Family Affair Friday: Season 2, Episode 17, “A Man’s Place,” 1/8/1968

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Written by: John McGreevey. Directed by: Charles Barton.

Synopsis

As our episode opens, French is shopping with the twins at one of those little markets they frequent.

No wonder they like this market--it's Family Affair green. But what's up with all those weird decanters along the wall.

No wonder they like this market–it’s Family Affair green!

A moment later, French’s life changes when he locks eyes with a stranger as they reach for the same casaba melon. Actually, it’s not a total stranger.

It's Ann Sothern!

It’s Ann Sothern!

In the Davis universe, it’s Florence Cahill, whose late husband owned French’s favorite tobacco shop. She and French hit it off, and soon he and the kids are walking her home. She mentions that she’s recently set aside her widow’s weeds and then comes right out and asks French to “share her melon.”

French, surprisingly unfazed by this forward behavior, agrees to return later for dinner.

French, surprisingly unfazed by this forward behavior, agrees to return later for a lunch date.

In response to the twins’ curiosity about Mrs. Cahill, French reminds them that he does not discuss “matters of personal concern.”

Later, he joins Florence in her apartment. Geez, green overload.

Later, he joins Florence in her apartment. Geez, green overload.

Seemingly puzzled about the nature of French’s profession, Florence probes him for details. He says he began training for the role of gentleman’s gentleman at 16 and entered service at 22.

Though you can't really tell in these screen captures, Ann Sothern gets the same soft-focus closeups Louise Latham got in the last episode. One wonders why--Sothern looks great for her age in the longer shots.

Though you can’t really tell in these screen captures, Ann Sothern gets the same soft-focus closeups Louise Latham got in the last episode. One wonders why–Sothern looks great for her age in the longer shots.

As their lunch concludes, French invites Florence to go out to dinner with him on his next night off.

On the night of their date, he gives her a tour of the Davis apartment.

On the night of their date, he gives her a tour of the Davis apartment.

Florence wonders aloud whether French wouldn’t rather have a place of his own. He notes that living with an employer is simply part of his profession.

Suddenly, things get all kinds of awkward when Bill returns to the apartment unexpectedly with his date. (If you’re wondering where the kids are on this particular evening–well, so am I.)

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French hustles off Florence off to the kitchen as though he’s a teenager who’s been caught with a girl in his room.

He even tries to keep Bill out of the kitchen and unaware of Florence’s presence.

Of course, when Bill and Florence do meet, Bill handles the encounter gracefully. I'm not sure what French was expecting.

Of course, when Bill and Florence do meet, Bill handles the encounter gracefully. I’m not sure what French was expecting.

The next day, at the market, French is still apologizing to Florence for his “distressing predicament.”

He admits to feeling like he has no place to call his own but says his current career is the only one for which he's qualified.

He admits to feeling like he has no place to call his own but says his current career is the only one for which he’s qualified.

Florence disagrees. She thinks he would do a wonderful job running a restaurant. In fact, she’s willing to invest her savings to help him get started.

Soon, French is offering his resignation to Bill, whose head-rubbing betrays the disappointment he feels.

Soon, French is offering his resignation to Bill, whose head-rubbing betrays the disappointment he feels.

The kids are also sad, of course. Cissy actually urges Bill to order French to stay. Apparently, her education skipped over the war about hundred years earlier that made such arrangements illegal.

"When you love someone, you want them to be happy," Bill reminds them.

“When you love someone, you want them to be happy,” Bill reminds the kids.

Meanwhile, French starts interviewing his potential replacements.

This guy has 14 nieces and nephews and enjoys paling around with them on trips to Battersea Park and Brighton.

This guy has 14 nieces and nephews and enjoys palling around with them on jaunts to Battersea Park and Brighton.

French isn’t impressed.

This guys believes most adults are "too little concerned with discipline" when it comes to children.

This guys believes most adults are “too little concerned with discipline” when it comes to children.

He’s much more to French’s liking and gets the nod.

Soon, French says a sad goodbye to the children.

Soon, French says a sad goodbye to the children.

When they see him again, it’s at his restaurant, Our Mr. French, which is off to a thriving start.

    Florence says French has worked like "a bearded hurricane" to get things up and running.

Florence says French has worked like “a bearded hurricane” to get things up and running. (Aww…little white gloves on Buffy. Cute.)

Cissy praises the restaurant’s decor, indicating either that she has impeccable manners or that she’s just surprised paint colors besides green exist.

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Jody thinks French looks “real happy” with the restaurant, but Bill doesn’t seem so sure.

Indeed, the next day, when French comes upon the children in the park, he takes exception to the way Mr. Smyser is overseeing them.

According to the twins, Smyser's maxims include "Avoid excess in all things" and "Well brought up children know their place."

According to the twins, Smyser’s maxims include “Avoid excess in all things” and “Well brought up children know their place.”

Smyser himself tells French that children are shaping up well–although “the adolescent” is proving more resistant to his methods.

