Family Affair Friday: Season 2, Episode 16, “Family Reunion,” 1/1/1968

Since yesterday was Ray Bradbury’s birthday, I will introduce this week’s Family Affair episode thusly:

Something wicked this way comes.

Something wicked this way comes.

(You might want to review Aunt Fran’s history from the Pilot and Episode 1.22 before reading further.)

Written by: Ed James. Directed by: Charles Barton.

We begin with mail call at the Davis apartment. Even Buffy and Jody receive mail.

French gives them anything marked "Resident" or "Occupant."

French gives them anything marked “Resident” or “Occupant.”

Cissy reacts with alarm to a letter she receives.

It's from Aunt Fran! A faint whiff of sulfur coming from the envelope was probably the first hint.

It’s from Aunt Fran! A faint whiff of sulfur coming from the envelope was probably the first hint.

Fran has written that she’s looking forward to seeing the children again. (“Mwah-hah-hah” is implied at the end of the sentence). The kids are relieved when Uncle BIll explains that Fran is talking about a visit, not a permanent move. It seems she’s hosting a family reunion at her home in Terre Haute and wants Bill and the kids to attend. Bill had already decide to decline because he fears the trip will stir up traumatic memories for everyone.

The kids soon convince him that they want to see the old hometown, catch up with school friends, and re-visit landmarks like "the biggest slide in the whole world."

The kids soon convince him that they want to see the old hometown, catch up with school friends, and re-visit landmarks like “the biggest slide in the whole world.”

One can travel by air from New York to Terre Haute in about two hours–or five establishing shots.

Here's the plane.

We go from the plane…

...to bustling Terre Haute international...

…to bustling Terre Haute international…

...to this sign, whose appearance must have thrilled the Chamber of Commerce...

…to this sign, whose appearance must have pleased the Chamber of Commerce…

...to glamorous downtown Terre Haute...

…to glamorous downtown Terre Haute…

...to the suburbs...

…to the suburbs…

…before arriving at Aunt Fran’s rather grand house.

Buffy points out that this is a new house--not the one where she lived with Aunt Fran and spent her time getting locked in the closet by Uncle Harold.

Buffy points out that this is a new house–not the one where she lived with Aunt Fran.

The kids seem happy to see their aunt. The presence of Family Affair green in her house probably has a calming effect on them.

The kids seem happy to see their aunt. (The presence of Family Affair green in her house probably has a calming effect on them.)

Since it’s almost time for school to let out, Cissy heads off to the high school to surprise old friends, while the twins convince French to take them to their old kindergarten classroom.

Yes, Bill brought his man-servant along on this trip. His luggage isn't going to unpack itself, you know.

Yes, Bill brought his man-servant along on the trip. His luggage isn’t going to unpack itself, you know.

That leaves Bill alone with Aunt Fran, who promptly confesses that she’s sorry to see the kids looking so well-adjusted. Yep, that’s our Aunt Fran. It seems she has hopes of stealing them away. How has she progressed from ditching Buffy, to wanting the girls, to wanting all three kids? Beats me.

Uncle Bill looks uncomfortable, as anyone would in the presence of madness.

Uncle Bill just stands there looking uncomfortable.

When the kids return, they are bursting with excitement about their school visits. Cissy is anxious to get reacquainted with a boy named Harvey who has blossomed into a star athlete. Buffy and Jody saw their old kindergarten teacher, who gave them cookies.

(We get a good French-ism here: “I find it a matter of note that, in New York or Terre Haute, school cookies always seem to be oatmeal.”)

Out of the kids’ presence, Fran corners Bill and makes him promise that he will watch the kids over the next few days and consider whether they would be happier in Terre Haute.

VTS_01_5.VOB_000347046

The director seems to use some kind of soft-focus filter on Louise Latham’s close-ups, which are noticeably “blurrier” than any other shots.

The next day, Cissy heads off with Harvey to explore her old stomping grounds.

She acts surprised every time she remembers something, as if it is a feat for teenager to remember a place where she lived less than two years before.

She acts surprised every time she remembers something, as if it is a feat for teenager to remember a place where she lived less than two years before.

Harvey remarks on how she has changed since leaving Indiana–she’s now a sophisticated New York woman. He asks her to join him for the junior dance, but it’s more than two weeks away. Cissy says she can’t stay that long, and she doubts Uncle Bill will let her fly back alone for the dance.

He wants her to join him for the junior prom, but it's more than two weeks away.

Wearing his default expression of puzzlement, Harvey observes that Bill must be strict.

No, Cissy replies. He just cares about her and the twins.

Cut to the twins themselves, who are showing French their old playground and that huge slide they remembered.

