Fresh-faced Cynthia Pepper's TV reign was short but sweet

The often-forgotten Sixties sweetheart turned heads with her youthful sparkle.

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When "The New Neighbors Meet the Addams Family," the pretty blonde wife takes one look at the mansion next door and comments to her husband, "Horrible house next door! Do you suppose anybody lives in it?"

"Honey, I didn't even know that house was there," her husband responds. "As I remember it, the renting agent had the shudders closed on this side."

This Addams Family episode basically wrote itself, by casting a quintessential happy American couple as Morticia and Gomez’s new neighbors.

Playing the husband was Peter Brooks and playing the wife was Cynthia Pepper.

Both Brooks and Pepper had previously played recurring roles on the wholesome sitcom My Three Sons, with Brooks playing Robbie Douglas’ friend Hank Ferguson and Pepper playing Mike Douglas’ first steady girlfriend Jean Pearson.

For Pepper, playing Mike’s sweetheart briefly turned her into America’s sweetheart before she had gotten hardly any acting experience.

"I guess I was exactly what they were looking for on My Three Sons, so they didn't hold my lack of experience against me when they hired me," Pepper told the Argus-Leader in 1961. "I was the only girl to have a running part on the series. It was a good show and I'm grateful to it for launching me in television."

Pepper had a unique beauty that soon attracted more TV offers. One writer for The Hartford Courant in 1962 captured why she swiftly caught casting directors' eyes: "Her particular brand of youthful loveliness seems to deny any taint of artificiality."

She was born to the comedian Jack Pepper, of the famous vaudeville comedy duo Salt and Pepper, and a dancer mother, but she said she didn’t start acting until her teens because her parents didn’t want to push her into show business, even if she did grow up "living out of a trunk."

"I have led a very normal life, not much different from any other young girl until I was graduated from Hollywood High School and really got my acting career started," Pepper said.

After My Three Sons, Pepper was picked to star in a TV series of her own. Margie was about a teen girl living through the tumultuous changes of the roaring '20s.

Again, it seemed that Pepper just had that star quality producers were looking for. Even though she was about four years older than the part she was playing. The producers didn’t even notice!

"We interviewed more than 100 young girls for the role," Screenwriter Hal Goodman told The Ottawa Journal in 1962. "We screen-tested 17. When we talked to Cynthia, we knew she was it. When we tested her, we were positive. She was exactly what we were looking for, with more sparkle than we had hoped to find."

But Pepper knew there was a problem. Her age.

By this point in her career, she was 20 and no longer a teen.

However, she looked so young, Pepper said everybody just assumed she was a teen, and after she was cast, she remembered feeling terrified to have to break the news she was older than she appeared.

"They had just given up trying to find a 16-year-old actress and were looking for an older girl who could play and look the part," Pepper told The Courant. "When they saw me on My Three Sons, they auditioned me and said they were happy they found a teenager to play the teenager. I was scared to death to tell them I was 20 and no longer a teenager, but I swallowed my breath and did. I don't think I was ever so happy as when they told me that it was all right, because I was just right for the part anyway."

"Just right" were two words Pepper got used to hearing in the Sixties.

"I guess I have that youthful, innocent look," Pepper said.

But then Margie was canceled after only one season. She continued taking roles in movies and TV, most notably starring as Elvis' love interest in the 1964 movie Kissin' Cousins.

That same year, she appeared on The Addams Family and returned to My Three Sons to reprise her role as Mike's now ex-girlfriend. This episode, called "Goodbye Again," Pepper has posted a clip on her Facebook dubbing it her favorite episode.

She continued taking roles on TV through 1970, but then she only appeared a few more times in her career, retiring from acting. It was as if the older she got, the fewer roles seemed to be "just right."

Since then, her fans have found her at Elvis fan events and conventions, where she’s cherished for her personal appearances.

At the height of her fame, she joked that staying young was the only way she'd keep succeeding. That ended up being rather prescient, unfortunately.

