In 1969, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father debuted on ABC. Based on a 1963 movie starring Glenn Ford, Eddie revolves around a handsome magazine publisher named Tom Corbett (Bill Bixby). He’s a widower and is raising his six-year-old son, Eddie (Brandon Cruz), who often attempts to find his father a new mate. Mrs. Livingston (Miyoshi Umeki), their Japanese housekeeper, helps to look after Eddie and tries to keep him out of trouble.
The show was created and executive produced by James Komack. He also co-starred on the show as Norman Tinker, Tom’s best friend and a photographer at the magazine. Komack went on to create Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter and is credited with launching the careers of Freddie Prinze and John Travolta.
Prior to Eddie, Bixby was already a household name from starring in My Favorite Martian on CBS. He became a very busy TV director in later years and also starred in shows like The Incredible Hulk and Goodnight, Beantown. He directed 30 episodes of Blossom in two seasons and passed away from complications of cancer just six days after he completed his last.
Many episodes of Eddie begin with father and son talking about simple things and innocent pleasures of life, often while walking on the beach together. While some of the Eddie plots are typical of the shows of that time, the TV series is perhaps best remembered for the close connection between Tom and Eddie. That’s not surprising, especially when you find out that Bixby and Cruz had a special relationship off-screen as well.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cruz, now 49, about The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. The Warner Archives have begun releasing the series on DVD and the first season is now available directly from the studio.
I’d like to start at the beginning. You started acting at a very early age; I think you were four or five at the time?
Brandon Cruz: I did a play when I was four. I was Toto in the Wizard of Oz. I crawled around and barked! I don’t know if that’s really acting. But, the next thing that I did was The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. I was six at the time. I did the pilot in 1968.
Was acting something that you really wanted to do at that time or was it your parents’ idea?
Cruz: No, it was all me. I wanted to do it.
Do you remember anything about the initial interview or audition?
Cruz: I do actually, I remember it very vividly. There was a civic center in Culver City and I walked in there for the audition. There was like 300 kids in there and this was not the first day of the auditions. I wasn’t the best student and I was six, couldn’t read very well. Didn’t know exactly what they wanted me to do and my grandparents took me to the audition. My mom was pregnant with my younger brother. All these other kids were reading their lines, and being coached, and I’m not really prepared. They call me into the office to interview with Bill Bixby and [series creator/co-star] Jimmy Komack, and I’m just standing there looking at them, like “Whoaaa, that’s the guy from My Favorite Martian. I like that guy.” (chuckling) And I have no clue and James Komack says, “Go to the door, turn around, look at Bill and say, ‘Daddy, I love you.'” And I did.
And they looked at each other and one of them took me by the hand and said, “Where are your parents?” And, I said, “I’m with my grandparents. They’re right there.” And they walked up to them and, of course my grandparents knew who they both were, and they said, “Hi, we just wanted to see who was responsible for our new Eddie.” And I got the part.
Wow. That’s amazing. Especially considering how little experience you had, that was a really big risk they were taking.
Cruz: No experience whatsoever as a resume. What I did have was that I was a real kid. They wanted a kid. Bill told me at one point that he didn’t want me to learn to “act,” because he wanted me to stay a kid, and he wanted me to react naturally to what he said.
I was a pretty rough and tumble kid. I had a little skateboard and road my bikes off of jumps that the grips would build me and they thought it was funny. The stuntman that would come around would teach me how to do falls and I’d do it in front of Jimmy Komack and Herb Solo, who was head of the studio at that time. And the makeup guys would give me big bloody gashes and I’d jump up and say, “Uh-Oh, think I’m hurt.” And freak ’em out. (chuckle)
And I didn’t fully understand what acting was because I thought Bill was being himself, and Jimmy was being himself, and there was really no difference. They were saying words from a script that were different from what they’d normally say but other than that it all seemed liked everybody was the same.
When did that perception change?
