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Remembering Ted Bessell: "That Guy" On "That Girl" - Herbie J Pilato

Herbie J Pilato
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Published: July 14, 2011 at 01:38 AM GMT
Last Updated: July 14, 2011 at 01:38 AM GMT

By Herbie J Pilato

It's been nearly 15 years since Ted Bessell passed away. On that day, October 5, 1996, the entertainment industry - and the world - lost to a heart attack a beloved and talented human being.

The versatile actor, producer and director was best known as the fictional Newsview newsmagazine writer and boyfriend Don Hollinger to Marlo Thomas' Ann Marie on TV's classic That Girl sitcom (ABC, 1966-1971), which is now available on DVD. But he's also forever remembered as just a great guy.

Shortly before Bessell died, That Girl was scheduled to be honored with an all-star tribute in Los Angeles at the Museum of Television and Radio on October 11, 1996. Instead, the remaining cast and crew from the show, including Bernie (The Love Boat) Kopell (who played Don's best friend and co-worker Jerry Bauman), mourned the loss of their friend whom they affectionately referred to as Teddy.

Bessell (believed to be 61 when he died), was accessible, such that he was unaffected by his celebrity, and came to grips with his Hollinger persona - by which he first felt stereotyped (but which would later bring him sentimental eminence). After That Girl folded, it was a challenge for him to win other roles and be at peace with the character. "Donald Hollinger made me a name but took away the heart of me," he said in 1989, when he labeled the part a creative "imposition."

Yet, with its original renewed interest and affection shown to That Girl via Nick at Nite and TV Land, Bessell began to realize his importance and endearing contribution to television's grand Hall of Fame.

I was scheduled to meet with Bessell with regard to his then-assignment as director of the Bewitched feature film, which at the time was being produced only by Penny Marshall's Parkway Productions. The first time I telephoned Bessell's office, it was he who answered the phone. I explained who I was and, though he sounded extremely busy, he took the time to chat a little bit about Bewitched, and we set up a time to meet for lunch.

Unfortunately, our meeting never took place. Shortly after our conversation, he was gone.

However, the lingering impression of his complete lack of arrogance lingers on. I remember thinking at the time, "Well, of course he's down to earth. Anyone who could have played so consoling, warm-hearted and supportive a character as Don Hollinger, with such credibility - would have to be as sincere in real life."

The fondest memory I have of Bessell rests with my first view of his on-screen character's initial meeting with aspiring actress Ann Marie in That Girl's pilot. Thinking she was under assault (when she was actually filming a commercial in Hollinger's Newsview building), Don, with his brief case as a weapon, came along and slammed Ann in the head. After she explained the situation, and sought to further generate an already-stressful situation, Don realized his mistake and labeled himself, "Captain Dumb Dumb."

The line was priceless, and Bessell's delivery of it was done with all the charm and likability that any one actor could muster. At that moment, Ann fell in love with Donald Hollinger, along with the rest of us.

As Marlo Thomas herself once noted, "Our show was called That Girl, but we all knew that guy was the success."

Had Ted Bessell lived, not only would the Bewitched feature film have taken quite a different turn, but the big-screen adaptation of That Girl - with Bessell and Thomas reprising their small-screen roles, would have become historic: It would have been the first time that a classic TV series would have transferred to the big screen with its original stars - in a sequel format.

Bessell was very much looking forward to the movie. "I wanted to see what happened to those characters," he told me. And though the original Girl sitcom completed its run with Don and Ann engaged to be wed, Bessell envisioned the couple finally exchanging vows. "They would have remained friends," he said. "And I think they would have gotten back together again. He probably would have married, and she might have done well as an actress."

Of his potential motion picture pairing with Thomas, Bessell relayed to TV Guide, "As long as we're still alive and kicking, I think it's a mistake not to do it."

Instead, it became a dreadful mistake that Bessell left us too soon.

That Girl may still one day make it to the big screen. But it just won't be the same without Bessell and Thomas. And with regard to Bessell's involvement with the Bewitched feature film, his good friend Penny Marshall (a classic TV star in her own right, as one of the brilliant guiding lights of Laverne and Shirley), was devastated upon learning of his death. "He was a great force behind a lot of creative people," she said at the time.

Good souls usually are.

Herbie J Pilato is a Writer/Producer who has worked for Syfy, A&E, TLC, Bravo, The Discovery Channel, Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony. Herbie J is the author of a number of acclaimed TV tie-in books (The Bionic Book, Life Story - The Book of Life Goes On, The Bewitched Book, Bewitched Forever, The Kung Fu Book of Caine, The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom, and NBC & ME: My Life As A Page In A Book). In 2010, Herbie J founded The Classic TV Preservation Society (a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gap between positive TV shows and education), and presently serves as Creative Director for Erie Street Entertainment (a TV production company that is geared toward sci-fi/fantasy, and family-oriented material).  For more information, please log on to www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com or www.ErieStreetEntertainment.blogspot.com, or contact Herbie J directly via hjpilato@yahoo.com.

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Reader Comments(7)
Lovely article and a great salute to this talented man who made such an impression on so many of us. It is a shame the "That Girl" movie wasn't able to be made...it would have made all us fans very happy. Thanks for posting this.
Posted at 03:18 PM on Jul 21, 2011 by The Flaming Nose TV Blog
I remember watching That Girl as a kid, but I was pretty little then. I've watched reruns throughout the years, and just re-discovered it on Me-TV. At the ripe old age of 45, now old enough to understand the nuances of the show, I'm not ashamed to admit I'm in love w/ Ted Bessell; or rather, Don Holliger. I vaguely remember hearing about Ted's death in '96, but as I had a lot of things going on then, I didn't think much about it. Now as I watch That Girl every morning before going to work, I find myself mourning his death every time I watch. :o( RIP, Ted Bessell. You are loved, and you're still missed.
Posted at 09:43 PM on Jun 5, 2012 by Sharry A.
I think he was terrific, funny and I cant forget him for some reason, maybe cause he has that great happy look on his face. Any way once in a while I will remember this guy who gave us so much and I wish he could have stayed aloooooooooooong time. he was the artist of funny for the family.
Posted at 08:58 AM on Jun 26, 2012 by lois
This was a very heartwarming article. I agree that the film version of "That Girl" would have been an historic classic. I think that Marlo Thomas may be the saddest, that Ann and Donald couldn't finally get together and put the icing on the cake.
Posted at 09:48 AM on Dec 22, 2012 by TheWorldIsACircle
I enjoyed reading this article. Ted was a great actor who left us way too soon. "That Girl" was a funny and well written show. Marlo and Ted had great chemistry. Am very glad that episodes have been released on dvd.
Posted at 10:10 PM on Jan 24, 2013 by Curt Krafft
I remember the series and Ted was the actor that stuck in my mind. Forty plus years later I'm the senior sergeant on the San Jose Police Dept. and on my team there is an officer who looks like Ted but is named Tom. Soooooo... I have renamed him "Ted". He doesnt know to whom I refer to when I tell him the reason because he was born at the time the show ended. Now I'll give him a frame of reference.
Posted at 02:11 PM on Apr 23, 2013 by sergio
What a wonderful article. I've never forgotten him. He was a fine actor. My folks would have loved to have had me bring him home instead od some of the loo-loos I did date! Thank you for this story.
Posted at 08:49 PM on Mar 22, 2014 by Patty


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