Sometimes our memories play tricks on us.

“If you leave a slide out in the rain, can it shrink?” Jody asks, leaving French to explain that the slide just seems smaller since the twins have grown.

Back at home, the ever-gracious Uncle Harold is grumbling about grocery prices.

VTS_01_5.VOB_000626292

He says he can remember when he couldn’t carry all the bread that thirty cents could buy. Sure doesn’t sound like a guy who’d want to add three extra mouths to his household.

Cissy asks Bill about flying back for the dance. He says no, as she expected. Aunt Fran knows an opportunity when she sees one, though.

She suggests that all the kids stay with her until the dance.

She suggests that all the kids stay with her until the dance.

The kids can attend their old schools, she says, and French and Uncle Bill can have a break.

Uh-oh. You'd think by now Bill would know how that kind of talk affects the kids. He agrees to consider the plan, though.

Uh-oh. You’d think by now Bill would know how that kind of talk affects the kids. He agrees to consider the plan, though.

That night, fear of abandonment keeps all the kids up and drives Jody into the girls’ bed. The next morning, at the breakfast table, a breakthrough occurs: The kids tell Bill their worries, and he assuages them. (This is so much better than another round of misunderstandings about whether Bill wants to keep them and whether they want to stay with him.)

Random breakfast observations: Fran looks even creepier in an apron. Also, Bill is wearing the same shirt he wore the day before.

Random breakfast observations: Fran looks even creepier when she wears an apron. Also, Bill is wearing the same shirt he wore the day before.

Bill tells Fran that he and the kids will be leaving on Sunday after the family reunion. As it turns out, even that isn’t soon enough, as bad memories begin to plague the kids.

Harvey and Cissy visit a local lake and she remarks on its beauty.

Harvey scrunches up his face in confusion once again and wonders what's so beautiful about it.

Harvey scrunches up his face in confusion once again and wonders what’s so beautiful about it.

Cissy grows wistful as she remembers picnics at the lake with her parents in the years before Buffy and Jody were born.

Kathy Garver does a good job expressing genuine emotion in this scene.

Kathy Garver does a good job expressing genuine emotion in this scene.

Meanwhile, French is taking the kids for a walk down memory lane. (You’d think Uncle Bill, who anticipated that the kids might find their visit to Terre Haute traumatic, would spend time with them himself. Hell, you’d think he’d do it just to avoid being alone with Fran.)

First they stop outside a drug store and remember going there for ice cream with their parents.

First they stop outside a drug store and remember going there for ice cream with their parents.

Then they stop outside the very toy store where Buffy got Mrs. Beasley. (As French jokes, it should be marked with a plaque.) She remembers walking down the street with her mother, who spied the doll and thought it was the cutest thing she’d ever seen. She took Buffy into the store and bought her the doll on the spot.

"It was the last thing..." Buffy says. "The very last thing..."

“It was the last thing…” Buffy says. “The very last thing…”

Outside the barber shop, Jody remembers getting his hair cut side-by-side with his dad, who would joke that Jody might need a shave in a few weeks.

More acting props: Sebastian Cabot reactions to the kids are perfect here--tender, but maintaining French's normal restraint.

More acting props: Sebastian Cabot’s reactions to the kids are perfect here–tender, while maintaining French’s characteristic restraint.

The twins decide they’ve seen enough of Terre Haute and ask French to take them back to the house.

Later, the kids beg Bill to take them home right away, and he agrees.

Later, the kids beg Bill to take them home right away, and he agrees.

Sadly, we don’t get to see Aunt Fran’s reaction to their departure. Or that of Head-Wrinkle Harvey.

Back at home, the twins are happy that their respective pets are still alive.

Back at home, the twins are happy that their respective pets are still alive.

And Bill, relieved that the whole ordeal is over, is eager for the drink that French promises to fix him.

Commentary

This episode exudes the underlying sadness that makes Family Affair so unusual. Many shows of that era featured kids who had lost a parent and then promptly forgotten that parent ever existed. I love the fact that Family Affair revisited the kids’ grief every so often. The twins’ walk with French is especially moving and well scripted, with a realistic amount of detail surrounding each memory.

Guest Cast

Fran Higer: Louise Latham. Harold Higer: Bill Zuckert. Harvey: Jim Henaghan.

Sadly, this was Latham’s last appearance as the aunt we love to hate. They should have brought her back once a year. By season five, she could have escalated to building a bunker prison for the kids in her basement.

Fun Facts

The kids’ mother had a beautiful singing voice. Buffy has a goldfish.