Cruz: One day Sammy Davis, Jr. came on the set from Vegas on the red eye. He was cool — chains dangling, smoked, probably a drink in his hand at seven in the morning. He just rolled in. It was Sammy! And he walked in with Vegas trailing behind him and I thought, “Awesome, this is the real deal. Yeah.” This is entertainment from Vegas and that’s where “it” goes on, and I recognized that. And then we go to rehearse the scene. Bill always liked to shoot the rehearsals, because he got a lot of good reactions out of us. So we rolled film – we’re stuck in an elevator in a scene – and Sammy comes walking in, and Sammy goes into his character. He’s playing a little nebbish accountant and I have the next line, and I’m just staring at him like, “What was that?” (chuckle) And, it blew me away, and Bill said, “Stop, stop, stop the roll. Brandon, what’s up?” And I was still staring at Sammy. And he said, “Oh, Brandon, you know – that’s acting.” And I go, “Oh! You’re pretending to be someone you’re not.” “Yeah.” “Alright, I get it.” I got what acting is from Sammy. It was such a huge difference.
Did you see Bill Bixby outside of filming?
Cruz: Bill and I spent a lot of time together. Weekends and during hiatus we’d go to Mexico, Palm Springs, or Big Bear. We went to the beach a lot — he had a house in Malibu. You know, my family life was a little chaotic and I just found it gave me a lot of stability. And accountability. I had to show up on set; I had to have my lines done and I had to be ready because you know, growing up in the 1960s, my family was a little more on the hippy side.
Did you guys have any idea when the show was ending, that you were filming the last episode?
Cruz: Well, we did start to realize that a lot of the shows were becoming about Uncle Norman [Komack’s character] and his two friends and not so much Tom and Eddie. And there was a lot of internal grumbling. I wasn’t a part of it but I was a pretty knowledgeable kid about what went on in the production office, like pot smoking. I knew what they were talking about, and you know Miyoshi [Umeki] was pretty pissed off. She slammed some doors. I could tell something was up.
We’d been a number one show I think in the second season, and we did the pilot in ’68 so it was four years. We filmed a lot of shows that I don’t think got aired. I have scripts for shows up into the 90s, if not 100s, and I’m pretty sure we filmed all of those. There’s only 73 out there. I gotta get somebody to dig in the vault because I think we did some other shows. I could be wrong. I was ten when the show ended.
Cruz: (Laughs) I’ve spent a lifetime talking about something I actually did for three and a half years. Kinda weird.
Was there ever any kind of talk of doing a reunion project with the two of you?
Cruz: No, back then there was no reunions like that. If your show ended in ’72, you looked for the next gig. I went back to the same school and the same people I grew up with. Half the school wanted my autograph and the other half wanted to kick my butt. And then it was, “Hey, do you wanna do Medical Center? Do you want to do Kung Fu?” Or whatever came along. I kept getting these guest shots and being tutored for my schoolwork so I kept getting ahead. By the time filming of Bad News Bears ended, in late 1975 or early 1976, I was basically done with the high school curriculum because of the tutoring. It was like super school.
In 2003, there was an attempt to do some kind of a remake called Eddie’s Father…
Cruz: Yeah, I don’t really remember who greenlit it but they put me on a buss to play a tough guy, to hassle the Eddie character. I thought, “Well, that’s nice” and they gave me a little nice thing to do…
Nick Cage owns the rights to make it theatrically and he wanted to remake it with him and his son Weston. This was years ago. I’ve known him for quite awhile and hung out with him a little bit. He’s a cool guy but years have passed and Weston’s I think 18 now. Or at least he’s a lot bigger than Eddie was so I guess that won’t really work now. So I don’t know but I think Nick still owns the rights.
Nick and I were talking once about Bill and all that he contributed to this industry and Nick couldn’t believe that he didn’t have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And we thought he should get a posthumous Emmy so we had a campaign going for about a year but nothing really came of it. [Honorary Hollywood Mayor] Johhny Grant was on our side about getting Bill a star but then he died.
I’m hoping that the DVD release of Courtship of Eddie’s Father might bring some attention back to Bill and maybe help get him a posthumous Emmy or star. That’s what I hope quite honestly. It’s not really about me because you, know, I’ve already gotten my reward and accolades.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father is now available on DVD, shipped directly from the studio.
What do you think? What are your memories of this popular television series? Do you think a simple show like this could make it today?