Thursday, April 9, 2015
'The Ghost and Mr. Carraher:' Spirited Conversation with "Muir" Child Star (Part One of Two)
One of the best things about speaking with former child star Harlen Carraher over the telephone was finding a guy with whom I would enjoy sharing a wonderfully disgustingly sweet "secret menu" cotton candy frappuccino. For the benefit of folks who are not true classic TV fans, Carraher played elementary school aged Jonathan Muir on the '60s fantasycom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." (Unreal TV has previously reviewed the DVD releases of "Muir.")
The tremendous charm of Carraher the adult relates to his kind nature, age-appropriate enthusiasm and awesome parental nature. Respective examples of this include persistently playing telephone tag despite not receiving ANY benefit from this interview, exclaiming "that's my favorite movie" on my speculating that he likes "Chinatown," and conveying his tremendous love for his fourteen-year old autistic son Rory and Rory's 12 and 10 year-old sisters.
Carraher sharing so much during our 90-minute chat requires breaking coverage of that visit into two parts. The current focus is on Carraher's "Muir" related experiences. The second part will shift to his thoughts on being a child star and other equally interesting aspects of his adult life.
Hopefully achieved objectives of this conversation included not asking the same questions that Cararhcr had been asked 1,000s of time and to provide some depth.
Carraher stressed that pursuing an acting career was his choice. He added that his father was an advertising executive with contacts that facilitated that activity. This career in that context began when Carraher was 18 months old. He also shared that he was the first voice of Sprout in the Green Giant television commercials.
Carraher described the casting process for "Muir" as a cattle call; he shared as well that he did not recall that anyone whom he beat out for the part went on to do anything big.
Carraher attributed looking like "Muir" star Hope Lange, who played the titular widow, and being able to remember his lines as primary reasons for his getting the role.
Even before discussing the background summarized above, Carraher asked that I tell co-star Kellie Flanagan, who played Carraher's slightly older sister Candy Muir on the series, that he hoped that she was well and that he was sorry that "I was a little brat" if I spoke with her, On being asked to elaborate regarding the second comment, Carraher explained that Flanagan was "like my big sister, and I was a typical little boy at the time."
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The interest of Carraher in connecting with Flanagan and Flanagan expressing the same interest in an interview in another forum prompted tracking down the latter and providing her the contact information for the former. She is just as nice as her fictional brother, and hopes run high for an interview with her in this space.]
Carraher expressed similar regard for a pre "The Partridge Family" Danny Bonaduce in reference to Bonaduce guest starring on "Muir." Carraher nicely but strongly asserted that Bonaduce got the role based on his talent, rather than on Bomnaduce's father Joseph writing the episode in which Danny appeared.
Charles Nelson Reilly
The combination of the persona of "Muir" star Charles Nelson Reilly being so flamboyant and the even late '60s not being the most enlightened of times prompted asking if that characterization of highly anxious Claymore Gregg prompted any negative public feedback. Carraher responded "absolutely not."
Carraher then described Reilly as "very professional and very kind," that "I really enjoyed working with him," and that "he was perfect for the role."
Carraher added that Reilly was a horrible driver and ran down a boom man while filming one scene; this stage hand lived but broke his leg.
The brief discussion related to sexuality in the context of this topic included Carraher volunteering "I'm very straight myself" but expressing an awesome acceptance for gay folks. He is sincere in stating that some of his best friends are gay.
The conversation turned to Scruffy, the wire fox terrier who played the Muir family pet of the same name in the context of Flanagan commenting in an interview that Scruffy was paid more than Flanagan. Carraher responded that he did not recall that but stated that that would not surprise him. He explained that the animal trainer on the series was one of the best in that profession.
The bonus tidbit that Carraher shared regarding Scruffy was that the original intent was to name him Rusty in reference to the rust that formed on the hull of a sailing ship.
A question regarding whether any of props in the series were from the 1947 "Muir" film prompted the enthusiastic response "I don't know; I would be thrilled to know that it was."
Carraher elaborated by stating "I am a huge Natalie Wood fan." This was in the context of Wood starring in the 1947 film.
Carraher stated that Wood never visited the set of the "Muir" series and that he had never met her. He added that his brother appeared in the uber-awesome Wood film "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" but that Harlen never visited that set.
The portion of our conversation regarding "Muir" guest star Bill Bixby revealed that Carraher and I were on the same wavelength. A confession that "Muir" remained one of my Top 10 favorite shows but that I liked Bixby's '60s fantasycom "My Favorite Martian" a little better prompted Carraher (most likely with a wide grin on his face) to state "me too."
Carraher stated that he did not recall Bixby discussing any techniques regarding the special effects on "Martian" but that Bixby was one of the nicest guest stars who appeared on "Muir." One aspect of this regard was Bixby being very gracious when seven or eight year-old budding photographer Carraher asked to take candid photos of him.
This lead to discussing personal aspects of the life (and genuinely tragic death) of Bixby that included his being a terrific father in real life. This in turn related to both a general discussion of Bixby's sitcom "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" and comments in Unreal TV reviews of that series that Bixby seemed to be the kind of dad that many children of the '60s and '70s wished that they had. Carraher agreed and added that he loved "Father."
Carraher followed up by stating that future "Coach" star Shelley Fabares was equally gracious about Carraher taking her photo when she guest starred.
Carraher provided the best way to wrap up this portion of the recap of our talk early in that conversation. A mention of highly prolific singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson appearing on the show prompted Carraher to joyfully sing "you put the lime in the coconut and then shake it all up." This awesomely conveyed that Carraher thoroughly enjoyed acting on the show and retained the spark of childhood that all of us require,
Anyone with any questions or comments regarding these insights in "Muir" and Carraher is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.