Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 3 - From the St. Eligius Pension Department... "Bye Bye Bernie": Mayor Oseransky Retires

From On Call, the Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 3, December 1998.

Honoree Bernard Oseransky (left) with the legendary
Steve Allen
Back in August, the "Mayor of Studio Center" retired, and was subsequently roasted at a surprise party which took place on the Radford lot. Old friends and new ones alike showed up in person or via videotape to honor Bernie Oseransky for his 42-year television career, which included being the Executive in Charge of Production on St. Elsewhere. ON CALL was in attendance to chronicle what proved to be a memorable Saturday afternoon. First, a sampling of comments from guests as they arrived.

IRV ATKINS ... "When Bernie got out of the service, we gave him a job on House Party as an usher. He was a damn good usher (laughs)."

ON CALL ... "Was Bernie a better usher or Production Executive?"

IRV ATKINS ... "I don't know. That's a toss-up (laughs)."

RAY SAVOY ... "I met Bernie when we were 15 or 16 years old, and we got out of the service at the same time, and we became ushers at CBS at the same time, around January 1956. And we've stayed friends ever since, miraculously, because he's really a jerk (laughs)."

ON CALL ... "What was Bernie's worst moment as an usher?"

RAY SAVOY ... "Probably fitting into the uniform. He was very overweight in those days, and he split a couple of pairs of pants. Then they found that Jackie Gleason had some old slacks, and Bernie wore those. And from then on, it solved the problem."

ROBERT MENDELSOHN (Production Manager, Lou Grant) ... "Bernie and I (met when we) were in the Budget Department at ZIV (which produced Sea Hunt). We were called Budget Clerks in those days, not all production managers where in the Director's Guild, and we had the authority like a production manager, even though we did budgets, and we worked on two half hour shows at the same time. We did 39 episodes a year, so it was a lot of work. We did them in two and half to three days each. In those days we could literally go down at 7 o'clock at night and pull the plug and say, 'That's it.' Not the Director, not the Producer, none of the Executives could override us."

ON CALL ... "So Bernie could pull the plug on Lloyd Bridges?"

ROBERT MENDELSOHN ... "Absolutely."

ON CALL ... "Did Bernie look as good in swim trunks as Lloyd Bridges?"

ROBERT MENDELSOHN ... "Not quite (laughs)."

ON CALL (to Abby Singer) ... "Who is the more handsome, you or Bernie?"

ABBY SINGER ... "I am."

BOB NEWHART (reached by telephone, added) ... "Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (laughs)."

Oseransky incognito with Abby Singer (right)
BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "Abby, definitely. All the girls went for Abby. I could never compete with Abby."

ON CALL (to Tom Poston) ... "What's the worst thing about Bernie Oseransky?"

TOM POSTON ... "His name. It's unforgivable."

ON CALL (to Ted Rich - Director, St. Elsewhere) ... "What's the funniest thing you remember about Bernie?"

TED RICH ... "Going to production meetings, and Bernie coming in and making Tom Palmiere laugh when he wore a curly hair wig. It was hysterical."

Bernie's guest list also included Hollywood royalty. Steve Allen and the lovely Jayne Meadows showed up to honor the man whose namesake they adopted in a now famous episode of St. Elsewhere.

ON CALL ... "I understand you two are the REAL Oseranskys (parents of Victor Ehrlich, alias Bernie) and that the only reason you came today was to bring suit."

STEVE ALLEN .. "Yes. I'm not wearing it at the moment."

ON CALL (to Bernie) ... "Are you surprised about today?"

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "Absolutely. I'm dumbfounded, I'm in shock."

ON CALL ... "You do know we had to pay everyone to be here?"

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "How much?"

Glamorous Jayne Meadows and Funnyman Tom Poston
As it turns out, not much. In fact, nearly 200 people came from far and wide to poke fun at a man whom they say is far too wide (see what happens when you're in a room with Steve Allen for too long?).

Finally, Bernie's assistant Gregg Houston called the party to order. Gregg, by the way, should receive an award for spearheading the surprise party and keeping it a surprise right under Bernie's nose. The festivities continues with a videotape tribute to Bernie which featured some very funny moments, including a clip from the 1980 epic, "A CLOSER LOOK AT STUDIO CENTER", for which Bernie served as on-camera host! It was like watching "Industry on Parade", only without the parade.

