Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Last week we remembered the late Dina Merrill by suggesting that many of the characters she played who were her contemporaries in the Toobworld timeline were all related in an extensive family tree which could trace its roots back to the Mayflower.  But several other characters she played in lengthy career couldn't fit into that scenario.  Reasons vary from being born in the wrong time period to not even being real in the first place.

And that's the one we'll focus on today in our continuation of the salute to Dina Merrill.....

Roseanne- Hoi Polloi Meets Hoiti Toiti (1996)
The Conners get a taste of upper crust living when they visit the wealthy Wentworth family at their home on Martha's Vineyard. The experience proves eye-opening when the Conner family discovers the pill-popping, alcohol-sipping, and irresponsibility of Astrid's dysfunctional family. As the weekend drags on, the Conners give the Wentworths a lesson in real life.
(From the IMDb)

Socialite Astrid Wentworth (Mo Gaffney) invites the Conners to visit her snobby family at Martha's Vineyard. Kiki Wentworth (Hillary Tuck) tries to come on to D.J., while Roseanne teaches Doris Wentworth (Dina Merrill) other ways to get her frustrations out rather than prescription medication.
(From the 'Roseanne' Wiki)

The thing is....  By the end of that last season in which this episode appeared, we learned that after the heart attack suffered by Dan Conner - from which he did die - Roseanne retreated into a fantasy of her life which she put down on paper.  And that's what we saw enacted on our TV screens.  Dramatizations passed off as being real life in Toobworld has been used in other shows like 'Jack Of All Trades' (the ramblings of a syphilitic old man), 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' (excerpts from a book), and the John Hart episodes of 'The Lone Ranger' (a TV show within a TV show).  Perhaps the most famous would be 'Newhart' which had been nothing more than - SPOILER ALERT!!! (as if!) - a dream of Dr. Bob Hartley from 'The Bob Newhart Show'.

And the episode with Dina Merrill was a good example that it wasn't reality we were watching.

From TV.com:
This episode has references to a couple of plays by Tennessee Williams.
  • In the last scene, Doris has a short monologue where she refers to a unicorn with a broken horn which is from The Glass Menagerie." 
  • The last scene, where Lily rolls into the kitchen in her wheelchair and yells "Stella" is from the play A Streetcar Named Desire." 

So what we were seeing is the depiction of Roseanne's fantasy version of her life and everybody who appeared in it was based on somebody from her life (or whom she knew about) whom she used as inspiration.  O'Bviously, the members of her immediate family and her friends appeared in this fantasy as themselves.  But everybody else had to come from somewhere else.

If this was a post about the episode itself, I'd come up with the inspiration for all of those characters.  But we're focusing on Doris Wentworth as played by Dina Merrill.

I don't think there was an actual character played by Ms. Merrill who could have crossed paths with Roseanne in Llanwood, not even if she had just stopped in to the diner for a quick cup of coffee on her way to anywhere else.

But Roseanne Conner could have read about one of those aristocratic women from that family tree in the newspapers or magazines, or maybe saw one of them on TV.  Sure, there could have been a 'Nova' episode in which she saw Dr. Barbara Dalton who once had to deal with a deadly toxin in Hawaii.  Or it could have been about her twin sister Dr. Carol Brooks, a marine biologist.  Maybe she saw an old movie which featured Thelma March in the cast.

But I think the main inspiration for Doris Wentworth was a woman -#  Well, like Warner Wolf never said, "Let's go to the episode guide!"

- Murder by the Numbers
Doris Hawthorne
A wealthy middle-aged woman's fiancé disappears shortly before their scheduled wedding, and she hires Cannon to find him.

I'm sure that case garnered some attention in the press back in '73, but it's doubtful that it was publicized beyond the borders of California.  Maybe today with 24 hour cable news networks in need of fodder, but not back then.

However, as with many characters living in Toobworld, a TV show was made about the heavyset private eye in the early 1970s, not only in Earth Prime but in Earth Prime-Time as well.  We know this because it was mentioned (or seen) at least once by other Toobworld characters in the following shows:
  • 'Cheers'
  • 'Sanford And Son'
  • 'Home Improvement'
  • 'The Sopranos'
  • 'Life On Mars'
So Roseanne could have seen the show's dramatization of the case.  And so Doris Hawthorne could have been the inspiration for Doris Wentworth because at the time Roseanne was writing that chapter, she was watching a rerun of 'Cannon'.  And the fact that both women shared the same first name is a good indication of the source for that character. 

'Hawaii Five-O'
'Marcus Welby, M.D.'
'Nancy Drew Mysteries'


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