The other day I discovered that Abby Dalton had passed away in November of last year. She was the last of the regular cast members of the television series Hennesey to go. The star, Jackie Cooper, died in 2011. Roscoe Karns, who portrayed CAPT/RADM Shafer, died in 1970, and Henry Kulky, "Chief Corpsman Max Bronsky", in 1965. Years ago, I would occasionally mention my friends, the Wards, in my Deck Log entries. Lonie Ward, back when she was Lonie Blackman, had a semi-regular rôle on the show as Nurse Lane. The Wards are gone now, too. Both of them.
A few years back, some of you prompted me to start a Military Sitcoms thread, and my first entry discussed Hennesey. It's a difficult show to describe, but I did the best I could here: http://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/military-sitcoms?id=3370...
I also mentioned how Hennesey was my first exposure to the United States Navy. It seemed like a pretty nice outfit to be in and that's where the seed was planted in me to join the Navy myself. You'll remember how, my first Christmas on the staff of Commander, SEVENTH FLEET, in Japan, I decided to write Jackie Cooper and tell him how the show inspired my decision to join the Navy. You'll also remember (or you've clicked on the link and read) his response to me.
At the end of my writing on Hennesey, I mentioned:
The same night I also wrote and sent a letter to his Hennesey co-star, Abby Dalton, that produced some interesting results. But that’s another story, for another post.
This seems as good a time as any to tell that story.
But first, a little bit about Abby Dalton. She had the usual career of an ingenue. Bit parts. Some questionable modeling shoots. And the usual grade-Z movies at the bottom of her résumé, if she included them at all. In particular, she did three films produced by Roger Corman, notorious for his films made on the cheap. The last of the three, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, gave Miss Dalton her first leading rôle. The title essentially describes the plot, and it's pure Camembert, from the stilted dialogue to the amateur special effects.
Fortunately, Miss Dalton rose above the dismal quality of the film to become a frequently employed actress in many television shows of the era, and those appearances were strong enough to get her tapped to play Nurse Martha Hale on Hennesey.
When I wrote to her that Christmas in 1998, I told her how Hennesey had influenced my life, and how I had managed to obtain about thirty episodes of the show on bootleg video tapes. (For some reason, the story goes, Don McGuire's estate, which owns the rights to the show, refuses to release it for distribution.) I specified what I saw that she had brought to the show and that her part was integral to the balance of the characters.
She returned with a gracious reply, calling my letter "truly the most amazing letter I think I've ever received." She also wanted to discuss the possibility of getting copies of my taped episodes of the show. I wrote back, informing her that, as soon as I got home on leave, I'd be glad to copy my episodes of Hennesey and send the tapes to her. She replied, insisting on paying me for my time and expense, but, of course, I would have none of that.
In April of 1999, I came home on leave, and I dedicated a day of it copying my Hennesey video tapes for Miss Dalton. Then, I sent them to her straightaway.
About a week later, I was sitting at the computer in my den---exactly where I am writing this, as a matter of fact---when the telephone rang.
It was Abby Dalton. She and her husband were driving off on a small vacation and she was calling me from one of those "new-fangled" cell phones. She was afraid that the cell-tower transmissions were inconsistent and apologised for the poor quality. But for the most part, I heard her just fine.
After the usual small talk, we chatted for quite a while about Hennesey and her involvement with the show. She told me that she had not seen the show since it had first aired until she was able to view the video tapes I had sent her. I was, naturally, glad to be of service.
She, again, insisted on paying me for the tapes. I told her no. Not after all the pleasure she had given me from watching the show. This was my way of paying her back. Then, I added:
"Besides, nothing's too good for the star of The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent."
She howled in laughter. Unfortunately, a few seconds after that, her phone got out of range and we got cut off.
We exchanged three or four more letters after that. She was an incredibly gracious woman, and it didn't take long before our letters stopped taking the tone of "actress and fan" to just two friends talking.
Like it happens sometimes, our correspondence dropped off around 2005 or so. But I've always felt good about being able to really do something for her.
The march of time is taking its toll. There were a handful of performers with whom I had had ongoing correspondence and who are no longer with us: Miss Dalton, Robert Young, Lynn Borden, Pamela Lincoln . . . The one who started it all, Angel Tompkins, is still with us. She's been one of my dearest friends for decades. I've known her longer than I've known the Good Mrs. Benson, and I'm thinking I should give her a call this morning.
What a touching story. she obviously meant a lot to you. I've never seen Hennesey and didn't previously know her name, but I just checked IMDB and recognized her immediately from her many nad varied roles. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.
A great story and a wonderful tribute to your late friend. I had to smile at your mention of bootleg video tapes. A little over a year ago my wife and I sold our home and moved to a condo as we were about to retire. Downsizing meant getting rid of at least some of the stuff accumulated over decades of home ownership. Among my contributions to the junk pile was a drawer full of 1980's vintage VHS tapes of bootlegged movies and TV shows.
I remember seeing episodes of Hennesey but it must have been in syndication as I recall watching them on weekday afternoons. Hopefully with all the streaming services out there the show will be made available once again for your viewing pleasure.
i've frequently mentioned I've a devotee of Barney Miller. But I had never seen the original pilot until this Friday, when I happened to come across it on YouTube. (It hasn't aired since 1974.) Then titled The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller, it featured Abby Dalton as his wife, Liz. (I would link to it, but I can't find it any more. It may have been taken down.)
As the original concept was about Barney's life at home and his life on The Job, the credits sequence resembles black-and-white home movie footage of Barney and Liz. It start with their wedding outside the 12th Precinct, with her in a wedding gown and him in his best double-breasted dress uniform, walking through an array of other patrolmen in their best double-breasted dress uniforms, raising their batons for them to walk under. Other clips show Barney clowning with a pregnant Liz, Barney clowning with their daughter and an again-pregnant Liz, and Barney and Liz and the now-grown kids (Rachel and David) around the family station wagon as Barney shows off his shield, indicating his promotion to captain. (Oddly, he's holding an NYPD detective's shield, not a captain's shield. I don't know that Barney ever spent time as a detective. I think the prop department simply goofed.)
Abby Dalton played Liz as loving but ever fretting over Barney's safety, clearly not accepting that that's the lot of a cop's wife, even after nearly 20 years of marriage.
As Hal Linden describes here, the first pilot didn't sell, but producer Danny Arnold had such faith in the project, he mortgaged his house to buy the rights back and shot a second pilot. Linden, a Broadway star at the time, was up for a musical when he was asked to do the second pilot; he rolled the dice and said yes.
In the second pilot, which became the series premiere, Abby Dalton was replaced by Barbara Barrie, and most of the actors playing detectives were replaced too, save for Abe Vigoda as Fish. Val Bisoglio of The Legion of "Hey, It's That Guy!" Character Actors was on hand as Sgt. Grimaldi. Charles Haid, who went on to Hill Street Blues before becoming a director, was the prototype for Wojo, and Rod Perry was clearly the original version of Chano.
It's hard to say how much difference Abby Dalton would have made in the series, as they dropped the Barney's-life-at-home angle after the third episode and Liz made only occasional appearances in the remainder of the first season and was written out after the second.