Bernie's loyal lunch group appeared on the tape as well, with one of the guys asking his buddies, "What part of Bernie's body has NEVER been operated on?" Abby Singer, not realizing the video would be shown publicly, gave an unprintable response. Needing a boost of class and good taste, the video switched gears with a greeting from beautiful Mary Tyler Moore. Moore, referring to herself as the Mother Figure, wished Bernie a joyous retirement.

Then, award-winning producer Dorothea Petrie presented Bernie with a miniature pool table to put on his toy laden coffee table. She also recalled, "Happiness was coming in to your office, Bernie, and having you guide us on the production."

Mark Tinker went on-camera to add fuel to an already raging fire. "Bernie, I know you're bitter because you thought the 'Abby Singer Shot' should have been called the 'Bernie Oseransky Shot', but it doesn't matter anymore, because you get to retire, and Abby's still working, so you've had the last laugh. Good luck, I always loved working with you."

Partygoers laughed loudly when Monica Lewinsky look-alike Christie Whittick reminisced about her stint with the "Big O". "I adore Bernie. He was my favorite boss. I moved down here from Portland, Oregon, and he showed me Hollywood. He knew everything!"

There was also a tongue-in-cheek byplay between Irv Atkins and Art Linkletter.

IRV ATKINS ... "We're having a problem with the ushers on Kids Say the Darndest Things. Do you remember the usher we had on House Party? Bernie something."

ART LINKLETTER ... "Yea, Bernie Paderesky."

IRV ATKINS ... "He's retired now."

ART LINKLETTER ... "We could use him as an usher."

IRV ATKINS ... "I found his old uniform."

ART LINKLETTER ... "We'll get it refitted."

The most hilarious moment in the video came when old pal Jim Roach deadpanned an account of a true story.

JIM ROACH ... "I remember when Bernie and Edy bought their first house, and I went up there, and Bernie looked really angry. I said, what's the matter? And Bernie said, 'When they built the house, the family room floor wasn't level. I'm going to get them to fix it.' After that, Bernie had the contractor come in with a grinder and they ground down the slab floor to level it. About a week later I asked Bernie how it went, and he said sheepishly, 'It wasn't the floor that was crooked, it was a table I had in there, and the legs weren't straight.' So I guess that's why Bernie went into production management, and not set construction."

And we at ON CALL are glad Bernie went into production management, because he helped to make great TV shows stay great, and stay on the air, by staying on budget. As it turns out, the "Mayor of Studio Center" was rally a local boy made good. Born in San Bernadino, he was raised in Los Angeles, and attended John Burrows High School where he graduated in 1950. His parents (now deceased) were in the clothing business, first in San Bernadino, then in later in Huntington Park. They would have loved the surprise party, especially the part about refitting Bernie's old uniform.

As we learned from the party guests, Bernie's first job after getting out of the military was as an usher at CBS. From there he worked his way up to ZIV, then back to CBS and ten years as Production Manager on Hawaii Five-0. He was V.P. and General Manager for CBS Studio Center, then went to work for MTM as Senior V.P. of Production.

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "When I came from CBS to MTM, my first week on the job I picked up all these purchase orders. I was signing these things, like $35 for this and $100 for that, and it was all for food. I didn't come here to sign purchase orders for food, that could be done by my secretary, 'cause MTM was going to give away this food regardless of what I said (laughs)."

Of course, when it came to the big ticket items, MTM was thrifty.

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "You know what MTM stood for? MIGHTY TIGHT MONEY (laughs). But seriously, it was one of the most generous companies there was."

Perhaps in an appropriate foreshadowing of Bernie's (and MTM's) retirement, Gregg Houston's video salute ended with the now famous last scene from the last Mary Tyler Moore Show, where Mary turns out the lights. In like manner, Bernie was essentially the last MTM employee, and his departure closed the book on the MTM story. Bernie might have "turned out the lights", but for any of us who continue to watch classic MTM programs in re-runs, and as everyone who worked for or with Bernie knows, the Oseransky legacy in television will always burn bright. Now if only he were as handsome as Abby...

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

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