Wednesday, 12 February 2020


In a number of ways, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” was an odd, disconcerting show. Everyone was just too dysfunctional for my tastes but I admit that sometimes that worked pretty well.

The actors were well cast and one of my favourites was Mary’s mother, played by Dody Goodman. I didn’t know anything about her (or most of the cast) at the time. It was years later I discovered this was kind of a second TV career for her, that she was one of many offbeat regular guests that populated the Jack Paar version of the Tonight show.

Dody Goodman kind of reminded me of the late Marion Lorne, except Miss Lorne always seemed to be fighting for the right words. Dody just ploughed right through, whether or not the words were right.

Here’s a Bell Syndicate piece soon after she joined Tonight. Paar had been handed the show in July 1957 after a disastrous attempt to make it one of those golly-gosh-look-what’s-happening-in-this-city programmes beloved by NBC president Pat Weaver (though Weaver was gone when it debuted). The story is from September 22nd.
‘Tonight,’ Dody Goodman May Be Hit of TV Season
NEW YORK, N.Y.— As soothsayers go, I'm not much of one. I can never guess whether it's going to rain tomorrow, or which pony will win by a nose, or even whether it will be a big season for the "little black dress."
It follows rather logically that nobody should get very excited about a vote of confidence from me, but for whatever it's worth, I'm hustling out on a limb with a prediction. There's a girl on television, a comedienne yet —which makes her the worst risk of all— who I think may be the hit of this television year. She's Dody Goodman, comparatively unknown, a former ballet dancer, now a regular member of Jack Paar's "Tonight" show, 11:15 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily, Mondays through Fridays, on NBC.
It's hard to describe Miss Goodman. She doesn't really do anything and frequently she doesn't say much. Obviously, this will be in her favor. Perhaps it would be easier to say what she doesn't do. She does not chatter. She does not make faces. She does not move wildly about the stage with frenetic gestures. She doesn't tell jokes as such.
She sits quietly in a demure, ladylike way, wearing a demure, ladylike skirt and blouse and she comments. Her voice is a Midwestern voice, high, with a nasal twang and her face is usually deadpan.
It is entirely possible that you may tune in the "Tonight" show to see this girl and wait impatiently for her to say something to make you roll right on your cnair. She won't, and you won't. It's not that kind of humor.
However, it won't make her nervous in the least that you are sitting there, waiting for her to be funny. On the surface, she is utterly composed and her trump card is that she does not panic and try too hard.
When I first saw her, Jack Paar, the star of "Tonight," was introducing her in the most extravagant of terms, and I thought, "what a terrible thing to do to a performer. How can anyone live up to a build-up like that?"
There's just one small difference. Dody isn't "anyone."
"It doesn't bother me when Jack says things like that," she said, with a wonderful vagueness. "He always says what he thinks, and I think it's nice he thinks that way. I don't try to be funny. I don't try to think of something clever to say, or it would come out chaos. I sit there, and if something comes to my mind, and nobody else is talking, I say it.
"You see, I don't have any technique. I'm just being myself. Only thing I have to do is find out who myself is."
At lunch here on this muggy, Indian summer day in Manhattan, Dody Goodman wore a yellow shantung dress, with the black string tie at the neck, and pink sandals. She is thirtyish, with short blonde hair and brown eyes. She is the essence of simplicity.
Whether from shyness, or an unusual natural reticence, it is hard to say, but even in an interview, she talks almost not at all. She is pleasant, perfectly agreeable, but at the end of an hour, one has only the merest impression as to who Dody Goodman is, what she means by what she says. This could be the reason why her five-paragraph biography in the NBC press department is the shortest on record.
She was born in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dexter Y. Goodman, who still make their home there. She has one sister, Mrs. Rose Adams, who lives in Columbus, and a brother, Dexter Goodman Jr., who lives in Randolph, N.Y.
She studied dramatics at Northwestern University and ballet at the American Ballet School and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School and she came to New York to be a ballet dancer. As a dancer, she appeared in "Call Me Madame," "Miss Liberty," and "High Button Shoes."
It was her friends who thought "Dody was just a scream," who persuaded her to become a comedienne and as such, she appeared in one of Leonard Stillman's productions of "New Faces." Dick Linkrom, the executive producer of "Tonight" had seen her work in this show, and in a New York night club asked her to come over to NBC to talk with Jack Paar. After a 20-minute interview, Paar hired her.
She is now under exclusive contract to NBC, and it could well be that the timing for her kind of comedy is perfect for television at this moment. This seems not to be the moment for the planned joke, but rather for the witty remark, for the zany comment which makes sense in a perverse kind of way.
For example, here are a couple of typical Dody Goodman remarks, during lunch:
"I don't watch much television unless somebody comes in to visit me and just sits around and talks. Then I turn it on. But if I'm by myself, I have too much to do."
"I just have a one-room apartment now, but I'm going to look for a bigger place. I only have one closet. I can hardly turn around."
"I'm beginning to feel like a real celebrity. People stop me on the street and ask for my autograph. I think they recognize my voice."
