Would you be willing to go work every day alongside your spouse? Okay, but what if that meant perhaps occasionally watching your spouse kiss another person? Or what if it meant the possibility that your spouse could be the beneficiary of greater career opportunities, money and even fame than you? Those are just some of the things that married couples performing together on the same TV show have to face. And it turns out that you can enjoy a great many TV shows that featured married cast members without having to love Lucy at all.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
Some people immediately think of “I Love Lucy” when thinking of real life married couples who portrayed a married couple on TV. It is worth remembering that Lucy and Desi played other characters, the show lasted only six seasons and the marriage ended in divorce. On the other hand Ozzie and Harriet Nelson not only were married in real life and on TV, but played themselves on a show that lasted fourteen seasons and remained married until Ozzie’s death. Oh, and unlike on that other show, their fictional sons were portrayed by their real life sons. For that matter, their fictional daughters-in-law were played by their real life daughters-in-law. Yep, when it comes to married couples appearing together on the same TV show, Ozzie and Harriet are the real King and Queen of TV. Lucy is a mere jester. And not a particularly funny one at that.
Heaven for Betsy
Less than a year and a half into their marriage, a very young Jack Lemmon and Cynthia Stone starred in a show on CBS titled “Heaven for Betsy.” Lemmon played a buyer in the toy industry and Stone had given up her career as a secretary to become to devote herself to being a full time wife. That meant not only taking care of things at home, but also coming to the rescue when her husband once again leaped before looking. You see, Jack Lemmon’s fictional husband had a propensity talking and acting before thinking. The show was canceled in 1952. The marriage was canceled four years later.
Mr. Adams and Eve
What could be easier than being movie stars who were married to each other in real life playing movies stars who were married to each in a TV series? After more than five years of wedded bliss, Howard Duff and Ida Lupino took to the TV to play Howard Adams and Eve Drake, two movie stars who had to deal with the demands of studio bosses, agents and directors away from home and all the standard problems of marriage when the work day ended. Some of the events depicted in “Mr. Adams and Eve” were highly exaggerated ficitionalizations of things that had actually happened to Mr. and Mrs. Duff in real life.
Think playing a husband and wife on a TV show when you are married in real life is difficult? How about playing characters who married to characters played by people to whom you are not married in real life? Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig had been married for a few years when they were cast on “Thirtysomething.” The weird thing is that their chemistry didn’t seem right to play both roles of either of the married couples on the show. As a result, Olin and Wettig went to work every day to watch their spouse pretending to be in love with another person while sometimes pretending in the same scene to view each other as merely the spouse of a good friend. For a happily married couple (Olin and Wettig are still together) what could be more tortuous? Unless it was the exact same situation on a TV show that failed to find an audience, of course.
Mary Kay and Johnny
Perhaps the most famous incidence of a couple married in real life as well as on the TV screen having a baby occurred when Lucille Ball had a baby in real life and her character had a baby on “I Love Lucy.” The episode where little Ricky is finally born remained one of the most-watched episodes in TV history for decades. What is less well known is that the convergence of real life pregnancy with fictional pregnancy preceded that pop cultural event by five years when Mary Kay Stearns gave birth to Christopher on the very same day that Mary Kay Stearns gave birth on the TV show “Mary Kay and Johnny.” Since this seminal sitcom was performed live, the starkest difference besides audience numbers was that Mary Kay Stearns could not actually be there to perform as Mary Kay Stearns. So, instead, the episode that brought the fictional Christopher Stearns into the world featured only Johnny Stearns playing Johnny Stearns doing the standard nervous and impatient expectant father in the waiting room bit.
The Peter Lind Hayes Show
Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy were married for 58 years until his death in 1998. Like Duff and Lupino, they also played a fictional couple were celebrities in “Peter Loves Mary.” But the more interesting show that paired this wedded couple in real life as a wedded couple on the small screen aired a decade before “Peter Loves Mary.” On “The Dick Van Dyke Show” Rob and Laura Petrie lived in New Rochelle, NY. Well, Peter and Mary lived in New Rochelle in real life. And the set depicting the home of their characters on “The Peter Lind Hayes Show” was a replica of that real life house.
St. Elsewhere/Boy Meets World
Who else but William Daniels’ real life wife Bonnie Bartlett could have found a way to hit every note right in the part of the prickly Dr. Mark Craig’s wife. Whenever Daniels and Bartlett were on screen together, you just knew that they had to be married in real life. Dr. Craig was one of the most complex and difficult characters in TV history and while it would have been fun watching a stranger try to react and counter to Daniels’ idiosyncratic inhabitation of Dr. Craig, eventually the fun would have worn off and it would have devolved into pure embarrassment. One of the most brilliant casting decisions of all time was choosing Daniels’ wife in real life to play his wife on screen. This meeting of the real with the fictional would have a minor coda attached when Daniels’ character on “Boy Meets World” fell for a character played by Bartlett.