband, Alan Hamel, and her son, Bruce Somers, Jr., in an Instagram photo from, I think, October 2020.

As an aside, Hamel is Somers' second husband and they are appear to be happily married after 44 years. Born Suzanne Marie Mahoney, Somers takes her last name from her first husband, Bruce Somers, who is also the father of her only child, Bruce Somers, Jr., age 55. (She had Bruce Jr rather young at age 19.)

Part 1: FOUNDATION interview with Suzanne Somers

In the FOUNDATION series interview Suzanne Somers from in which she explains everything that went down (obviously, from her persective) to include the tacit role John Rittet. More interestingly, Somers also discusses how she and Ritter had an unlikely reconciliation literally just a month before his very untimely death in 2003. Part 1 of the interview is above and Parts 2 and 3 are below.

Part 2: FOUNDATION interview with Suzanne Somers

In listening to Suzanne Somers in this interview, I realize not only had I never given her credit for having any acting talent, but I didn't realize what an insightful, wise, articulate, and decent person she seems to be. Those qualities come through in the trio of YouTube videos of that FOUNDATION interview from 8 years ago.

This is portion of interview is where she explains why and how unceremoniously she was let go from Three's Company.

Part 3: FOUNDATION interview with Suzanne Somers

Even more uplifting, in putting together this entry, I came across a YouTube video showing the genuinely moving reunion of Somers and DeWitt in February 2012 -- in what I estimate was a full 31 years after they had last interacted following the former's unceremonial departure from Three's Company. The 8-1/2 minute video is from Somers' short-lived Web series "Suzanne Somers Breaking Through" that was from an outfit called CafeMoms Studios.

First part: Joyce DeWitt - Suzanne Somers reunion, 2012

Above and below: Two video segments of the televised reunion of Somers and DeWitt. In the meeting, they discussed multiple items including, poignantly and with a weird synchronicity, their last encounters with John Ritter -- each about a month or so before he died. (Two of the images in this part of the entry are screenshots of that reunion.)

Second part: Joyce DeWitt - Suzanne Somers reunion, 2012

For Somers, it was his unexpected telephone call while she was at the hair dresser. For DeWitt, it was when they both, by chance, were staying in hotels in Central Park South. Both instances involved aspects of Ritter's final sitcom. Oh, and they even tried to sing the Three's Company theme song, but it turns out neither of them really knew all the lyrics. That's actually kind of funny.

That theme song is in the form of the upbeat ditty "Come and Knock on Our Door" may be the show's most famous and enduring feature. The song with its lyrics were written for the show by producer Don Nicholl and prolific song-writer / lyricist Joe Raposo (pictured left). It was sung by Ray Charles and Julia Rinker -- where Ray Charles refers not to THE Ray Charles but rather to this fellow.

Just FYI, the tongue-twisting part of the lyrics is: "We've a lovable space that needs your face / Three's company, too..." Once you know that, then the lyrics are obvious.

"Three's Company" seasons 1, 2, and 3 opening title card

This brings me to the next section of this entry, namely, the opening of Three's Company, in particular, the first three seasons of the show's eight-season run. Those featured intro snippets of a very "beachy" Southern California seaside location involving John Ritter on a bicycle -- from which he falls onto the sand while gawking at some wiggly, bosomy young woman whose back is to the camera.

The season 1 opening sequence and theme song to Three's Company along with the closing sequence / credits.

Note: The closing sequence provides a few extra locational images.

While the Season 3 opening had the same footage, it used a faster-tempo intro with more musical flourishes:


Later seasons had different openings including the Santa Monica Pier (seasons 4 and 5) and Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens in sprawling Griffith Park (seasons 6, 7, and 8).


I'm not going to focus on those later season openings, but it is worth noting in the seasons 6, 7 and 8 opening sequence the weird and funny Richard Kline-groped-by-an-elephant scene in which Kline's exaggerated expression makes it clear that the elephant's trunk is probing his privates (see image directly above).


The zoo-based opening sequence also features Joyce DeWitt feeding a goal while kneeling by a little blond boy who, it turns out, is one of John Ritter's real-life children, namely, actor Jason Ritter at about age 2 (see image above).

*******

Let's return to the seasons 1 - 3 opening sequence, specifically, the first 10 to 15 seconds of it. As shown in the title card image (farther above) and the image without the title card (directly above), this opening sequence begins with a panoramic shot of the Pacific shoreline in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles.


