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When TV Stars Shined Here

On “Bewitched,” Samantha’s family lived in a typical suburban town:  Westport.  In development, the title was even “The Witch of Westport.”

Some of TV’s most famous personalities — Harry Reasoner, Phil Donahue, Jim Nantz — lived in Westport.

And some of the most famous Westporters — like former Governor John Davis Lodge — appeared on television as early as 1937 (the BBC, in England).

Those facts — and many, many more — form the basis for TV Neighbors:  Westport and Weston Television Personalities, a new book by Tom DeLong.

The research was intriguing — a natural follow-up to “Stars in Our Eyes,” DeLong’s much-acclaimed earlier volume on the many actors and actresses who lived in Westport and Weston.

Using material amassed for a 2003 Westport Historical Society exhibition on Westport’s relationship with television, DeLong went to work.  His notes were mostly done, the chapters all outlined — when suddenly last July DeLong suffered a stroke and died.

His good friend Wally Woods — who had worked with DeLong on WHS exhibits since 1997 — and Woods’ wife Denise vowed to finish the book for DeLong.

The Woodses dove into crates and boxes of files and photos.  They deciphered DeLong’s notes to himself.  They organized the material.

Tom DeLong (left), Wally Woods, and vintage televisions at the Westport Historical Society's 2003 exhibit.

Wally wrote; Denise scanned photos.  Together, they indexed hundreds of personalities.

The result has just been published — a handsome and intriguing tribute to our town’s television history, and a memorial to its late author.  Woods is proud to have completed it, and devastated that he had to.

The book includes every television category that Westporters have contributed to:  dramas, comedies, soaps, sports, sitcoms, variety shows, quiz shows and more.

Lodge — and people like Victor Keppler (future founder of the Famous Photographers School, but in 1947 host of Dumont’s “Photographic Horizons” show), and actress Eva Le Gallienne (who did live classic plays on TV) — are featured in a special “Pioneers” chapter.

The book is filled with big names and little tidbits.  For example, in the 1940s stage actress Dorothy Bryce was Arlene Francis’ television hand model.

Lucy Ricardo reads a poster to Ethel Mertz in "Westport." It says: "Yankee Doodle Day Celebration -- Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green."

In “I Love Lucy”‘s final season, the Ricardos and Mertzes “moved” from New York to Westport.  In one memorable episode Lucy destroyed the Minuteman statue, right before the “Yankee Doodle Day” celebration.

As for “Bewitched,” Elizabeth Montgomery and her family lived at “1164 Morning Glory Circle” in Westport.  If that sounds like a pseudo-local address with a California house number — hey, the series was filmed on a Hollywood lot.

Famous names cascade off the pages:  newscasters Doug Edwards, Pauline Frederick, Robert Hager, John MacVane, John Siegenthaler — and Gordon Joseloff.

Sportscasters Win Elliot, Sal Marchiano, Jim McKay and Brent Musburger.

Actors and actresses better know for movies and Broadway — Bette Davis, Michael Douglas, Mia Farrow, June Havoc, James Naughton, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward — also appeared in key roles during TV’s dramatic heyday.

And who can forget Rod Serling?  He wrote the seminal “Patterns” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” dramas while living on High Point Road — and some of the best-remembered “Twilight Zone” episodes too.  Westport worked its way into more than one of those stories.

Westport today is filled with big TV screens.  A 55-inch screen is the new normal; 108-inch, 150-inch, even more ginormous sets are not rare.

Back in the day, Westport was filled with big TV stars.  Thanks to Wally and Denise Woods, Tom DeLong has lived long enough to honor them.

(The Westport Historical Society will host a book event on Thursday, August 4 [5-7 p.m.], and is selling TV Neighbors for $22 their Remarkable Gift Shop.  It’s also available for $19.95, plus $5 shipping for the 1st book and $1 for each additional book, from BearManor Media, PO Box 1129, Duncan, OK 73534; tel. 580-252-3547; email benohmart@gmail.com)

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