Beverly Garland on TV: From Decoy to Dodie to Dotty

by Karen A. Romanko

Beverly Garland will be forever etched in my mind as Dotty West, the loving, live-in mother of Amanda King (Kate Jackson) on Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-1987). Garland’s Dotty is a delightful comic creation, a middle-aged woman who is called upon to accept her grown daughter’s sudden, inexplicable obligations and disappearances without question, unaware that Amanda is a neophyte spy. Even when Amanda’s reluctant partner, Lee “Scarecrow” Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner), pops up at the kitchen window or the back door, Dotty’s frenetic, domestic energy keeps her oblivious to Scarecrow’s presence.

Beverly Garland and Bruce Boxleitner in Scarecrow and Mrs. King

As much as I loved Beverly Garland in the role of Dotty, I was unaware of her importance in television history until I began researching my book Television's Female Spies and Crimefighters. I learned that Garland had starred in a groundbreaking series called Decoy: Police Woman (1957-1958) as Casey Jones, an undercover cop for the New York City Police Department. Such a role is commonplace today, but back then it was unheard of to have a female lead in a police procedural. In fact, it would be almost two decades before a similar character appeared on American television—Pepper Anderson (Angie Dickinson) in Police Woman (1974-1978).

Before and after Decoy, Garland made numerous guest appearances on TV series, generating a list of credits a mile long: The Lone Ranger, Hawaiian Eye, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Farmer’s Daughter, Mannix, The Mod Squad—and so many more. She had a nice turn on Danger Man in “Bury the Dead” (1961) as a woman whose spy fiancĂ© dies suspiciously, prompting her cooperation with secret agent John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) in his investigation. In The Fugitive, she portrays a brave and determined nurse called to the scene of a wildfire, who has no medical assistance until Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) reveals his skills in “Smoke Screen” (1963).

Inger Stevens and Beverly Garland in The Farmer's Daughter, 1963

In 1969, Garland accepted a regular role on My Three Sons as Barbara Harper, a widowed teacher. Harper soon marries Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray), bringing her own daughter Dodie (Dawn Lyn) into Steve’s large extended family of children and grandchildren. Barbara Harper Douglas was the start of a string of quintessential suburban mother roles for Garland, that included a hilarious appearance in two episodes of Remington Steele (1982-1987) as Abigail Holt, the disapproving mother of private eye and career woman Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist).

Beverly Garland in 1969

And then, of course, there was Dotty, the domestic diva, who once said to Amanda, “your poppyseed cake is your Sistine Chapel.” Dotty herself is the Sistine Chapel of suburban mothers and grandmothers, searching for just the right gift for her grandson’s birthday in “Fearless Dotty” (1984), and unknowingly finding spy trouble for her efforts. She’s the woman who happily fills in for Amanda on Cub-Scout outings, camping trips, and baseball games, no matter how lame Amanda’s excuse for absence is. When Amanda says she’s going off to her club to save the clams, Dotty replies, “Clams again, dear?” Although the show belongs to Jackson, Boxleitner, and their crackling chemistry, it wouldn’t have worked without Garland, who gave so much energy and conviction to her role as ever perplexed Dotty.

Cheers to Beverly Garland for blazing a trail for women on television and for decades of outstanding entertainment.

Television's Female Spies and Crimefighters and Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television
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  1. Loved her in My Three Sons and Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
    Pam Ingram

    1. I always loved that she played the mom of both Amanda and Laura Holt, two of my favorite TV characters. Thanks for your reply, Pam! đŸŒ·


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