A prime time show about love and sex in the sexually liberated late 1960s. A risqué concept that was really quite harmless. It implied a lot but had a sweetness to it.
Love, American Style was an hour-long comedy-romance anthology series, with up to four different vignettes of various length and short “blackout” skits between the separate vignettes. The blackouts featured a group of regular actors that included Stuart Margolin (Rockford Files), Barbara Minkus, Tracy Reed, James Hampton (F-Troop, The Longest Yard) and Phyllis Davis (Vega$).
One of the reoccurring motif’s in the blackouts and vignettes was the big brass bed.
Part of the distinctive flavor of the program was the rocking, orchestrated opening song, first sang by the Cowsills (Hair, The Rain, the Park and Other Things) musical group and written by Charles Fox and Arnold Margolin. Fox, who regularly worked on ABC network shows and promos, composed the musical score used in the vignettes and blackouts. Fox’s music was poignant and romantic, but upbeat and added an invaluable texture to the show.
Episodes usually revolved around stories where love was unrequited, marriages in trouble because of a misunderstanding, a neighbor who a crush on another neighbor, people who don’t like each other that eventually do, kids planning a night together that get cold feet and go home instead, the teenager who thinks he going to score with the older woman, the newlyweds who cannot enjoy their wedding night, the swinger who really isn’t a swinger, and so on. The stories mostly were about what didn’t happen, people looking for sex and fulfilling a fantasy, but finding real life and real people instead.
The show was a haven for television actors between series, older movie stars and young talent on the rise.
By the early 1970s, the show started fading, having run its course and was cancelled. For many years it was popular in daytime television reruns; the hour-long shows were edited into 30 minute shows to fit programming needs.
When the show premiered in 1969, movie audiences were exposed to more frankness in content. It was the year of Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch, Midnight Cowboy, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Alice’s Restaurant, Blue Movie, de Sade, Goodbye Columbus, The Grasshopper, John & Mary, Last Summer, Medium Cool, The Sterile Cuckoo and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Quite a collection of adult-oriented films about sexuality, war, violence, interracial relationships, searching for meaning, the questioning of social values, and sex without love.
Films were freer in expression and less restrictions as the industry had adopted a ratings code to advise parents and viewers based on content. If you recall, Midnight Cowboy was rated X, and ironcially was awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture. Independent producers like Russ Meyer had been making films like Vixen and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for years, but now the major studios were getting into the game. In fact, Meyer and film critic Roger Ebbert teamed up for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Other studio dreck included Myra Breckenridge, What Do You Say to a Naked Lady and Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? All X-rated and forgettable.
Now, back to our story. Love, American Style only hinted at adult themes, as the American public was able to now view substantially more adult content, including nudity, at the local movie theater. Television viewing was still quite conservative and Love, American Style ran in the time slot before the local news, when kids were shuffled off to bed and adults were in charge of the television set.
Each vignette title started with “Love and the….” There were 108 episodes and more than 300 vignettes. Love, American Style spawned several spin-off series, the most famous of which was Happy Days. It aired on February 25, 1972 as “Love and the Television Set” and then later renamed “Love and the Happy Days.” The cast included Ron Howard, Anson Williams and Marion Ross, but other actors as Howard, Joanie and brother Chuck. The pilot aired didn’t sell as a weekly series, until Ron Howard was cast in American Graffiti by George Lucas, who saw the pilot. Sufficient interest built for the idea to be picked up for a series. The rest is history.
Several other vignettes were used as pilots to pitch television series, the other successful one being Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, airing as “Love and the Old Fashioned Father” on February 11, 1972. It was surprisingly an animated series that ran for three years. Tom Bosley, who took over the role of Howard Cunningham on Happy Days, voiced the father on this animated series from Hanna-Barbera Productions (The Jetsons, The Flintstones).
Phyllis Davis, who acted in many of the blackout episodes, went on to co-star in Vega$ with Robert Urich. Davis, who played in many B-films, got a huge break when she was cast in the Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. Unfortunately, she was replaced at the last minute by Lana Wood. Although she missed out on the role, since she had signed a contract, she continued to collect residual payments from the film. She would have a long-term relationship with Dean Martin in the late 1970s when he was between wives.
Only season one of the series has been released on DVD, which is a shame. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to reboot the series Love, American Style was a unique series and should be left to history.