For some of us, the backlots of Warner Bros. and Universal, the brown-grass hills of Bakersfield and the craggy, skewed Vasquez Rocks are at least as familiar as any place we actually grew up in. And these neighborhoods of the TV were inhabited by a number of well-known faces of the kind that we just don’t see in episodic television anymore. Ugly people. Quirky people. Iconic, almost archetypal characters, portrayed by character actors who were members of a studio system that shuffled them around between shows, mostly dramas, in the 60s and 70s – and still, though less so, in the early 80s – to the point where any fan of, say, both Star Trek and Hawaii Five-0, or Mission Impossible and The F.B.I., would inevitably see them many times a year.
You know… That Guy. Or That Gal. The one you’d seen just the other week, in that other show, playing a variant on the same character, and who you’ve kind of come to expect. Whose re-appearance on your TV, in your life, is at least as satisfying in its way as the hero’s triumph. The hero, after all, remains with the show. But the character actor provides a different kind of continuity across the entire television world, and becomes a family surrogate: behaviorally consistent, plainly motivated, morally unambiguous.
But we don’t always know their names.
And because I and my girlfriend have come to care so much, in our geeky way – we watch these programs almost exclusively these days, thanks to the availability of so much in the digital domain – I have decided that I want a set of flash cards for studio system character actors of the 60s and 70s. Eventually, I’ll probably print these out as actual cards, and before that I’ll program the images and text as an online application, but even before that I’ve got to collect and notate all these people… to which endeavor I invite you, our fellow fan of what we affectionately call “square TV.”
And so: The Flash Card Project.