Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 3, Episode 1, “The Latch-Key Kid,” 9/23/1968

VTS_01_1.VOB_000877406

Teleplay by: Peggy Chantler Dick. Story by: Douglas and Peggy Dick. Directed by: Charles Barton.

When we look in on the third season of Family Affair, French is bringing everyone “to-mah-to” juice, and Cissy is looking like the cat who at the canary.

On second though, she's looking more like the canary.

On second thought, she’s looking more like the canary.

She’s just gotten her hair styled at the beauty parlor. Seeing Cissy’s results inexplicably inspires Buffy’s desire to go to the beauty parlor, too. When Bill says she’s too young, she asks why Jody gets to visit the barber by himself.

Bill tells her she won't like the answer. I'm pretty sure I won't like it  either.

Bill tells her she won’t like the answer. I’m pretty sure I won’t like it either.

Yep, it’s because she’s a girl. Bill admits it’s not fair, but he sticks to his decision.(Someone must cut Buffy’s hair, though. I guess that’s another job French gets stuck with.)

The next day at school, Buffy is still pining for greater independence when she meets Lana. a new girl in class. We quickly find out that Lana comes from a different social sphere than the Davis kids.

We quickly find out that Lana comes from a different social sphere than the Davis kids.

She has a single mother who used to be a maid and now works as a manicurist. She also wears a key around her neck, to let herself in her apartment after school.

(As an aside, Buffy’s sandwich is meat on whole wheat. Ew. At least it’s better than meat on white, I guess.)

The key fascinates Buffy, who sees it as a shiny symbol of freedom. She even gets Lana's permission to wear it for the rest of the day.

The key fascinates Buffy, who sees it as a shiny symbol of freedom. She even gets Lana’s permission to wear it for the rest of the day.

That night, Buffy asks Bill if she can have a key to the Davis apartment. When he says she’s too young, she complains about being treated like a baby at age 7. (Wow these kids are aging slowly.)

She again asks why Jody gets more freedom; apparently, he gets to stay at the playground by himself after school while Buffy goes home with French.  Bill says little girls need more protection.

Sure, Uncle Bill. Bad things never happen to little boys who are walking around the city alone.

Sure, Uncle Bill. Bad things never happen to little boys who wander around the city alone.

Buffy also wants to change her name. Lana has started calling her Ava, an alternate name Lana’s movie-fan mother considered for Lana. (Note to the IMDb: Ava is NOT Buffy’s real name.)

The next day, Buffy and Lana are walking out of school together when French arrives to pick Buffy up.

The next day, Buffy and Lana are walking out of school together when French arrives to pick Buffy up.

In an amusing exchange, Lana wonders why French dresses so funny, and Buffy explains that he’s English.

Lana's slum is on the way the home, so French invites her to walk with them.

Lana’s slum is on the way the home, so French invites her to walk with them.

Lana’s empty apartment horrifies French.

At least it's clean--and the Family Affair green paint is reassuring.

At least it’s clean–and the Family Affair green paint is reassuring.

Buffy congratulates Lana for having “her own TV,” which is weird since it’s in the living room. Maybe she’s just trying to be polite. Lana wants Buffy to come over after school the next day, and French says he’ll ask Mr. Davis.

At home, of course, French is all hell-to-the-no.

At home, of course, French is all hell-to-the-no.

She has little supervision and is “hardly a suitable companion for a young gentlewoman,” he says, going so far as to call Lana “a street urchin.” Now, I don’t like French’s snobbery, but I wouldn’t let my 7-year-old go over to her house without at least getting to know her mother and making sure a responsible adult would be present at all times.

Bill, though, says sure. I guess little girls don't need that much protection.

Bill, though, says sure. I guess little girls don’t need that much protection.

French and Jody drop the girls off in Lana's mom-less apartment the next afternoon.

French and Jody drop the girls off in Lana’s mom-less apartment the next afternoon.

Lana’s mother does make a brief appearance, stopping at home after work to dress for a date.

Note that she's clutching a movie magazine. Okay, okay, we get it--she's working class!

Note that she’s clutching a movie magazine. Okay, okay, we get it–she’s working class!

The girls have to shop for and prepare their own dinner.

They choose frozen pizza and soda, which seems pretty realistic.

They choose frozen pizza and soda, which seems pretty realistic.

They play dress up in Lana’s mom’s shoes, and Lana does “Ava’s” hair.

The resulting hair-do is definitely the visual highlight of this episode.

The resulting hair-do is the visual highlight of this episode. Buffy looks like she wandered away from the Grand Ol3 Opry.

When Bill comes to retrieve Buffy, he finally groks to the fact that Lana is home alone. When she asks if she can have a sleepover with Buffy the next night, he agrees.

The Davis apartment amazes Lana, of course.

The Davis apartment amazes Lana, of course.

She’s also taken aback by the many rule French lays down: Homework before fun, playing instead of watching the afternoon movie, no running in the house.

At bed time, she allows Bill to tuck her in, pretending that it's another house rule, when it's clear that she just wants the adult attention.

At bed time, she allows Bill to tuck her in, pretending that it’s another house rule, when it’s clear that she just wants the adult attention.

When Buffy takes Lana home the next day, Lana breaks down.

Laying it right out there, Buffy asks if she is crying because she lives where she does instead where Buffy lives.

Laying it right out there, Buffy asks if she is crying because she lives where she does instead where Buffy lives.

Lana says it’s not that–it’s because Buffy has so many people to “boss her around.” Lana’s all-too-aware that freedom can spring from a lack of caring. Buffy tells her that when she feels like being bossed around, she should call on the Davises.

