Sunday, February 17, 2013

Episode 20 - Guests Sandy Duncan, Sergio Franchi and Muppets Jim Hensen

 “Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s Julie!” 
So begins the 20th Episode of The Julie Andrews Hour as introduced by announcer Dick Tufeld. This show first aired on February 17th, 1973. 

Wearing a lovely green, blue and white, floral-patterned, one shoulder gown, Julie can be seen standing center stage, surrounded by a circular, two-level seating arrangement.  There was no band, and the auditorium seats are empty. She begins to sing:

                            Let the drums roll out
                            Let the trumpet call!
                            While the people shout!
                            Strike Up the Band!”
                            (c) 1927 Music: George Gershwin, Lyrics: Ira Gershwin

At that moment, as if by magic, the orchestra appears and a full audience can be seen in the house as well. 

The opening number, a medley consisting of “Strike Up the Band/The Sweetest Sounds/I Hear Music” is upbeat and includes a lot of close-up shots of instruments being played. Julie looks fresh as a spring morning, and moves from area to area as she sings. At one point she sings,

                               “We must treasure every measure
                                 So that time will never change,
                                  The strange, new music of love.”

Then, for the grand finale Julie Andrews climbs (via hidden steps) onto a large bass drum. Even forty years later, this opening number seems fresh and exciting.

Sandy Duncan, Julie and Sergio Franchi
After completing her song, Julie introduces us to her guests: Sandy Duncan and Sergio Franchi.  A few moments later, we meet Rowlf of The Muppets, who seems a bit jealous of Sergio and wants Julie’s special attention telling her, that he is “Marcello Mastroianni in a flea collar!”

We are then introduced to some other Muppet characters – a lady and a furry black dog, which looks somewhat frightening. Unaware of this black creature, the lady is happily placing flowers in a vase when they begin to disappear. The monster/dog is sneaking around eating them. Eventually, he becomes bold enough to grab all the flowers. At one point, he is so happy over his conquest; he tosses the petals in the air, catches them in his mouth and chomps them down.

Filmed with a live audience, we hear a great deal of laughter during the segment, which makes it even funnier. After the dog is finished with the flowers, he begins to snuggle up to the lady. If you listen carefully, you can hear him say under his breath, “Kiss! Kiss!”  The middle aged lady is a nervous wreck and soon takes a cigarette out to smoke. The creature decides he wants one too, of course. In response, the woman takes out what is clearly a stick of dynamite. He puts it in his mouth and she lights it.

This entertainment was pleasing to young and old alike, but when Julie announces that Sergio Franchi will sing the theme from “The Godfather,” we are clearly in adult territory.  Walking onto a set of columned architecture, flowers and sunlight amid shadows, just the site of this tall, dark and handsome singer is arresting.

[Sergio Franchi was born Sergio Franci Galli in the Lombardi district of Italy on April 6, 1926. He often sang for the family as a child and as a teenager earned money by singing with a male vocal group in jazz clubs. During WWII, the family followed the father to Johannesburg, where Sergio was discovered by the local opera company and offered a role.
After the war, Alessandro Rota, a successful opera tenor, tutored Sergio, helping him to expand his range and learn technique. Eventually, he went to London where in 1962 he was discovered on London television. As a result, RCA signed him to a seven year contract.  From that time on, he was one of the most popular acts in show business. He became an American citizen in 1972. Sadly, after a thirty-six year career, Sergio Franchi died in 1990 at the age of 64.]
To learn more about Mr. Franchi, please visit:

From the first moment we hear Sergio Franchi open his mouth, we are aware that we are listening to something quite amazing. Along with his good looks, the richness of his voice and his powerful vocal ability are overwhelming. Tremendous performance!

Immediately following this grand number, we see Sandy Duncan and Julie Andrews in a restaurant/pub setting, wearing fishnet stockings, high heeds and wrap-around skirts cut high in the middle. They sing and dance to “The Last Blues Song.” The Tony Charmoli Dancers work as background in the beginning of the number; they are seated at tables and standing in various spots around the stage. Then, one of the dancers grabs Sandy and another, Julie, and soon, all the men are after them. It’s a fun, sexy number.