"Stay young," Pepper said. "That’s the way to make my career last. Do you know I’ve only played my own age once. That was way back when I was 19."

Last year, Pepper turned 80 and more than 100 of her devoted fans swarmed her Facebook to wish her well, fondly remembering that sparkle after all these years. She responded to let everyone know she’s doing good.

"It is a little hard for me to express how the outpouring of love and kind words made me feel," Pepper wrote. "I do know that I am overwhelmed and grateful that so many people took the time to write a greeting. I feel blessed to have made it this far in life and I also feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people along the way. I’m feeling good."

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Mirramanee 32 months ago
Actually, when I read that erroneous "shudders", I thought how fitting that such a mistake should happen in a sentence referencing the spooky Addams Family. In any other article or publication or website, it would have been considered a clever play on words.
lavender023 34 months ago
I remember the TV show Margie and I would love to see it again. I was pretty young and not always able to watch it. It was based on the movie Margie with Jeanne Crain. One of my favorites.
Runeshaper 34 months ago
That's a cool story. As short of a career as it might have been, it seems like Cynthia Pepper really had some high points, and I'm glad for that (-:
LoveMETV22 34 months ago
"She was born to the comedian Jack Pepper, of the famous vaudeville comedy duo Salt and Pepper, and a dancer mother". A shout out to:
The Grammy Award-winning hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa, including Cheryl "Salt" James and Sandra "Pepa" Denton.
JoeSHill 34 months ago
"MARGIE" was an ABC-TV series from 20th Century Fox Television in the 1961-62 TV season, and it had a very whimsical and cute visual opening credit for a TV series set in the 1920s. In addition to Cynthia Pepper, noted character actor Dave Willock played her father in the 26 episode run series that was created by Hal Goodman and developed for Television by Larry Klein. Raymond Bailey and Harriet McGibbon, who later co-starred on CBS's "THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES" (1962-1971) also appeared in four episodes of this sitcom. TV in 1961 was clean, family-friendly, and basically, a fun time to enjoy viewing back in those days. Two other ABC shows that were also set in the 20s and 30s was "THE UNTOUCHABLES" and "THE ROARING 20s", and the last time a TV sitcom was set in that time period was in CBS's "THE CHICAGO TEDDY BEARS" in Fall 1971 from Warner Bros.Television, which is almost as rare as "MARGIE".
MrsPhilHarris 34 months ago
She reminds me of Cheryl Holdridge. Sort of.
daDoctah MrsPhilHarris 34 months ago
And Tina Cole, her successor on My Three Sons.
Hi Alice,
I used to mix up Cynthia and Cheryl. I imagine kids seeing them today on shows like Leave It
To Beaver are still getting crushes on them. I know I did in 4th grade. Heck, with Beaver's
staying power guys on the Mars Colony in 2090 will still be falling for them and hoping
to beat Wally's time.
TheDavBow3 daDoctah 34 months ago
Love Tina Cole.
ncadams27 MikefromJersey 34 months ago
The guys who watched Leave It To Beaver now have a crush on Aunt Martha.
MikefromJersey ncadams27 34 months ago
LOL! Well ncadams27, Martha always did have that certain something, a untamed allure.
ncadams27 MikefromJersey 34 months ago
I always thought her and Ward’s Uncle Billy should have gotten together.
justjeff 34 months ago
"Honey, I didn't even know that house was there," her husband responds. "As I remember it, the renting agent had the shudders closed on this side."?????????????????

I know the Addams Family was a creepy, spooky show---but MeTV writers.... Those are SHUTTERS on the house, NOT "shudders".

I shudder to think that you never bother to proof-read your copy!
justjeff 34 months ago
This comment has been removed.
justjeff stephaniestavr5 34 months ago
...or perhaps I prefer to "shutter" out the bad proofreading!
justjeff 34 months ago
This comment has been removed.
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