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In the fall of 1966 NBC introduced what promised to be a ridiculous situation comedy. It was called "Occasional Wife" and starred Michael Callan as Peter Christopher and a virtual unknown, Patricia Harty, as Greta Patterson.

Christopher was an up-and-coming junior executive at a baby food company run by a man who preferred married employees. Christopher, alas, was a bachelor, something he kept secret in the interest of job advancement. He was able to maintain this secret because he hired a beautiful young woman to pose as his wife. He set her up in a Manhattan apartment located two stories above his.

Whenever needed, Greta would drop into Peter's apartment, usually via the fire escape. She was often spotted by a character referred to as "The Man in the Middle" (Bryan O'Byrne), who lived in the apartment on the floor in between. An interesting feature of the series was the wry narration provided by Vin Scully, announcer for Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games and considered the best there was in his line of work. All in all, I found the program a pleasant surprise.

Ratings-wise, the series held its own for awhile; Harty got rave reviews for her performance as Greta. Years later I would notice a resemblance between Harty and Shelley Long, except that Harty was prettier and the character she played was less abrasive. Harty was so good that it seemed certain she had a bright future.

However, the ratings for "Occasional Wife" went down as the season rolled along, but it was expected to be renewed and shifted to a different timeslot. The show's premise, silly as it was, had a sleazy side that bothered folks in the Bible Belt. And Harty, even when she was being silly, was devilishly sexy.

I met her in Cleveland in December of '66. The interview, conducted over lunch, only strengthened my belief that Patricia Harty would become a very successful actress. Only it never happened. The show was canceled (see the Michael Callan interview) and Harty and her first husband, E. Thomas Kearney, divorced. Kearney had also been her agent and guided her career to that point, imposing a set of rules, including an interesting one about Elvis Presley that is mentioned in the story, below. (Oddly, Kearney's name was left out of the brief Wikipedia biography on Patricia Harty.)

Whether Kearney was involved in Harty's next career move, I don't know. But it was disastrous. She went immediately into another sitcom, playing the title role in "Blondie," based on the comic strip. Will Hutchins, known for the Western series "Sugarfoot," played Dagwood. Harty's career came to a standstill.

I've never read what happened afterward. Oh, I know she and her "Occasional Wife" co-star Michael Callan got married, and that his career also went south at the same time. The guy had started so well, even had a starring role in a movie classic, "Cat Ballou," before "Occasional Wife" came along.

Harty surfaced a few years later, as a brunette named Trisha Hart, but didn't work much, though she did have parts in two series, "The Bob Crane Show" and "Herbie, the Love Bug." After she and Callan divorced, she went blonde again and returned to being Patricia Harty. She also married Les Sheldon, who was an associate producer on "The Bob Crane Show."

She's now 70 years old and her last TV appearance was nearly ten years ago.

Akron Beacon Journal, January 1, 1967

By JACK MAJOR

Patricia Harty is going to be a big, big star. Lots of people think so. Especially Harty.

"There never was a time I didn’t know exactly what I wanted,” she says.

And what she wants – exactly – is to be a big, big star.

Many people who have seen her perform or have met her seem convinced Patricia Harty will make it.

She holds some people under a weird kind of spell. I actually heard one woman refer to Patricia Harty as “Destiny’s child.” In 20 years, this woman claimed, Harty will be the most famous actress in the world.

The 24-year-old Harty may never become that big a star, but she is moving in the right direction.

This season she is starring in the NBC comedy series “Occasional Wife,” a contrived bit of nonsense that has absolutely nothing going for it – except the performances and the chemistry of its stars, Michael Callan and Patricia Harty.

It’s a tribute to their talent that the show is expected to return for a second season. If two other actors were doing the show, it might well have been canceled by now.

But one show does not a career make. Countless actresses – from Polly Bergen to Abby Dalton – have attracted great notices for work on television, then fallen far short of their goals elsewhere.

Harty is confident she can perform well in any role, in comedies, dramas and musicals. She also thinks she has an image that can take her a long way. She is tiny cute, not va-va-voom voluptuous, which she sees as an advantage.

“Old ladies look at me in a bikini and still think I’m a nice girl,” she said during a publicity stop in Cleveland. “To show how innocent and harmless I look in a bikini, the New York Times ran a picture of me in one. How many times have you seen a girl in a bikini on the pages of the New York Times?

“Sure, sometimes I envy girls who are, you know, built” – and she drew an outline with her hands that measured about 46-23-36 – “but then I look at the roles they play, and I’m glad I am the way I am.”

What Patricia Harty is is skinny, Well, almost. Let’s say slim. She’s five-foot-six and probably doesn’t weigh much over 100 pounds, soaking wet.

When she approaches you from a 25-foot distance, you figure her for a 12-year-old. Up close she seems older, but even face-to-face she seems no older than 18.

“A couple of years ago I played the ingénue in ‘Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad.’ In the third act the girl seduces a young man.

“One night a woman left a complaint at the box office. She wanted the producer arrested because she thought it must be against the law for anyone as young as I appearing in a seduction scene.”

