Oakwood author channels classic TV

Jonathan Etter’s expertise is the 60s.

This story really begins with a phone call I received from a dear friend in Atlanta. She was so excited she could barely speak.

Although I’ve known Beth since she was a pre-teen living in Dayton View and babysitting for our son, it turns out there was an important secret she had never revealed about herself. In the 1960′s, she’d been addicted to the television show, “Here Come The Brides” and had serious crushes on two of the handsome actors in the show.

With time on her hands during the early stages of the pandemic, Beth started scouting out old TV series from her childhood and watching them when she climbed on her treadmill. She was especially thrilled to uncover the first episode of her favorite show.

The comedy Western series, which aired from 1968 to 1970 for two seasons on ABC-TV, recounted the adventures in a town of loggers and the marriageable single women sent to them in post-Civil War America. The overall plot was loosely based on the 1954 film “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” In keeping with TV restrictions at the time, the show steered away from violence and gunfights. It didn’t, however, steer away from social issues such as race and the environment.

Beth began wondering what had happened to her TV idols? “As I googled and caught up on what they had been doing for 50 years, I read about a book, evidently well-researched and filled with interviews and facts about the show,” she says " We all had plenty of time in March 2020, so I ordered the 640 page book and started reading. I tried to think who could possibly be as obsessed as I was with this TV show from 50 years ago!”

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The answer? Jonathan Etter, author of the book “Gangway, Lord! Here Come the Brides.” In addition to chronicling every episode of the series, Etter spent hours interviewing and profiling many of the creators, actors, guest writers and members of the crew.

Etter has also penned other TV books including “Banacek: A Behind-the-Scenes History and Episode Guide to the 1972-1974 NBC Mystery Movie Series,” and “Quinn Martin, Producer” a study of QM Productions and its famous founder. Quinn produced television shows ranging from “The Streets of San Francisco’ and “The FBI” to “The Invaders” and The Streets of San Francisco.”

When Beth noted in his bio that Etter lived in her hometown, she called me immediately. “You’ve got to track down Jonathan Etter and interview him!” she told me. “He lives in Dayton!” With help from kind librarians at the Dayton Metro Library’s Northmont branch, I found a phone number for Jonathan Etter and called him!

An interesting career

Etter, it turns out, is now in his ‘60s and continues to write about his favorite subject: television and movie classics. Although many consider the 1950s as the Golden Age of Television, Etter believes television had a Renaissance in the 1960′s and ‘70s with innovative shows like “Route 66″ which was filmed on location throughout the country, and rotating mystery series such as “Columbo,” “McCloud” and “McMillan and Wife.”

Etter’s fascination with television and its history can be traced back to the age of 8 when he had a cyst removed from a bone in his right leg and had to miss third grade. “I couldn’t play with the kids outside so my parents got me a Magnavox portable television that filled a lot of my time,” he explained. Favorite shows included “Johnny Quest,” “Tom & Jerry,” “Lost in Space” and ``Star Trek.”

“I always felt television was disparaged compared to movies,” Etter says. “I never had that attitude. Producer Quinn Martin said the television format was smaller, more intense, more personal. Don’t forget Shakespeare wrote for a mass audience.”

After graduating from Wright State University with a B.A. in history, Etter worked as a film historian for the Victory Theatre’s Summer Film Festival and began publishing articles in film periodicals. Then he began researching and writing books about some of his favorite shows. Most of the interviews were done on the phone. When his subjects realized how knowledgeable he was about their beloved programs, he says one celebrity was often eager to lead him to another.

“In one of my filing cabinets, I have tons of audiotapes from my many interviews,” says Etter, whose interviews included writers and producers involved with “Flipper,” “Route 66,” “Silent Force” “Mission: Impossible” and “Rat Patrol.”

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Interesting tidbits:

  • “Banacek”' star George Peppard was a proud descendant of Colonel George Newcom. Newcom was one of the first settlers of Dayton and also the first sheriff and jailer in Montgomery County. Newcom’s Tavern is one of the popular attractions at Carillon HIstorical Park.
  • One of the “Banacek’s” story consultants, Robert Van Scoyk, was a Dayton native.During his years in Hollywood, he wrote for “Columbo” and ``Ellery Queen.”
  • When Christopher and Lynda Day George and Desi Arnaz, Jr came to Dayton in the summer of 1974 to do the Kenley Players production of ‘Sunday in New York,’ the Georges and Arnaz celebrated the second birthday of Chris and Lynda’s daughter, Krisinda Casey George at Marion’s Piazza in on Shroyer Road. Chris was the star of ‘Rat Patrol’ and ‘The Immortal,’ Lynda was the leading lady in the last two seasons of ‘Mission: Impossible’ and the short-lived 1970-71 series, ‘The Silent Force.’ Arnaz Jr was the co-star in his mother, Lucille Ball’s long-running, sitcom, “Here’s Lucy.”
  • During the production of one ‘McCloud’ episode, the show’s stunt coordinator Bill Catching, remembered guest star John Denver working on one of his famous songs. Catching believed it may have been “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
  • During the second season of his hit CBS series, ‘Cannon,’ title star William Conrad (Matt Dillon in the radio version of ‘Gunsmoke,’ and narrator of the ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’ cartoons) would read his lines from off-set cue cards. One of the more unusual ‘cue cards’ was an assistant cameraman’s bald head. The ‘Cannon’ crew would write Conrad’s lines on the man’s head. When the time came to do the scene, the man would tip his bald head toward Conrad and Conrad would read his lines off the man’s head.
  • When “Ellery Queen” star Jim Hutton (playing the title character) was doing that 1975-76 series, he would run (rehearse) his lines with his son Timmy in his dressing room. Timmy was future actor Timothy Hutton.

Etter has additional book projects in development. He’ll focus on television series from the ‘60s and ‘70s that lasted only one season and take readers behind-the-scenes of some of his favorite TV-movie classics.

One of those is “Fear No Evil,” a 1969 horror thriller starring Louis Jourdan, Lynda Day George and Carrol O’Connor. Etter, who says he’s the only author to interview Richard Alan Simmons, who produced and wrote the film, is busy researching every scrap of information he can uncover. “I have a sorta photographic mind,” he admits, " and an amazing memory for detail.”

Jonathan Etter’s books can be purchased through Amazon or through his publishers, Bear Manor Media and McFarland.

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