Continuity Notes

The entire episode refers back to the show’s origin. Also, Jody’s turtle gets another shout-out–Scotty fed it while the family was out of town.

Notable Quotes

“When you come back, you remember all the little things you thought you’d forgotten, but you haven’t…you really haven’t.”–Cissy

 A Pronunciation Digression: Terre What?

Terre Haute is pronounced Terre Hote–except on Family Affair. In early episodes, most of the actors pronounce it correctly, but Brian Keith calls it Terre Hut. By the episode, everyone was using that pronunciation. In his memoir, Family Affair Production Supervisor John G. Stephens relates a conversation he had with Brian Keith about this issue:

During the filming, Brian keeps pronouncing the town’s name “Terre Hut.” We try to get him to pronounce the name correctly. He’ll have nothing to do with that. “I’ll call it Terre Hut whether you like it or not.”

After the show airs, we receive a number of letters from Terre Haute, complaining about Brian’s pronunciation. We show him the letters, and he just says, “What the fuck do they know?”

“They live there!”

“Ah, screw ‘em.”

 

 

9 thoughts on “Family Affair Friday: Season 2, Episode 16, “Family Reunion,” 1/1/1968

  1. maedez says:

    Cissy’s traveling ensemble is darling. I am not ashamed to admit that I wish I had at least half of the things in her wardrobe.

    • Amy says:

      That is a really cute outfit, hat and all. Buffy also has some spiffy traveling clothes, including different dress coats for arriving and departing.

  2. Aunt Fran is one of the most evil characters to ever appear on television. Only Demon Bob from Twin Peaks ranks higher.

  3. Orschel52 says:

    Having returned from a 3-week tour of France in a teeny-weeny camper, with neither TV nor Internet access nor barely any news of the world, I’m now eager to catch up on what’s been going on in the Davis apartment!

    I find this story about Brian Keith’s pronunciation stubbornness quite amazing. Though it’s fully in line with many descriptions of his behavior on the set as always being grumbling, stubborn and complaining, and also in line with many characters he played, it’s hard for me to imagine him being like this – but maybe I’m just biased.

    Something else that always amazes me in Family Affair is the continuous availability of flights: “OK, we take the next flight home.” “Cancel my flight to Afghanistan – make it the first one in the morning (!!!)”. Airplanes seem(ed) to be taking off to all places in absurdly short intervals, like according to a timetable of buses or trains. Amazing!

    By the way, did you get my e-mail of about mid-August on some German FA aspects? It seems to have been sent successfully, but never appeared in my outbox folder. Wonder where this one stranded.

    • Amy says:

      Oooh, a three-week tour of France sounds lovely, even in a teeny camper. I’ve missed your comments these past few weeks, but I figured you were probably enjoying some kind of holiday.

      I don’t take everything John Stephens writes as gospel because he seems to exaggerate for comic effect in his book, and he has complaints about everyone he ever worked with (except Kathy Garver–he considered her a trouper.) The Terre Haute story sort of rings true, though; it reminds me of some curmudgeonly comments Brian Keith made in interviews. Also, it’s hard otherwise to fathom why he always mispronounced the city’s name.

      Yes, the ease of making last-minute airline reservations is amusing. I picture Miss Lee pulling her hair out over Uncle Bill’s sudden itinerary changes.

      I went back through my emails for August and didn’t see anything. I’m sorry it didn’t go through because it sounds interesting!

      • Orschel52 says:

        Yeah, the France tour (actually Normandy and Brittany) was really nice, but now has put additional workload on me because I want to design a rather elaborate photo book.

        Of course, I never saw Brian Keith in any off-stage situation such as interviews – although any public appearance is some sort of an on-stage situation – with the exception of his appearance on the first color episode of PASSWORD on the night the FA pilot was aired (which I found on the web). Here he seemed very relaxed and to be enjoying the show. No sign of his ruggedness there. But sure all those people can’t be wrong – there certainly was this side of Brian Keith, too.

        I kind of was afraid that my email wouldn’t get through. I can try again, if you want, as I still have a copy in Word. Perhaps I should send a test mail first and you can confirm its receipt. Be warned, though: it’s a lengthy email again – that’s why I didn’t send it as a comment!

      • Amy says:

        Yes, sending a test email is a good idea. Don’t feel you have to do it right away, though. I’m sure you have a lot to catch up on after your trip.

        About Brian Keith, I should clarify that I was referring to his comments to newspapers. I haven’t seen any on-camera interviews that he did.

  4. Orschel52 says:

    That’s right, there is a lot of catching up to do. But as I’ll have only limited Internet access on Monday and Tuesday, I’d better send the test email right now. If everything goes alright, it should arrive within the next few minutes.

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