Endearing buttinsky maid Hazel Burke rules the roost of the Baxter household, dispensing advice, solicited or not, with every batch of her world-famous brownies.
Household help has been used as comic relief since the days of Juliet Capulet's nurse. Accordingly, sassy maids, fresh-mouthed butlers, and wise governesses have been almost as prevalent on sitcoms as the single parent, another of the form's archetypes. Starting with the early days of Beulah, and Louise on Make Room for Daddy, the list of domestics is startling, not only in its length but in that they are often the most memorable and beloved characters on a given show. Mr. French. Lurch. Mrs. Livingston. Alice Nelson. Florence Johnston. Benson. Edna Garrett. Mr. Belvedere. Fran Fine. Rosario Salazar. All of them are instantly memorable - and if they weren't the most educated characters on their respective series, they were certainly the most practical and the wiliest, often restoring order to more than just cluttered closets. These indispensable domestics provided objectivity and, as honorary members of the families they served yet without blood ties, they were free to shoot from the hip and wrap things up quickly, a highly valuable trait in the shorthand world of sitcom storytelling. At the head of the long line of comic servants to grace the small screen, the title "Queen of Domestic Engineers" belongs to the wise, wisecracking Hazel Burke, as played by the incomparable Shirley Booth.
Based on a Saturday Evening Post comic strip by Ted Key, Hazel featured the first TV multi-tasker, executing her top-secret meatloaf recipe and bowling a perfect game simultaneously. Running the Baxter household ragged, Hazel helped the family navigate the many little things that typical middleclass American families faced: getting an unlisted phone number, fighting an unjust parking ticket, and being the first house in the neighborhood to own a color television set. (In a test of this relatively new technology, the episode in which Hazel bought her color set was the only one of the show's first season to be filmed in glorious color.) It was Booth's considerable charm and excellent acting that made Hazel far more than a meddlesome pain in the kiester.
With a cast that included Whitney Blake as Dorothy Baxter, invariably decked out like a centerfold from Women's Wear Daily, and little Bobby Buntrock as Harold, freckled and cow-licked like a Dennis the Menace also-ran, the show's main source of conflict was Hazel's run-ins with "Mr B," played by the portly, congenial Don DeFore, considering the friction between the two, it was a miracle that Hazel wasn't toeing the line at the unemployment office. Forever reminding her boss that he was twenty pounds overweight and ten years too old, Hazel should probably have been sacked the first time she opened her "big bazoo" (to borrow a phrase from that great wit, Fred Mertz). But as she was a part of the family, having raised "Missy" Bazter since she was a child, Hazel could (and often did) get away with murder. Adding to the fun were veteran actress Maudie Prickett as Hazel's best friend Rosie, and the delightfully dotty Norma Varden and Donald Foster as the Baxters' next-door neighbors the Johnsons, who went through maids like Kleenex and were so utterly helpless they had to call upon Hazel to find out how long to boil a three-minute egg.
The show ran out of steam when it moved to CBS after the fourth season. DeFore and Blake left, so the writers sent Missy and Mr. B off to Saudi Arabia and stuck little Harold with his brother's family (shades of The Brady Bunch, where the dreaded Cousin Oliver, another towheaded moppet straight out of Village of the Damned, was abandoned by his parents). Plagued with bursitis brought on by five years of her trademark jog to answer the door, Booth found the notion of whipping, an entirely new family into shape too much of a strain, and after one season of the revamped cast, Hazel hung up her apron for good.
Mel Brooks is quoted as saying "If I ever had a maid like Hazel, I'd set her hair on fire!" To be sure, the character could be downright infuriating; after all, she was always right. Yet that rightness was the show's most significant characteristic. As opposed to a show like The Honeymooners, which, for all its hilarity, never gave the audience any hope that the little man might get some respect, Hazel was one of the first sitcoms to make the workingman or woman feel that he or she might speak out and make a difference.
Thelma Ritter was the first choice to play Hazel and wanted the role badly, but due to poor health could not be insured for the demands of a weekly series.
Bobby Buntrock, who played Harold on Hazel, was killed in a car accident in 1974 at the age of twenty-one. Mysteriously, his mother had died in an automobile crash in nearly exactly the same spot a year earlier.
The vocal version of the theme song (sung by The Modernaires) was heard over the end credits of the series' first eight episodes. From episode nine to the end of the series, the theme was played in instrumental form only.
Although the first season was in black and white, one episode was filmed in color: "Hazel: What'll We Watch Tonight?)" (1961), in which the Baxter household gets the first color TV on the block. Reportedly, RCA Color TV was a sponsor, and this was a promotional gimmick. Later in 1964, Shirley Booth and Don DeFore appeared in a print ad for RCA Color TV in numerous magazines.