Last of the Showgirls

Last of the Showgirls

Local TV family bids goodbye to matriarch Daisy Dean.

February 09, 2006
A locallyproduced, shoestring-budget operation known as “Dean and Company” appeared on television screens throughout the Birmingham area. Matriarch Daisy Dean, daughter Dana (rhymes with “Hannah”) Dean, and granddaughter Deanie Dean featured an assortment of tap dancers, 9-year-old karate kids breaking boards in half with their feet, singers, a trained rabbit, ballet dancers, and a trio of puppets often up to no good. The program was a crude mix of “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Ted Mack Amateur Hour.”On January 24, 2006, Daisy Dean died at 94—that’s the family’s best guess at her age. Her birth records were destroyed in a fire at the courthouse in Havana, Kansas. At age 10, Daisy watched as her mother and grandmother were murdered in front of the family general store after moving to Sedan, Kansas. According to Daisy’s daughter Dana,“Some kid high on dope came along and blew their heads off with a double-barrelled shotgun.” Daisy’s sister Opal Sparks went to New York City, where she joined the original Rockettes when they danced at the Roxy Theater before moving to Radio City Music Hall. Daisy soon followed and found work as an actress at Paramount Studios. She was chosen as a member of WAMPUS stars, the name given to young future starlets that the motion picture industry was willing to invest in. She appeared in a short film called The Noose with Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Harding, and Daisy’s husband was one of the chariot racers in the original silent movie version of Ben-Hur. “My father said there weren’t many regulations in the film industry back then,” explained Dana. “They lost a few people filming the chariot races.”

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An original Rockette and motion picture starlet, a glamorous Daisy Dean is captured in her publicity shot for Paramount Pictures. (click for larger version)

“Dean and Company” remains local television’s reigning program, since “The Country Boy Eddy Show” was put out to pasture. “Dean and Company” is still vibrant enough to appear every Monday evening at 7:30 on Channel 4, for viewers lucky enough to be in the Bright House Network cable market. The cable-access show spares no expense; The Caribbean and Acapulco are favorite “on location” sites. In Hawaii, Podo the puppet (he’s a dog) interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger at the opening of a Planet Hollywood restaurant on the island of Maui, during which Schwarzenegger introduced wife Maria Shriver to Podo. In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the family shot snow footage for their annual hour-long Christmas special, including Dana’s attempts at skiing (“I was hoping not to be the next Sonny Bono,” deadpanned Dana).

The show’s weekly introduction hasn’t changed in a more than a decade. “I’m Dana Dean . . . I’m Lesley (Deanie) Dean . . . I’m Daisy Dean . . . You could see your relatives . . . or your friends . . . or it could even be you!” Then the show begins. Dana and Deanie croon “Thanks for the Memories,” changing the lyrics to celebrate the Alabama Theatre’s 50th birthday. Nine- and 15-year-old brother and sister karate experts teach Dana a few moves. Deanie and the puppets (all puppet voices are done by Dana) hold a discussion about life with a group of children. Then it’s time for Marie Gillespie and Gene, an elderly woman and her middle-aged son (who bears an eerie resemblance to the late comedian Wally Cox) to do their “Philosophical Thought for the Week” segment:

“What saying have you got for today?” Gene asks his mother in halting tones as he pets CJ Bunny, a trained rabbit who can sit up on command and obligingly wears whatever costume they put on him. “Keep trying. Unearth the worm and its mobility increases,” is Marie’s pronouncement. “Yes, we do agree,” responds Gene.

 

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The ladies of “Dean and Company” From left: Dana, Daisy, and Deanie Dean. (click for larger version)

Before show’s end, Deanie’s husband, Charlie Gee, the NNT (News Now and Then) weatherman, discovers white flecks falling from the ceiling and deduces that it is snowing. Upon closer scrutiny, he realizes it’s paint and screams, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” in his best Ernest T. Bass impersonation. “Well, I’ll be dadblamed, I must be psychotic! You know, one of them fellers there who knows everything before my mouth says it!”

Sinatra songs filled the chapel at the memorial service for Daisy Dean. Photos of Daisy posing with daughter Dana and granddaughter Deanie surrounded her open coffin. Judy Garland sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the curtains closed for the family’s final viewing. Within minutes, the curtain reopened to glorious fanfare as Sinatra belted out “New York, New York.” It’s too bad a Rockette didn’t dance across the stage in front of the closed casket. Podo or D.D. the French monkey puppet could have delivered the eulogy. Daisy would’ve loved that. &

 

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