Soon, Lana is doing just that. For example, she phones French to see if she can watch a horror movie on TV. His reply: "Certainly not!"

Soon, Lana is doing just that. For example, she phones French to see if she can watch a horror movie on TV. His reply: “Certainly not!”

And Buffy’s learned to accept her family’s rules without chafing, so I guess all’s well that ends well. Somehow,  I still feel sad, though.

Commentary

I thought the “latch-key” phenomenon dated from the 1970s, but the term originated during World War II. I personally loved having a key and letting myself in at home, but it didn’t happen until I was about 10, and I wasn’t left alone for hours. I’m of two minds about whether the Davis family should have done more to improve Lana’s sad situation. On the one hand, a scene with Bill talking to Lana’s mother about the problem might have been hard to take. Bill keeps himself busy with work and dating, so the only real difference between him and Lana’s mom is the ability to pay for high quality child care. On the other hand, Lana seems to be suffering from some pretty serious neglect. I’ll be interested in hearing what other Family Affair fans think.

Inconsistency Alert

The gender-based treatment of Buffy and Jody is a new thing. In the past, the twins’ level of freedom has varied dramatically from episode to episode, but it has always applied equally to both kids.

Guest Cast

Lana’s Mother: Eve Brent. Lana: Susan Benjamin Neher.

Susan Benjamin Neher

Susan Benjamin Neher

Neher appeared previously on Family Affair under the name Susan Benjamin. From 1969 to 1971, she had a regular role in another Don Fedderson single-dad series, To Rome with Love. A commenter directed me to this segment of the pilot that’s available on Youtube–check it out!

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7 thoughts on “Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 3, Episode 1, “The Latch-Key Kid,” 9/23/1968

  1. Chris says:

    I’m wondering if little Lana grows up to become Rayanne from “My So Called Life” because it seems Angela Chase went through a teenage 90’s version of this same scenario on “My So Called Life.” Seriously though, I remembered watching this episode as a child after reading your recap and being very impressed years later in grade school when another little girl had the whole -key around her neck thing too. As a child I loved the fantasy of seeing Buffy being on her own and wishing for the same thing. (My parents were 100% Mr. French to the core). As an adult I am probably even more horrified about the fact Lana not only is on her own for so long, but apparently walks home herself without anyone checking to see if she even makes it there. At what point would the mother discover she was missing?
    I really love your blog and thoroughly enjoy the Family Affair recaps. Sissy was my ideal and style icon as a little girl (even though I watched it many years after they were first broadcast). It’s so much fun to rediscover them now with an adult point of view.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoy the recaps. I really idolized Cissy, too, when I was little.

      As Lana herself says, her mother wouldn’t even know if she got hit by a car on the way home from school. Of course, the show was going for maximum pathos. I think the writers’ main purpose was to make the average children watching feel better about their parents “bossing them around.”

  2. I burst out laughing at Buffy’s “Grand Ole Opery” hair. All she needs is a ruffled, high-necked collar.

    You pose an interesting question about the question of childcare in this episode. It’s sad that a little girl would have to spend so much time alone, but I’m glad the writers at least tried to tackle this issue.

    • Amy says:

      Yes, I like the fact that the show tried to depict some real issues facing urban children, even if it was done in a superficial way. I found an interesting article from 1982 that said up to one in three inner-city children was a “latchkey kid.” As I suspected, though, it was more true for kids starting in fifth and sixth grade than for second-graders like Lana.

      http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20083140,00.html

  3. Orschel52 says:

    “Funny” is the word Jody uses to describe Cissy’s outfit and new hairdo. I don’t know which word to use: just “plain awful” would certainly not be strong enough! However, I find your description as “canary” very amusing. Buffy’s “bouffant” hairdo is not any better. To me, she somehow looks just like a little witch out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

    It is pretty hurtful to see Lana acting, in the true sense of the word, like a grown-up and with so much self-confidence – even if it’s only on the surface – and then gradually realizing what she really misses so much. But what could the Davises have done to help her? Buffy could have continued the friendship, giving Lana the chance to get “bossed around” every now and then. But wouldn’t that have been just some superficial thing, losing its effect after a while? And Bill talking to Lana’s mother – who seems rather likeable apart from her being so negligent and thoughtless about her daughter’s needs – would have been difficult, too, for the reasons you pointed out. And involving the authorities? I have a feeling that would be a bit over the top and sort of damaging, too, because I assume Lana and her mother got along pretty well otherwise, except for her being unable to give Lana the attention she so much requires.

    • Amy says:

      Between Cissy’s and Buffy’s hairdos, the show’s hairstylist must have had fun with this episode!

      I agree, I don’t think there was much the Davis family could have done for Lana, especially in that day and age when people thought parents should have a pretty free hand to do whatever they thought was best. Today, there would be after-school programs for kids like Lana, but I doubt anything like that was available in the 1960s. I like to think her mother would at least have a trusted neighbor look in on her occasionally and make sure she actually got home from school.

  4. Mary says:

    Its funny seeing this episode in particular again, and thinking what was happening in my own young life when I first viewed it.
    Yes there was basically no supervised after school activites but we had freedom …I remember wandering far from home and having great adventures with no apparent concern from my parents( who both worked, which was unknown in those days) . Our only rule was to be in at dinner time…
    Having said THAT , I was always envious, as is Lana , at the evident caring of not just French and Bill but the structure of the kids’ lives.
    Kids in most families simply did NOT come first, as they seemed to in Buffy and Jodie’s example.

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