There's a Gracie Allen quality to Dody Goodman, but her humor is not as contrived. There is also something of the quality of Judy Holliday's Billie Dawn, of "Born Yesterday," wide-eyed but wise. However, Dody Goodman is completely subdued, without brass.
Actually, you can't put a name on her humor. You can't even analyze it. The best thing you can do is to see it for yourself, but don't expect too much, too soon. It's much like olives. You may have to cultivate the taste.
As to whether or not she has always been exactly this way, she says, "I don't think so, but then sometimes, I wonder."
That is really the key word, "wonder." There's a delicious kind of wonderment about Dody Goodman. You wonder, who she is, and if she is, and why? And all the time, she's wondering too.
When TV rediscovered her, so did columnists. Here’s one from the Yonkers Herald Statesman of July 13, 1976 about her renewed fame from Mary Hartman.
Yes! It's Dody Goodman, Dody Goodman
Every night, her unmistakable voice comes with "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" into millions of American homes.
It's Dody Goodman, Dody Goodman, and she's coming to Yonkers on July 26, to appear at the Westchester Playhouse. Miss Goodman will be co-starring with James Coco through the 31st in "George Washington Slept Here," a venerable Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman comedy.
"I play a wife who goes out and buys a 200-year-old house out of the clear blue sky," explained Miss Goodman in a telephone interview, while rehearsing in Stockbridge, Mass.
The wife gets "ruffled" by all the mishaps that follow, continued the actress, but carries on in spite of it all.
Being "ruffled" is something of a Dody Goodman specialty, one that she carries to a high art as the feather-brained "Martha Shumway" on the "Mary Hartman" series.
AS SHE TELLS it, Miss Goodman more or less fell into the role of Mary's muddled mother.
"Aah — I had just gone out there"— to Hollywood — "to visit some friends," she explained, with those Goodmanesque stops and starts.
"I had been appearing in 'Miss Moffett' with Bette Davis. Then she fell ill and the play folded."
So Dody Goodman went to Hollywood, where she heard about the part on "MHMH," as it's called these days in shorthand.
When she landed the role, says the actress, the character "was quite under-developed. They had no clear concept of the type of person they wanted."
Dody Goodman formed that character into one she describes as "ruffled, with many disturbances in her life. But she manages to keep sort of an even keel."
THE SOAP opera spoof marks the second time that Miss Goodman has been part of television history. In 1957 she became a regular on "The Jack Paar Show," the first of TV's long string of talk shows.
It all started when a Paar writer gave her a call in her home town of Columbus, Ohio.
"I said, 'I don't think I can do it if it's just sitting there talking. I really don't think people will find me that interesting,' " she recalled some 19 years later.
"He said, 'You can do it.' I said 'I can't'. He said 'The salary is $750 a week.' I said 'I'll do it.'"
DODY GOODMAN came to her talk show and acting career by way of training in ballet back home in Columbus. After high school she made the typical show-biz hopeful's trek to New York, where she appeared with such other "unknowns" as Beatrice Arthur (now TV's "Maude") and Chita Rivera (of the hit show "Chicago") in Ben Bagley's "Shoestring Revue." After a number of other off- and on- Broadway appearances as a dancer, she got that call from Jack Paar's writer. Soon after, her face, and voice, were known from coast to coast.
Still, she agrees, nothing ever made her quite as well known as working in "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."
"It's a big resurgence of my career. It's probably bigger now than ever before. Now a lot of people recognize me. They always ask me about the show — will Mary and her husband get back together."
To which the actress answers with a non-committal but hopeful "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure they will."
ONE SEASON of "MHMH" production involves taping 130 episodes in 26 weeks — that's one a day.
The "Mary Hartman" crew is on hiatus until mid-August. Until then, Dody Goodman will be keeping busy, taking "George Washington Slept Here" on the road. "It's a really cute show," she says "It'll keep me right on my toes. And it's wonderful working with Jimmy (Coco) again. He's great to be with."
After the week at the Westchester Playhouse, the show will go to Flint. Mich., and from there to the Ohio cities of Warren and Dayton.
And then Dody Goodman will leave the stage, which she describes as "my first love," for the hot lights of the "Mary Hartman" set.
Does she have any hint for us about future developments at the Hartman household?
"Aah, well, no," replied the Goodman voice.
"I've read a couple of things in magazines about it, but I don't know whether that's where the story will go or not."
To find out, stay tuned, folks, as that familiar voice is heard over the background soap opera music, shouting Mary Hartman. Mary Hartman..."
When Mary Hartman left the air, Goodman stayed busy. Grease fans will remember her in both the original and follow-up movies. She was a semi-regular at the tail-end of The Mary Tyler Moore show and on Diff’rent Strokes. Her unusual voice was made for cartoon work and she was hired for one of the later incarnations of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

She lived until she was 93 and died in 2008 in Englewood, New Jersey, not all that far from Broadway and Paar’s Tonight show studio where her career first took off.

1 comment:

  1. Dody Goodman had the talent to read a line, and make something that wouldn't be funny by anyone else...funny. I remember on " Diff'rent Strokes " when she said very intensely, dead serious.. " Oh, I just love that Robert Conrad ( R.I.P.) especially when he *dares* us to *knock* that battery off his shoulder ". Just her pacing, timing, and timbre of her voice made that line funny. She was solid, working, and in demand all the way til her passing.