Doris Singleton (1919-2012)
The recurring character of Caroline Appleby, rival/nemesis of housewife Lucy Ricardo on the classic television sitcom I Love Lucy, was first introduced in the episode “The Club Election”—though the character’s first name was “Lillian” in that inaugural installment. Actress Doris Singleton, who would play Caroline in nine additional Lucy episodes, was told by the show’s star that her character’s name was inspired by someone Ball knew from her girlhood days. In an added bit of verisimilitude, Caroline’s husband Charlie (played by radio actor-announcer Hy Averback) worked at a TV station…just as Doris’ real-life husband, Charlie Isaacs, who was in show business as well (as a prolific radio and TV writer).
Dorothea Singleton Isaacs became good friends with Lucille Ball when the two of them appeared together on a broadcast of Ball’s radio sitcom, My Favorite Husband. By that point in her career, Doris was using her vocal gifts to appear on many of radio’s top comedy shows, after previously dabbling in singing (as a one-time vocalist with the Art Jarrett Orchestra) and dancing (having spent three years with the New York City ballet). Singleton worked with some of the Golden Age of Radio’s best-known comedians: Alan Young, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Bob Hope and (Bob) Sweeney & (Hal) March. She appeared frequently on Jack Benny’s program (usually as Mary Livingstone’s maid, Pauline), and was one of several actresses to portray “Miss Duffy” on Ed Gardner’s hit sitcom, Duffy’s Tavern. Other radio comedy shows on which Singleton appeared include December Bride (she was Ruth Henshaw, the role played by Francis Rafferty in the more successful boob tube version), Meet Millie, My Little Margie, That’s Rich and Young Love.
But, Doris Singleton also displayed her dramatic chops on occasion as well. She was one of “Whistler’s children,” the nickname given to those performers who frequently emoted on The Whistler. She also logged on-air time on such shows as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My Beat, The CBS Radio Workshop, Let George Do It, The Lux Radio Theatre, Rocky Jordan, Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Even after the death knell sounded for Radio’s Golden Age, Doris did the occasional “new time radio,” appearing a few times on The Sears Radio Theater in 1979.
When television became the medium in the 1950s, Singleton adapted, adopted and improved her craft for such series as The Great Gildersleeve, The Adventures of Superman, The Bob Cummings Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The People’s Choice and Perry Mason, to name just a few. She continued to be a presence on the small screen in the 1960s, most notably as sympathetic next-door neighbor Susie in the sitcom Angel, a short-lived series that aped the premise of I Love Lucy…only this time the housewife was of foreign extraction, not the husband. Doris also made the rounds on such hit shows as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hazel, Gunsmoke, The Fugitive, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and Hogan’s Heroes. Of course, she also made time for her old chum Lucy in a few episodes of The Lucy Show, and later turned up in the First Lady of Television’s follow-up, Here’s Lucy—a series on which she would have had a co-starring role had the star not decided to cast her offspring, Lucie and Desi, Jr., instead.
Doris cut back on her TV appearances in the 1970s, but did the occasional guest shot on shows like All in the Family, Marcus Welby, M.D. and Quincy, M.E. Her last two television showcases were episodes of the successful Dynasty and the not-so-successful Just Our Luck, in 1982 and 1983, respectively. She was asked to talk about her I Love Lucy experiences in the 2003 American Masters documentary, “Finding Lucy,” and a 2005 E! True Hollywood Story segment entitled…well, “I Love Lucy.” With Singleton’s passing, at the age of 92, the only living recurring cast member of that iconic sitcom is Shirley Mitchell, who appeared in several episodes as Lucy’s chum Marion Strong.
One 60s TV series that I left off of Singleton’s voluminous resume earlier was My Three Sons—on which she played two different characters. The first was Helen Morrison, the mother of Sally Ann Morrison (Meredith MacRae)—the woman who married the eldest of the Douglas sons, Mike (Tim Considine), and both left the series shortly after the start of the 1965-66 season…never to be heard from again. Doris was pressed into service again in the 1970-71 season to play the mother (Margaret) of Polly Williams (Ronnie Troup), a girl who also nabbed herself a Douglas boy—this time eloping with youngest son Chip (Stanley Livingston). I mentioned this only in that we must bid a sad goodbye not only to a fine radio and television actress in Doris, but also to one of those “three sons,” Don Grady…who left this world for a better one last night at the age of 68.