Monday, March 25, 2024

Top TV Moments: Barbara Rush


I regret kicking off this piece on a downbeat note, but I feel a need to acknowledge that it was inspired by a sobering thought that occurred while watching a 1974 episode of Police Story – it was the realization that so many of the talented artists who continue to fill my evenings with hours of viewing enjoyment are no longer with us.


Obviously I was already aware of that on some level, but there are moments when thoughts like this that sometimes lightly float through in passing suddenly settle in for a longer stay, making one aware of one’s own advancing years. And maybe that’s why I felt some relief to find that Barbara Rush, turning in one of her always reliably charismatic turns in that Police Story episode, is still with us. And also why I then went on a mini-binge of her best TV work, some of which is listed here. 



Lux Video Theater (1954)

In 1954, Barbara Rush won the Golden Globe Award as most promising female newcomer for her role in It Came from Outer Space.

That same year, she landed her first television role in an episode of this anthology drama entitled “Gavin’s Darling.”


Interesting footnote: Rush tied in her Globes category that year with co-winner Pat Crowley, who would go on to an equally long and busy television career.


Suspicion (1958)

Two sailors keep a lonely watch on a fogbound vessel, where there should not be “isle or ship within a thousand miles.” So imagine their surprise when they hear a man crying “Ahoy” and asking for help – but why won’t he come aboard? And why won’t he let them shine a flashlight in his direction? 


Working from a story by William Hope Hodgson, “Voice in the Night” features writer Stirling Silliphant and director Arthur Hiller creating an eerie, slow-burn tale of a couple who survive a shipwreck, only to land into a situation far more perilous. James Donald and Barbara Rush play the unfortunate pair in this, one of the best-remembered episodes of a series that often rivaled The Twilight Zone for macabre suspense. 



The Eleventh Hour (1962)

After two years in a mental hospital, Linda Kincaid (Rush) seems to have her life back together – but her ex-husband (David Janssen) is concerned she might try to kill herself again. “Make Me a Place” goes into some pretty dark places (the whole series did, admittedly) and Rush does powerful work here as a woman who can’t trust her own mind. And she’d work with Janssen again soon – see next entry.


The Fugitive (1965)

Ed Robertson’s excellent book on The Fugitive singled out the two-part “Landscape With Running Figures” as the series’ finest moment. It’s certainly in the running, if only for its ingenious premise.


Lt. Gerard’s obsession with Richard Kimble has put a strain on his marriage to Marie (Rush). When he cuts their vacation short to pursue another lead, she’s had enough. She buys a bus ticket under her maiden name and leaves him to his investigation – and guess who else just happens to be on that same bus? There’s an accident, she suffers temporary blindness, and Kimble takes care of her until help arrives. Neither knows who the other is, and when those discoveries are made it’s a wonderfully played moment. 



I also learned from Ed’s book that Rush and David Janssen were good friends, and he lobbied for her to play Marie Gerard. Is it the show's best episode? The scenes with the juvenile delinquents who harass the pair didn’t play as well for me (according to Ed they were added when it was decided to make this a two-parter). I’d rank “The Girl From Little Egypt,” “Nightmare at Northoak,” and “Brass Ring” ahead of this one, but not by much.


Peyton Place (1968)

Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow were the breakout stars from this groundbreaking prime time soap, but it was also Barbara Rush’s longest steady TV work. She appeared in 75 episodes as Marsha Russell, and honestly all I know about her is that she hooked up with Ed Nelson’s character for a while. 



Batman (1968)

As this once hugely popular series limped toward cancelation in its final season, it churned out losers like “Nora Clavicle and Her Ladies Crime Club,” featuring Barbara Rush as “Guest Villianess of the Week.” The story has Women’s Lib crusader Nora (Barbara Rush) plotting to destroy Gotham City with an army of exploding mechanical mice, though it is best remembered for scene in which Batman, Robin, and Batgirl are tied into a  Siamese human knot, an image that launched countless memes. 