While Patricia Harty projects cuteness, it’s not the kind of itsy-poo, self-conscious cuteness you get from Marlo Thomas or Mary Tyler Moore. Harty is cute the way Audrey Hepburn is cute – stylishly and with sophistication ... and more than a little sarcasm.

It’s Miss Hepburn’s road to success that Harty hopes to follow.

The person in charge of steering her down that road is E. Thomas Kearney, her manager and her husband. Kearney is the careful watchdog who is determined to help his wife avoid pitfalls. Toward this end Kearney had established certain rules – no Playboy layouts, no beach party pictures, no Elvis Presley movies, no deodorant or undergarment commercials, and no prostitute roles unless their source is a literary classic.

These rules are just now being put to a test, and thus far Kearney has stuck to them. Recently, for example, Harty was offered $50,000 to do a movie, but it wasn’t the “right kind” of movie, so Kearney turned it down.

His determination is matched by his wife’s. She began planning her career at age 12 while growing up in North Miami, Florida. She took dancing and singing lessons, studied long and hard, and was graduated from high school at 16. Then, with $1,000 in the bank, she went to New York City.

She landed her first job in a matter of days, as a dancer on Perry Como’s television show. She claimed there was a bit of trickery involved. “At the audition I found myself among 600 dancers trying for just three jobs. I went home and later phoned the show’s dance director and told him I was unable to make the audition. ‘But I’m an awfully good dancer,’ I said. ‘Could I see you later in the day when you’re not so busy?’ ”

She says the trick worked. In the coming months she added several jobs to her resume, including “The Andy Williams Summer Show,” “The Pat Boone Show,” “The Garry Moore Show,” and about 100 commercials*.

“I used to do a commercial on Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand’ every Saturday. For this I had to take a train to Philadelphia every weekend because the commercials were done live. One Saturday I couldn’t make it and so they agreed to tape the commercial. Well, after that I was ‘busy’ every Saturday and they began taping all of them. It had been a bit much riding to Philadelphia and back to New York just do do one commercial.”

One of Harty’s commercials is still shown occasionally. She’s a stewardess who drops a tray when she sees one of the passengers brushing his teeth after his meal. “Hardly anyone recognizes me,” she said. “I had dark hair then.”

She said commercials were valuable in many ways. “For one thing, the money was great. I made $50,000 from that toothpaste commercial. I also learned a lot about acting and about make-up. You don’t realize how important make-up is until you’ve been around awhile. You can change your appearance completely when you know how to handle your make-up.”

It was in those commercials that Harty made her acting debut. She also performed in a few comedy skits on “The Garry Moore Show.”

“I had never acted before,” she said, “not even in high school.”

She deliberately left acting to last in preparing her career. “I wasn’t worried when I got to New York because there are always jobs available to girls who can sing and dance. I figured I’d be able to act later. Too many girls try to work in reverse. They go to New York or Hollywood hoping to act, then discover the best opportunities go to girls who can do musicals.”

Harty was making $275-a-week as a dancer and part-time comedienne for Garry Moore when Kearney advised her to quit and take a $95-a-week job as dancer and understudy in the Broadway musical, “Fiorello!” She took his advice and eight months later was playing a principal role in the show. Noel Coward saw her in it and signed her for his musical, “Sail Away.”

It was during the Philadelphia tryout of this show that Harty accidentally demonstrated the quick wit that is the trademark of Greta Patterson, the woman the plays in “Occasional Wife.”

“Sail Away” had her wearing a bikini in a dance routine. The bra strap snapped during one performance. She smiled, told the audience, “Excuse me,” and without missing a beat danced into the wings and returned wearing a man’s sport coat.

Unhappy with our waitress during our luncheon interview, Harty solved her problem with a silly joke and a funny face. The waitress responded with a smile and the meal went smoothly from then on.

Smooth sailing. That’s what Patricia Harty has gotten used to. Her real tests lie ahead. Stardom is predicted far more than it is realized. It’ll be interesting to see just where she stands 20 years from now.

* In those days, commercials sometimes were done live during a program, something that helps account for the large number of such jobs that Patricia Harty and other young actors had during the relatively early days of television.

 

 

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Herb Alpert Richard Egan George Montgomery
Dana Andrews Jack Elam Joanna Moore
John Astin Linda Evans Mary Tyler Moore
Frankie Avalon Pat Finley Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Barbara Barrie Eric Fleming Hugh O'Brian
Bill Bixby Peter Fonda Pat O'Brien
George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
Leslie Charleson Beverly Garland Carl Reiner
Petula Clark Jackie Gleason Barbara Rush
Dabney Coleman Merv Griffin Robert Ryan
Robert Conrad Mark Harman Henry Silva
Bill Cosby Patricia Harty Julie Sommars
Joseph Cotten Marty Ingels Barbra Streisand
Bob Crane Jack Jones The Three Stooges
Richard Crenna Jack Kelly The Supremes
Ken Curtis Dave Ketchum Dick Van Dyke
Bill Dana Sue Ane Langdon Jerry Van Dyke
Bobby Darin Sheldon Leonard Robert Vaughn
Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
  Martin Milner Henry Winkler
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