HAZEL

U.S. Situation Comedy

Hazel, starring Shirley Booth as Hazel Burke, the live-in housekeeper of the Baxter Family, premiered on NBC in 1961. For the program's first four seasons, Hazel worked for lawyer George Baxter, his wife, Dorothy, and their son, Harold. In the fifth and final season, Hazel began to work for George's brother and his family (George and Dorothy were "transferred" to the Middle East for George's work), taking Harold with her from one household to another and from NBC to CBS.

Critics generally found Hazel mildly amusing, though they complained that it was often contrived and repetitive. Despite the mixed reviews, the program made it in the top 25 for the first three years of its five-year run. It ranked number 4 in 1961-62; number 15 in 1962-63; and number 22 in 1963-64. It also held some value with at least a few network producers in that after NBC dropped the show, CBS quickly picked it up. Perhaps CBS was relying too much on the capabilities of stage actress, Shirley Booth. Nevertheless, Hazel held the attention of the American public.

Based upon the popular Saturday Evening Post cartoon strip, Hazel presents stories of Hazel's humorous involvement in both the professional and household business of George Baxter. In the television version, Hazel becomes the figure that, though seemingly innocuous, ultimately holds the household together: The servant, though in a marginalized position, is at the same time, central to marking the well-being of the nuclear family. George, the father figure, competes with Hazel, who often ending up being "right." And Dorothy, described by one critic as "dressing like and striking the poses of a high fashion model," follows in the tradition of glamorous TV moms whose work often gets done by the maid. Also keeping with television tradition is Harold, who plays the part of the "All-American" kid. Completing this family portrait is Hazel. She is characterized as "meddling" and as causing "misadventures" in her attempts to run the household but ultimately it is her job to keep order--both literal and ideological--in the house.

Following in the footsteps of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best, Hazel also proffers an American tale of the suburban family. Furthermore, in the decade in which the most American families brought televisions into their homes, perhaps Hazel brought a sense of stability and appeasement, for this was also a decade of great civil and women's rights advancements.

Throughout television history (as well as the history of film), the representation of the American family is often made "complete" by the presence of the family housekeeper figure. Generally, the "American" family is specifically white American, although a few exceptions have existed such as The Jeffersons and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, in which African American families employ an African American maid and an African American butler, respectively. For the most part, however, "family" has been portrayed as white and therefore the ideology of the family has also been in terms of dominant, white social values. The presence of a household servant therefore, serves to reinforce the status (i.e., both economic and racial) of the family within society.

The significance of Hazel, then, is that it stands in a long history of television programs focused on American families and including their household servants. Beulah in Beulah, Mrs. Livingston in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Hop Sing in Bonanza, Florida in Maude, Alice in The Brady Bunch, Nell in Gimme A Break, Mr. Belvedere in Mr. Belvedere, Dora in I Married Dora, and Tony in Who's The Boss? are all characters who occupy the servant's role. Differences in connotation among the various television servants serves to mark the status of the family for whom they work. More specifically, there are differences between a British butler and an Oriental houseboy, between a Euro-American nanny and a woman of color working as a domestic, marking subtle lines of hierarchy within the family and ultimately, within the larger community. Hazel is yet another program in which the household servant demarcates the different roles played within the family according to such factors as gender, age, race, and class.

A current popular program, The Nanny, continues this tradition. Here a Jewish American woman works for a wealthy British man and his three children. Unlike maids of color or white maids who are older than their employers, this household servant is portrayed as fashionable, attractive (though still a bit loud), and more significantly, as a potential mate for her employer. It will be interesting to observe and analyze the continuing representation of servants in American television because although shifting in form and style, the servant continues to mark the status of a house and the roles of the people working and living under its roof.

-Lahn S.KIM

 


Hazel
Photo courtesy of AP/ World Wide Photo

CAST

Hazel Burke........................................ Shirley Booth George Baxter (l961-1965)....................... Don DeFore Dorothy Baxter (1961-1965)................. Whitney Blake Rosie............................................... Maudie Prickett Harvey Griffin...................................... Howard Smith Harold Baxter................................... Bobby Buntrock Harriet Johnson (1961-1965)................ Norma Varden Herbert Johnson (l961-1965)................ Donald Foster Deidre Thompson (l961-l965).................. Cathy Lewis Harry Thompson (l961-1965)................ Robert P. Lieb Mona Williams (l965-1966)..................... Mala Powers Millie Ballard (l965-l966)............................. Ann Jillian Steve Baxter (l965-1966)......................... Ray Fulmer Barbara Baxter (l965-l966)..................... Lynn Borden Susie Baxter (l965-1966)..................... Julia Benjamin

PRODUCERS Harry Ackerman, James Fonda

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 154 Episodes

NBC
September 1961-July 1964           Thursday 9:30-10:00 September 1964-September 1965 Thursday 9:30-10:00

CBS
September 1965-September 1966  Monday 9:30-10:00

FURTHER READING

Brooks, Tim and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

"It's Good-By, Mr. B. . . . As Hazel Adopts a New Family." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 14 August 1965.