[Sandra Kay Duncan was born on February 20, 1946 in Henderson, Texas. She got her first job at the age of 12 when she was hired to appear in a local production of The King and I. Her pay was $150 a week. After moving to Los Angeles, she made a notable appearance as a bank teller in a TV commercial and also appeared on the daytime soap, Search for Tomorrow. Appearing on Broadway in a revival of The Boyfriend (which was Julie Andrews’ first Broadway play), as well as two films which did not do well at the box office, Sandy was named by Time Magazine, “one of the most promising stars of tomorrow.”
In the fall of 1971, Sandy Duncan starred in the television sitcom Funny Face, which was placed on Saturday night between All in the Family and The New Dick Van Dyke Show. In September of 1972, the show became The Sandy Duncan Show but was cancelled after 13 episodes. Thus it must have been a great boost to Sandy to be invited to appear on The Julie Andrews Hour in the spring of 1973.
In the future, Sandy Duncan would appear in many roles, both on television and on Broadway, where in 1979 she appeared in the title role as Peter Pan and received rave reviews. Today, she lives in New York City and continues to act in theater.]
For more information on Sandy Duncan and her television history, please visit:

In the next scene, we see Julie and her guests—Jim Hensen, Sandy Duncan and Sergio Franchi—seated on the “Getting to Know You” set. Julie says to Sandy,

“Haven’t you always wanted to do a sexy number like that?”

She goes on to say that they both have always played “good and proper” roles, to which Sandy adds that their roles have always been about people who were, “honest, gentle, sensitive, descent, humble and sweet.”

“Just what we are in real life,” Julie comments. “That was the other side of us.”

“The real side,” says Sandy, bubbling over a little.

Julie asks about the fact that that Sandy got married only a couple of weeks prior to the taping. Sandy says they are lucky her husband likes Julie

“Yes,” says Julie, “Because we worked so hard, no one has been home this week.”

Jim Hensen, Muppets' creator and
Julie Andrews
 Then, she turns to interview Jim Henson, asking him how long the Muppets have been in existence. She thought they began with Sesame Street, but that was not the case.

Jim Henson tells her that the Muppets have been around for “seventeen to eighteen years” now. Their first appearance was on the old Steve Allen Sunday Show, which was produced by Bill Harbach and Nick Vanoff, who are also the producers of The Julie Andrews Hour.

When Julie asks Jim Hensen if he has any favorites among the Muppets, he says that “Rowlf” has always been one of his favorites and he also likes “Kermit.” He has about a dozen people working with him, some work in the workshop, making puppets. He’s been lucky to have “great talents” in each field work with him, he tells us.

[Jim Hensen was born in Greenville, Mississippi on September 24th, 1936. Although it is said he never thought he’d make a name for himself as a puppeteer, his work obviously went far beyond what any prior puppeteer as done. Henson’s work – his beloved Muppets – are know and loved by children and adults of all ages. Sadly on May 16th, 1990, Jim Henson died of a bacterial infection. His Muppets are now, for the most part, owned by Disney.]
To learn more about Jim Henson, please visit:
During the interview, we also learn that it often takes two people to work a puppet. As in the case of Rowlf, Jim Henson worked Rolfe’s head and one paw, and someone else had to work the other paw.

“Right now, there’s another character here that would like to meet you, but he’s too shy.”

“Oh, bring the little fellow over…” is Julie’s comment, but she soon learns this fellow is not so little. Although Jim Henson tells her that he’s about 8 feet tall, clearly, he is taller than that, more like ten feet.

“He would like to sing a song to you,” says Jim, so Julie gets up and goes over to meet Thog in one of the most charming scenes.

When Julie asks Thog how he is, he says, “I’m blue.” Of course, his color is blue, but that’s not what he means. He’s blue because he wants to dance with her and is afraid she won’t dance with him. The humility of this great creature is so sweet and touching. It should be mentioned that for years, along with scores of other characters, puppeteer Jerry Nelson played this wonderful creature, both inside the body and speaking for him, which was quite a feat as it involved a pa system.

To learn more about Jerry Nelson, who was one of the earliest members of  Jim Hensens’ troupe, and read an interview with him, please click here:

For more information, please visit:

 As Julie and Thog begin to dance, his mouth kind of hits her hair and later when he bumps her, his ears go up. Julie seems so sincerely delighted to be dancing with Thog. She clasps his hands and pulls his arms around her. Thog is so huge and that it almost seems a bit frightening to see him dance with Julie; it seems that he could easily fall on her and crush her. Yet watching the two of them move together brings such a feeling of amazement and delight, that you can’t help smiling.