In it, you can see a portion of what is Ocean Front Walk (lower left), the sidewalk along it, an irregular grassy area with a number of palm "trees" (yes, palms are technically not "trees") to include short and squat and tall and slender (the latter presumably the ubiquitous Mexican Fan palms), and an wending bicycle path along the inside edge of the expansive beach.


As shown in the marked up image below, you can also see a distant pier-like structure jutting into the ocean, what appears to be a rocky breakwater with whitewater surf breaking on it, and closer in, a series of sand-break fences, as well as barely-discernible poles that are part of volley ball nets. As for the lone bicycle figures, that is probably John Ritter himself. I say very likely because of the memorable sequence that plays out within seconds.


On the southern/southwestern horizon is an elongated hilly ridge that are actually the Palos Verdes ("Green Sticks") Hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula just beyond Redondo Beach and the City of Torrance (a name that always calls to mind for me The Shining since that was the surname of the family). (No, I've never actually been to Torrance, as I've never actually been to the Los Angeles area, only as close as San Juan Capistrano.)


A few seconds into the sequence, John Ritter (as Jack Tripper) is transfixed by a thin, young, brunette woman with a giant pile of hair sashaying toward him in exaggerated fashion -- her back to the camera -- and he promptly veers off the trail and falls off the bike onto the soft beach sand.


This pratfall actually sets the tone of the show as Jack being something of a good-natured horndog and involved in lots of associated comedic pratfalls. For me, it totally piqued my interest: Where is the PRECISE location of that fall??


Before getting to that, though, this webpage indicates that the brunette woman is actually Suzanne Somers herself in a big, brown wig. (Wigs were big, no pun intended, in the mid-20th Century including through the 1970s. Indeed, I remember that my mother had at least one wig -- and I even remember the weird Styrofoam "head" on which she stored it when not wearing it.)


So, let's delve into the BIG QUESTION of this blog entry: Where PRECISELY did John Ritter sheepishly fall off that bike??


Before I answer that, a quick spoiler: While I don't know the EXACT spot, in the process of putting together this entry over the past few months (!), and despite the fact that I've never been to Venice Beach, I have what I believe is a very good idea of the location -- as in, within a few tens of meters.

I should point out that in putting this post together over nearly 3 months (clearly the longest time it has ever taken me to compose one), I went through several iterations of where I thought that spot was. But a chance Google street view image involving an unlikely hotel across the street answered has answered the question almost definitively.

Google aerial view showing the bike fall area and the opening vantage point location; the Venice Breakwater, the Venice Fishing Pier, and the rocky groin.

*******

In looking again at the opening panoramic shot, you see a rocky breakwater with waves breaking noticeably on it that is the Venice Breakwater (it is there today and presumably it was there in 1977). There also appears to be a smaller rocky outcropping (groin) nearby -- and, in fact, there is such a groin located about midway between the Venice Fishing Pier and the Venice Breakwater.

Distance wise, the pier is approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet away (i.e., under 1 mile) from the middle of the breakwater, which for its part, I estimate to be about 600 to 700 feet in length. As shown in the marked up Google images directly above and below, the opening panoramic view spot is a bit farther to the northwest -- at a distance, I estimate, between 1,800 and 2,000 feet from the breakwater and about 1 mile from the pier.

Marked up Google aerial view showing line-of-sight between panoramic viewing spot and the Venice Breakwater (blue arrow), Venice Fishing Pier (orange arrow), and rocky groin (brown arrow).

*******

My big assumption in all of this is that that the bike fall point is across the street from the panoramic view spot (as I explain below). And using that line-of-sight argument involving the pier and the breakwater, it leads you to what is to this day a sinewy bike path running along the inside edge of the expansive beak along Ocean Front Walk. Below is a marked up freeze frame of the pier and the breakwater / whitewater surf, as well as the Palos Verdes Hills about 12 to 15 miles away.


During the fall-off-the-bike scene, the camera view is too tight to get any real clues, but it turns out that the YouTube video of the season 1 opening also includes a closing sequence. In the closing scene, you can see that the trio of Jack, Chrissy, and Janet appear to be by the same sand-break fences and volley ball nets that appear (1) where Jack falls off his bike and (2) Jack riding his bike along the path. Regarding (2), based upon the Sun angle, that occurred earlier in the day.

A screenshot from that closing sequence is below. In it, you can see that Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers are riding a bicycle for two. What's more, you can see the same sand break structures that are visible in the sequence as Jack falls and that appear in the opening panoramic view:


There is also a flash of an image in the closing sequence (see directly below) in which you can again see waves breaking on the aforementioned Venice Breakwater. The only uncertainty I have here is that the bike path seems to be a bit different -- and the image is such that you don't see the multiple (Mexican fan?) palms. Nor is there evidence of Ocean Front Walk. However, if that is the Venice Breakwater, then this must be the same general areas as the opening panoramic image shown above.


