TV Week Magazine
TV’s Sensual Sgt. Foley
By Ginny Weissman
“The entrance to our office is on Fernwood Ave.,” said the public relations man, giving directions to the location of the “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” set.
So that’s where Norman Lear got the name of the fictitious Ohio town, home of TV’s newest heroine. “No, it’s not,” denied the Metromedia/Tandem rep, “it’s really just a coincidence.”
Sure, sure. It was an appropriate destination for an interview with Bruce Solomon—TV’s sensual sergeant Dennis Foley.
If you’re a “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” fan, chances are the subplot that got you hooked was the on again, off again romance between Mary and Dennis. A story development which happened by chance.
“The role originally was written for a fat, elderly desk sergeant,” said Bruce Solomon, imitating an Irish “top of the mornin’ to you” brogue. “I was an acting student of Joan Darling, who directed the ‘Mary Hartman’ pilot. When she was casting she decided to use me in the role and Norman (Lear) approved. They had no idea where it was going at that point. But Louise and I had a wonderful rapport. When the show was sold, they asked me back for more.”
And so the tantalizing of America began with Dennis in hot pursuit of Mary, and her sister Cathy, and their friend Roberta. Rumors began that the sensuous sergeant would soon be linked with every woman in the cast. Mary’s mother, Mrs. Shumway? Or 12-year-old Heather? “They’ll find something to keep me busy,” said Bruce, denying they would turn him into a child molester.
How does it feel to be one of America’s newest sex symbols?
“It feels great,” said Bruce with his brightest Sgt. Foley smile. “But enough talk about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” he teased. “Truthfully, it is everything I would like it to be. It has given me the opportunity to do what I like to do best which is act. I really enjoy it.”
A native New Yorker, Solomon attended school in Florida, received his Masters Degree from Wayne State University, and worked toward a Ph.D at the University of California, Berkeley.
Prior to his discovery in “Mary Hartman” Solomon appeared in guest roles on various TV series including “Tenafly,” “Streets of San Francisco,” and “Harry O.” Before that he taught acting.
“Basically I’ve been involved in educational theater. I taught stage, voice, and acting. And suddenly I realized that while I thought I was an actor what I really wanted to be was a star. I wanted to earn my living as a professional actor. I set that up as my goal and I left school and worked with different theater groups. I also did a lot of educational theater with ex-convicts.”
Approaching his 33rd birthday in August, Solomon, at 5 foot 10, is a trim 150 pounds and keeps that way through gymnastics.
“I just started at it—tumbling and trampoline. It’s fun, like being a kid again. I guess that’s why I’m an actor because I like to play. I like to walk on the beach. I’m a quiet person. I like my privacy.” However, privacy often must give way to fame.
“I did have to change my phone number. A number of people called me, which was nice. Then I started getting phone calls at 6 in the morning from people all over the country and I said thank you but it’s too early.” Fame also takes its toll on anonymity.
“People recognize me all the time. They pass by and say, ‘Hello Dennis.’ They’re very friendly, and I love it.
“Only once did someone look at me and I really felt like what I thought Redford or Paul Newman must feel like. I was in a supermarket going through a checkout stand and the woman looked up and I could see by the look on her face that she really had to catch her breath. I started to laugh, and she said, ‘You’re you’re…” and I said, ‘Yes.’ That’s the only time that’s happened. Most of the time people just come up and say they like the show.”
While the series is in hiatus Solomon is reading movie scripts. “I’ve had some movie offers and I’m looking for a script that really interests me.” As for a future in television, he isn’t hoping for a spinoff for Sgt. Foley or even another weekly series.
“I can’t imagine what the context would be for Sgt. Foley to exist in a series of his own. In truth, I would prefer to do features because they offer more in regard to acting than a TV series.”
(There is a second article, also by Ginny Weissman.)
First Season a Success, Success for “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”
“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Norman Lear’s innovative soap opera has completed its first triumphant season, surpassing even the most optimistic predictions its success.
Its nationwide success is dramatically illustrated locally by what’s happening at WFLD-Ch. 32, Chicago’s outlet for “Mary Hartman.” The numbers tell the story.
According to the May, 1975, Arbitron rating book, 61,000 TV households tuned in Channel 32 during the 10-10:30 time period. In May, 1976, after five months of “Mary Hartman,” 348,000 TV households were tuned in at 10 p.m. Impressive figures for a UHF station, especially considering its competition.
The race for the ratings at 10 p.m. had previously been run only by the newscasts with WLS-Ch. 7 leading the pack for the past several years. After the debut of “Mary Hartman,” WFLD-Ch. 32 became an important factor in the 10 o’clock race, eventually beating out WMAQ-Ch. 5 in a David and Goliath victory since WMAQ is an NBC Network affiliate.
After telecasting 130 original episodes, Channel 32 is airing 13 weeks of re-edited segments. New episodes begin in September. Only time will tell if the numbers hold.
If you’re a fan, now’s the time to catch up on what you’ve missed. Norman Lear promises all the major story lines will remain including my favorite—the continuing romance between Mary and Sgt. Foley.
On page 3, I report on Bruce Solomon (on our cover) whose role as TV’s sensuous sergeant, Dennis Foley, undoubtedly contributed to the series success.