There isn’t a moment of this episode that isn’t absolutely ridiculous, and once again Batgirl is restrained in an embarrassingly simple fashion (with a sharpened knitting needle!), but it’s fun to see Rush, whose resume is primarily comprised of serious roles, camping it up and stretching the limits of over-acting to keep up with the silliness of the situation.  

Night Gallery (1971)

I’ve said before in this blog that the stories on Night Gallery always missed a lot more than hit for me, but “Cool Air” is certainly one of the better ones. Rod Serling’s teleplay, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, changes the narrator from a man to a woman (Rush) who encounters the mysterious Dr. Munoz and his quest to cheat death.


Police Story (1974)

John Forsythe plays the Chief of Police in a large city (we assume Los Angeles thought it’s never specified) in the midst of an especially challenging day. First an old friend on the force is caught in a compromising position, and then there’s a chance someone will try to take a shot at him when he visits a crime-ridden neighborhood, following the exoneration of officers who killed two teenagers in a confrontation. How Barbara Rush appears here as the chief’s supportive wife is how I best remember her TV career appearances - blonde, captivating brown eyes, perfectly coiffed, effortless class.



The Bionic Woman (1976)

Jaime has a disturbing dream about her mother, who had died years earlier. And then she shows up – or does she? “Jaime’s Mother” is one of the better first season episodes, as Jaime discovers that both her parents were government agents just like she became. This is one of my favorite Barbara Rush guest spots – she keeps you guessing about who she really is until the episode’s final act. 



Death Car on the Freeway (1979)

As one online commentator astutely admitted – “I like this film but it is a bit crap.” Roger Ebert could not have summed it up any better. After helming Smokey and the Bandit, which became a huge box office hit, director and former stuntman Hal Needham brought his car-crashing skills back to television, in this lurid tale of a mysterious driver who slips on gloves, pops in an 8-track tape of dissonant music, and then runs pretty girls off the road in his Dodge van.


Crusading local Los Angeles news reporter Shelley Hack is on the case of the man dubbed the Freeway Fiddler, and Barbara Rush plays the seasoned female news gal who serves as a mentor while trying to mask her jealousy. Honestly, it’s not one of Rush’s more memorable performances, but I can’t miss an opportunity to promote this exploitation classic. What a cast – Morgan Brittany, Frank Gorshin, George Hamilton, Dinah Shore, Harriet Nelson, Peter Graves – everywhere you look there’s another Love Boat passenger.


The freeway pursuit scenes are as expertly shot as anything you’d see in a bigger budget movie. But if you spend a lot of time driving L.A. freeways as I have, perhaps the most unbelievable aspect in the film is that anyone could get a car up to 70 mph in the afternoon on the 405.


  1. Awesome tribute to Barbara, I loved reading this! David, you really had me laughing over that Batman episode--and now I need to drag out my Night Gallery & Bionic Woman DVDs to see those episodes. This was also a bittersweet read, I was watching some Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes this weekend and thinking the very same thing, "these wonderful people are all gone". I find myself doing that a lot, the older I get. Anyway--this was nice, David. I need to look at that Batman meme again :^)

    1. LOL - They could entwine me with Yvonne Craig as long as they liked. Glad you enjoyed piece - and I know you'll enjoy that Bionic Woman episode.

  2. I've seen "Death Car on the Freeway", though I'd forgotten its title. I remember Shelley Hack starred in it and Harriet Nelson played the bad guy's landlady, who called him "Johnny".

    I know of Barbara Rush also partly for a theatrical movie she did for Disney. She played the wife of Bob Crane's character in "Superdad", who tried to remain level-headed in the midst of his hysteria about their daughter and her crowd of hippie friends.

    1. I'd forgotten that! There's not much comedy on her TV resume, but she was equally at home in that genre.

  3. Sadly, Barbara Rush passed away on March 31, 2024. May she rest in peace.

  4. How sad and ironic that Barbara passed away on Easter. She was an icon of that 1950s-70s golden age of entertainment.