Returning to the restaurant, French vents to Florence about the "tuppeny tyrant" who took his place.

Returning to the restaurant, French vents to Florence about the “tuppenny tyrant” who took his place.

Realizing that his reaction is a bit out of proportion, Florence wonders whether any replacement would please him.

"You have to go where your heart is," she tells him, noting that he can still help with menu planning and ordering for a few weeks.

“You have to go where your heart is,” she tells him, noting that he can still help with menu planning and ordering for a few weeks.

She’s enjoying the restaurant business and will try to keep the place afloat. (That may prove difficult, since a positive newspaper review mentioned the presence of “the incomparable Mr. French” as a major selling point. Oh, well–it’s not like she invested her whole life savings in it or something.)

In parting, French gets two cheek-kisses from her–that’s a lot of action by his standards.

Soon the delighted kids are celebrating French's return by demanding that he prepare their favorite foods.

Soon the delighted kids are celebrating French’s return by demanding that he prepare their favorite foods.

French, in turn, is showing his love for them by pointing out their hygienic flaws.

All’s well that ends well.

Commentary

This episode reveals the difficult social position French occupies as an adult with no real home of his own. I like the Ann Sothern character, who could have been played as a villainess trying to steal French away. She’s actually a nice lady who has his best interests at heart. You can’t even hate Smyser too much. French did choose him for his hard-line stance on child-rearing.

If this were real life, I’d worry about the dependence French has on his employer’s family and how it impedes his personal and professional growth. In 1960s TV, though, you’ll find many people willing to live asexual lives of perpetual servitude to make middle-class families happy.

Guest Cast

Florence Cahill: Ann Sothern. Mr. Smyser: Laurie Main. Mr. Tyburn: Leslie Randall. Miss Martin: Kaye Elhardt. Clerk: Ralph Manza.

Sothern appeared in B movies throughout the 1930s and starred for ten years in the Maisie series of films. Some of her more important films include Cry Havoc, Words and Music, and A Letter to Three Wives (she also had a part in a TV remake of the latter). For eight years she starred in two TV series, Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show, and received four Emmy nominations. She was also the voice of the title character in the series My Mother, The Car. With her last film role, in 1987′s The Whales of August, Sothern captured an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Leslie Randall, whose brief scene was a comic highlight of this episode, starred with his wife in a popular British sitcom called Joan and Leslie. He would return once more as Mr. Tyburn on Family Affair. And he’s still alive–something I’m always happy to report about any Family Affair guest star.

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Like Sebastian Cabot, Laurie Main narrated several Winnie the Pooh vehicles. He also served as the “story reader” on Disney read-along recordings. He died last year.

I always admire the tenacity of a bit player like Ralph Manza. From Perry Mason in the 1950s, through 1960s westerns, through Barney Miller and CHiPs in the 1970s, Newhart and The Golden Girls in the 1980s, and Seinfeld and Home Improvement in the 1990s, he kept right on working.He died in 2000.

Fun Facts

Our Mr. French was located on E. 54th Street. Jody has trouble tying his shoelaces. Buffy’s non-stop skipping record is 139.

Continuity Notes

Jody’s turtle gets yet another mention.

Burning Question

What are “sloppy Samuels”–the food that Buffy wants French to prepare for his homecoming celebration? Are they anything like sloppy Joes? And why would French deign to make anything that’s “sloppy?”

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6 thoughts on “Family Affair Friday: Season 2, Episode 17, “A Man’s Place,” 1/8/1968

  1. This post makes a good point about how static TV characters’ lives were in the 1960s – and it looks like they were REALLY static. I wonder how frustrating that may have been to a TV writers in the 60s…or maybe it made the job easier, knowing that characters had to return to the same state they were in when the episode started.

    • Amy says:

      Great comment! The hardest part must have been coming up with a plausible reason for a character to reject change. I think to kids in the Family Affair audience, French’s decision probably made perfect sense, but from an adult perspective it seems kind of sad.

  2. I think they put the soft lighting on actresses of any age, just to give them at “halo” glow and make them more sweet and appealing. Or else it was to cover up pimples. Loretta Young had a soft focus overload in “My Mother is a Freshman” and she was only 35 when she made that film! This episode should of been called “Maisie in Manhattan”. Sothern always plays such lovable characters ready to give others a hand…even if it costs her all her savings. Poor dear.

  3. Orschel52 says:

    I do not know sloppy Sams /Samuels, sloppy Joes or untidy Samuels. So I looked them up (they all seem to be more or less the same thing) and found they’re nothing I would want to eat. I remember, however, that Nigel French served sloppy Sams – he referred to them as untidy Samuels – to Buffy and Jody as their favorite dishes in the Helping Hand episode. So Giles French maybe made them just out of tradition.

    • Amy says:

      Yes, sloppy joes are a kid-friendly staple, served in school cafeterias across the land. I’ve never heard them called sams, but maybe that’s a regional variation somewhere.

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