About the Venice Breakwater, it consists of a manmade agglomeration of rocks in the surf running parallel to the beach for about, what I estimate, is 400 to 600 feet. It's quite possible that the Venice Breakwater was different in 1976 - '77, maybe smaller, but I'm assuming some structure was there. As for the rocky groin (outcropping), as noted above, it is about midway between the pier and the breakwater, so in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 feet from each. The groin runs perpendicular the beak - i.e., running directly into the surf.


Now it is quite possible that the Venice Breakwater was different in 1976 - '77, maybe smaller, but I'm assuming some structure was there. I should also note that there is another rocky outcropping running perpendicular to the beach -- i.e., running directly into the surf -- a short distance south(east) of the Venice Breakwater.

Image of Venice Beach Breakwater taken from a drone or low-flying air craft. You can see the Venice Fishing Pier in the distance and (to the left) the rocky groin.

*******

About the admittedly distracting term "groin," folks often call such a rocky outcropping a "jetty," but a groin and a jetty are structurally and functionally different). As noted, the groin is close to the pier, as well as the Venice Beach lifeguard operations center. The image directly below shows this nicely:

The Venice Fishing Pier and nearby rocky groin, along with the Venice Beach lifeguard operations center.

Note in this image you can actually (just barely) see Santa Catalina Island in the distance on the horizon.

*******

If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that I've talked about the panoramic vantage spot shown in the first few seconds of the seasons 1 - 3 opening sequence. And I've noted that I think the bike fall spot is across the street (Ocean Front Walk) from it.

So where is that spot??

Well, in putting together this entry, I discovered that there is a hotel across the edge of the beach on Ocean Front Walk called the Venice Breeze Suites. The hotel's street address is specifically 2 Breeze Avenue and is between a thoroughfare called Speedway and Ocean Front Walk.

Google street view image of Venice Breeze Suites, Sept 2019

*******

Venice Breeze Suites is a four-story brick hotel that was constructed -- I found out in a phone call to the hotel -- in the 1930s, so whatever it was in 1976 - '77, the structure itself it was definitely there by then. The hotel also has a rooftop deck that is equivalent to a fifth story view.

I also discovered there are at least two sets of panoramic views as part of the Google Street view imagery from the top of the building. The collection of images below are from the first set of images.

Venice Breeze Suites rooftop Google street image: Southwest view

*******

I took a series of screenshots of the first set when I found them, but unfortunately, I didn't get the web link at the time, and now I can't find it. Instead, I can only this second set. For purposes of this entry, I am featuring the first set because the daylight is better. (The second set were taken at sunrise -- remember, you're on the Pacific in California.)

I created the following comparison of the initial image of the Seasons 1 - 3 opening sequence and the Google street (rooftop) view to the southwest, top and bottom, respectively:


SO!! If you look at the southwest view, and compare it to the opening sequence, I'm fairly certain I found the spot where John Ritter was riding his bicycle. What's more, based upon the clues in the images where Ritter falls and the closing scene images, to include the sand break fences, the volley ball nets, and Venice Breakwater, I think the bike fall spot is captured somewhere on one of those two sinewy bicycle path curves.

To be clear, I realize this sequence was filmed 43+ years ago and certainly many things there have changed including the nearby (Mexican fan?) palms, other structures (including all those sand break fences), and even the view of the Venice Fishing Pier -- it's not visible in the current Google street views because there are far more palms growing between on the line of sight. But the bike path appears to still be there and it's basic shape hasn't changed and the Venice Breakwater appears to "anchor" the whole thing.

Venice Breeze Suites rooftop Google street image: West view

Now I realize that Ritter could have fallen off his bike not in the southwest view but perhaps "directly" across from the hotel -- i.e., as captured in the Google street (rooftop) west view. Or even in the northwest street (rooftop) view, as shown in the image below. The point is, it is somewhere on the path captured in those three images.

Venice Breeze Suites rooftop Google street image: Northwest view

And with that, I will (finally!) end this entry. PHEW!! And just fyi, I'm going to keep this entry as the lead one for upwards of one week, so barring some major news requiring an entry, my next posting won't be for at least four days, maybe as much as a week.

--Regulus

2 comments:

BoB said...

Bike fall location, Well done!

Regulus said...

Thank you for your compliment. I appreciate it.