After the commercial break, we are once again on the “Getting to Know You” set. This time, Sergio Franchi has moved to the seat next to Julie. She asks him when he left opera, and he tells her that his last performance in the opera was in Samson and Delilah, with a Delilah that weighed 350 pounds. Julie confesses that although she sang arias as a child, she never sang opera. Sergio reassures her by saying, “If you were my Delilah, I could sing it every night of the week.”  Then, holding hands, the pair walk to a new area of the stage and begin to sing this lovely music by Camille Saint-Saens. This lovely piece with Sergio Franchi and Julie certainly deserves to be among the songs Julie’s Duets CD.

Julie with Rolf
To conclude the first half of the 20th Episode, Rowlf has another bit with Julie, telling her he wants to be her dog. “But I already have a dog,” says Julie. “Does he talk,” asks Rowlf. “No, he’s very discrete,” says Julie.

Now, it’s time for the tribute to the “Music Men” and tonight’s songwriter is Jerome Kern (1885-1945). The scene opens with a lovely evening sky and cherry blossoms. Couples stroll along and Sergio begins to sing the wonderful, “I Hear Music.” Julie soon joins him singing, “The Way You Look Tonight.” This becomes a glorious duet with grand, sweeping orchestral music, something that was once popular which we don’t hear anymore. Still, this duet is exquisite and should certainly be on any Duets CD of The Julie Andrews Hour.

After this very romantic scene, we find Sandy Duncan seated demurely in a chair, singing, “I’m Old Fashioned.” Meanwhile, two of the male dancers, Gary Menteer and Jerry Trent, dressed in bell bottoms and blossomed sleeve shirts, dance in a very modern, sexy, 1970s style.  Before long, Sandy joins them, showing what a great dancer she is, and that she has the ability to shake it with the best of them.

Nelson Riddle and his arranger, Ian Fraser, have updated some of the intros to the old songs in this segment, as well as they rhythms in the chorus. These arrangements bring an unexpected excitement to these wonderful but familiar tunes. This is certainly the case with Sergio Franchi’s solo, “Old Man River,” which is played with a quickened rhythmic beat, making it up-tempo.

Sergio has a dramatic presence on the stage. His charisma and the power of his voice, makes you feel you can’t get enough of him. All that can be said as you watch this performance is “Wow!”

In sharp contrast to the previous scene, in the next scene we see Julie, wrapped in a chiffon scarf, walking the streets of Paris. The scene is dark and there are lovers seated on the ground and standing in the shadows. She rests her head against a railing and sings, “The Last Time I Saw Paris” with a slow and dreamy tempo. Looking into the distance, we see in her eyes the story, and believe that she has lived every word she sings. A beautiful moment, beautifully taped and preserved.

After these wonderful solos, the three stars come together to sing something upbeat – “Pick Yourself Up (dust yourself off and start all over again). Adding a little “I Won’t Dance” into the song, Sergio suddenly breaks away and does some fine tapping. The girls join him and say, “He can dance!” Then, in a final moment of comedy, he ends the final move by turning in the wrong direction!

The set is flooded by long, tapered candles, which appear to be the only thing lighting Julie as she sings, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”  This is certainly among Jerome Kern’s most famous songs, but doubtless, there is another reason it was included. Producer, Bill Harbach’s father, lyricist Otto Harbach, wrote the lyrics for this song in 19---. Julie sings it beautifully.

Bringing the show to a positive conclusion, Julie, Sergio and Sandy sing “Look for the Silver Lining.”

Then, at the very last moment, Thog appears on stage. This time he is wearing a little (for him) red striped jacket. He wants to dance with Julie. Julie sings the final notes of “Time Is My Friend” leaning against Thog, and then the pair dance, Julie twirling and curtsying in her lovely gown. It’s a shame the set is so dark, but it is a lovely ending to a lovely show.

(c) Michelle Russell

All photos here are for entertainment purposes only!

Coming soon: Fame Makes for Strange Bed Fellows

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