12 May 2013 | charlesgeer
Hazel series review 1961-66
Shirley Booth played an opinionated, talkative, even bossy maid for five seasons on "Hazel" -- but there was never a more lovable, or more loved, maid on television.
As portrayed in the popular "Saturday Evening Post" cartoon by Ted Key, Hazel was almost a little too brash. But Miss Booth took some of the harshness out of the cartoon character and replaced it with the warmth and love she brought to her award-winning movie, Broadway and radio roles ("Come Back, Little Sheba," "Duffy's Tavern"). In its debut season of 1961-62, "Hazel" was #2 among all TV programs in the Nielsen ratings.
Hazel never met a person she didn't like--much to the chagrin of her employer, corporate attorney George Baxter (Don DeFore). Even a simple meeting with Frank Gifford (then of the New York Giants), in the 1963 episode "Hazel and the Halfback", goes delightfully awry as Hazel tries to inject her thoughts about football, bowling, and the risks of investing in a bowling alley for which George is negotiating a deal with Gifford.
When George married his wife Dorothy, Hazel came along. As the maid for Dorothy's family, Hazel had raised "Missy" virtually from childhood. While she was supposedly a free-lance interior decorator, Whitney Blake's Dorothy was cast as a typical 1960's TV sitcom housewife--a role at which she chafed until DeFore and she left the series at the end of the 1964-65 season. In one 1964 episode, however, Dorothy joins forces with Hazel to have George break down and remodel their kitchen with side-splitting results.
Hazel was pal and confidante to their son Harold (Bobby Buntrock), and many episodes focused on her helping and motivating "Sport" to be the best he could be, often with unexpected results. In fact, when DeFore and Blake left the series, CBS felt transplanting Hazel and Harold to live with George's real-estate brother Steve (Ray Fulmer), his wife Barbara (Lynn Borden) and their daughter Susie (Julia Benjamin) could keep the continuity going. (Ironically, "Mr. Steve" never appeared in any NBC episode; George's sister Deirdre Thompson, played by Cathy Lewis, was virtually a semi-regular.)
While changing characters, settings and networks often weakened existing series, "Hazel"'s ratings were fairly strong during its CBS run despite being up against the new Monday night episodes of "Peyton Place" on ABC. Miss Booth, herself, was not. As far back as 1964, DeFore was concerned about jeopardizing her health and worked to reduce her load in fourth-season episodes. Indeed, other than a few guest appearances and the short-lived series "For the Love of Grace" in the 1970s, Shirley Booth's TV career ended when "Hazel" left the air in 1966.
Other shows tried to copy "Hazel's" magic, from "Our Man Higgins" with Sterling Holloway in 1962-63 to Fran Drescher as "The Nanny" in the 1990s. No one has come close, and probably no one ever well. To quote Shirley Booth's favorite catchphrase, "Hazel" continues to be "a doozy" half a century later!