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Tinseltown Talks column: Terry Ray offers ‘therapy’ for classic TV stars

Nick Thomas
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Dawn Wells, as a patient, and Terry Ray, as the therapist, in Ray's "TV Therapy" series.

Sometimes a writer comes up with a project premise so delightful, you find yourself seeking out a dermatologist to treat an outbreak of goosebumps. Terry Ray’s web series "TV Therapy" may fall into that category for fans of classic television.

Back in 2019, Ray convinced Erin Murphy - best known for playing baby Tabitha in "Bewitched" - to reprise her role in a short 5-minute skit in which her now-adult character seeks out a therapist (Ray) to deal with childhood issues lingering from growing up as the daughter of Darrin and Samantha Stephens.

"One day my dad came into the room and he was a completely different person," proclaims Tabitha to Dr. Stephen Nielson, Ray’s therapist character in the series. Fans of "Bewitched" will immediately understand the humorous implication.

Ray followed up with another hilarious therapy session featuring Dawn Wells as Mary Ann of "Gilligan’s Island" fame discussing her issues resulting from the harrowing years stranded on a desert island. The series is available on Ray’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXj-Ibinpzo).

"Don’t ever take a vacation in Hawaii and if you do, don’t take the harbor cruise," advises Mary Ann from the therapist’s couch.

"We shot the ones with Erin and Dawn in the home of Billy Clift, the director, pre-COVID," explained Ray from his home in Palm Springs. "Then COVID hit but they were so much fun I wanted to do more and realized I could via Zoom."

He followed up in 2020 with episodes featuring Butch Patrick (Eddie from "The Munsters"), Kathy Garver (Cissy from "Family Affair"), and others.

"I’m a classic TV fan and came up with the therapy sessions as a fun way to explore the characters today," said Ray who wrote all the scripts. "I had no budget and don’t make any money from the series - everyone volunteered their time because we knew how much the fans would enjoy it."

Ray was devastated when he learned of Dawn Well’s death from COVID in late December. The two became friends after he wrote and appeared in the short 2015 film with Wells, "She’s Still on That Freakin’ Island," in which Ray’s character is washed ashore to find Mary Ann still a castaway.

Until her passing, Wells and Tina Louise (Ginger) were the only surviving cast members of the original three-season CBS series. Both actresses could count legions of fans from the beloved sitcom.

"Guys loved Dawn's character because she wasn’t scary," said Ray. "She wasn’t a millionaire, or a professor, or a movie star, just this sweet girl from Kansas which is why her character was so relatable and endearing. Dawn was a great actress who did a brilliant job creating that character."

While the press often portrayed a rivalry between Louise and Wells, Ray says he was touched by Tina's recent comments about Dawn and the show.

"Dawn told me there was no rivalry between her and Tina," he recalled. "In fact, she was in awe of Tina when they were shooting the original series and viewed Tina as an actual big movie star from whom she could learn. Actors have many roles in their career. I'm sure Tina enjoyed her cast mates, but when it was over she focused on other projects. Dawn really embraced the role of Mary Ann and helped keep the show alive for fans for 50 years."

Ray plans to keep classic TV show memories alive for fans, too, by continuing his "TV Therapy" series in 2021 (see www.terryray.tv).

"I’ve got new shows planned and written, and hope to keep it going for several more seasons."

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 850 newspapers and magazines. See www.getnickt.org.