Family Affair Friday: Season 3, Episode 7, “Christmas Came a Little Early,” 11/11/1968

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Written by: Elroy Schwartz. Directed by: Charles Barton.

On Easter weekend, it’s fitting that we have a holiday episode this week, even if that holiday is Christmas. As the title and air date indicate, however, this isn’t exactly a Christmas episode.

We open this episode in the classroom, where the twins are studying geography.

We begin in the classroom, where the twins are studying geography.

Buffy knows that Central America lies between Mexico and South America. (The twins’ IQ fluctuates wildly from episode to episode; she’s having a relatively smart week.)

Buffy can’t name the countries of Central America, though. Only one of Miss Cummings’ students can.

The disembodied voice of Jan Brady!

It’s the disembodied voice of Jan Brady!

Actually, the student is Eve, a sickly child who’s sort of teleconferencing in from home. I wonder if any real schools actually offered this service. When I was growing up, kids who couldn’t come to school got “home-bound instruction” from a tutor.

Later, Miss Cummings asks Buffy to stop by Eve's apartment after school to drop off a new textbook.

Later, Miss Cummings asks Buffy to stop by Eve’s apartment after school to drop off a new textbook.

None of the kids have ever seen Eve, and Buffy is a bit reluctant to make her acquaintance.

“It’s hard to like someone who knows all the answers,” she observes.

When she actually meets Eve, though, she hits it off with her immediately.

Eve's sick room has the same creepy clown artwork as the hospital children's ward we saw when Buffy had her tonsillectomy. Don't sick children have enough to worry about?!

Eve’s sick room has the same creepy clown artwork as the hospital children’s ward we saw when Buffy had her tonsillectomy. Don’t sick children have enough to worry about?!

Eve asks Buffy if she can stay for a while. Buffy says she can if she calls Mr. French to let him know. That leads to an amusing exchange:

Eve: Who’s he?

Buffy: Well, he’s not exactly our butler…and he’s not exactly our nanny… and he’s not exactly a relative.

 Eve: Oh.

Buffy: “Oh” what?

Eve: I don’t know who he is.

Buffy: Oh.

Eve: “Oh” what?

Buffy: I still have to call him, whoever he is.

The girls have fun playing word games, a favorite pastime for Eve. Though she looks fairly robust, she's apparently too weak to get out of bed.

The girls have fun playing word games, a favorite pastime for Eve. Though she looks fairly robust, she’s apparently too weak to get out of bed.

(Another creepy clown on the dresser–yikes!)

Eve says doctors haven’t been able to help her, but Buffy assures her that Uncle Bill can fix anything. Oh, dear.

That night at dinner, she tells Bill about Eve and re-states her confidence in his ability to fix the situation.

That night at dinner, she tells Bill about Eve and re-states her confidence in his ability to fix the situation.

That earns a big sigh from Bill, who tries unsuccessfully to explain that some problems are beyond his capabilities.

Some time later, Bill goes to the Bowers’ home to pick up Buffy and Jody, who have been playing with Eve.

It's an awkward moment when Mrs. Bowers describes how Buffy has been promising Eve that he could help.

It’s an awkward moment when Mrs. Bowers describes how Buffy has been promising Eve that he could help.

After meeting Eve, Bill goes above and beyond the call of duty by arranging for an eminent physician he knows to examine her. He even tells the doctor to bill him, while explaining to the Bowers family that a research foundation will pick up the cost.

Random fashion note: Nice tam, Buffy.

Random fashion note: Nice tam, Buffy.

Mr. and Mrs Bowers tell Bill that his efforts have given them renewed hope.

Mr. and Mrs Bowers tell Bill that his efforts have given them renewed hope.

“To have a little hope again is a wonderful thing,” Mr. Bowers says. Unfortunately, that hope doesn’t last long.

Dr. Flanders and a nurse bring Eve home.

Dr. Flanders returns with Eve. (Her blanket looks like Buffy’s tam outfit.)

Wait, Eve has been at the hospital having medical tests while her parents chat with Bill? And a doctor and a nurse brought her home? That’s odd.

As the nurse takes Eve to her room, a grim-faced Dr. Flanders delivers the bad news. “I wish you could tell you what you want to hear,” he says.

When Mr. Bowers asks, “How long?” the doctor has no real answer.

Eve’s decline from her unspecified illness is a rapid one, however.

One night, Mrs. Bowers drops by the Davis apartment to tell Bill that Buffy should probably stop visiting Eve.

One night, Mrs. Bowers drops by the Davis apartment to tell Bill that Buffy should probably stop visiting Eve.

Her daughter has grown “noticeably weaker,” Mrs. Bowers says, implying that the end is near. She thinks stopping the visits will make the situation less traumatic for Buffy.

Bill is moved that Mrs. Bowers is thinking about Buffy's feelings.

Bill is moved that Mrs. Bowers is thinking about Buffy’s feelings.

He tries to explain to Buffy that Eve may be too tired to play anymore.

Buffy argues that Eve needs a good friend now more than ever.

Buffy argues that Eve needs a good friend now more than ever.

“She would still come and visit me,” Buffy says.

Bill agrees that the friendship can continue.

One afternoon, when the kids return home from school, Bill makes a surprise announcement: They are going Christmas shopping.

One afternoon, when the kids return home from school, Bill makes a surprise announcement: They are going Christmas shopping.

The kids are, indeed, surprised, since it’s not particularly close to Christmas. Bill says an upcoming work project might take him to South America, and he won’t make it home in time for Christmas. He wants to celebrate early. He tells Buffy that they should include Eve in the party, and since Eve can’t leave her apartment, they will have the party there.

Cissy’s expression shows that she understands what’s really going on, but the twins seem to buy Bill’s story.

Soon the whole family is trimming a tree at the Bowers apartment.

Eve says it's the most beautiful tree she's ever seen.

Eve says it’s the most beautiful tree she’s ever seen.

She's seen some pretty ugly trees, I guess.

She’s seen some pretty ugly trees, I guess.

Jody thinks the tree look terrible–because it has no presents under it.

That's the cue for this strangely familiar Santa Claus to arrive.

That’s the cue for this strangely familiar Santa Claus to arrive.

He gives Eve a doll that delights her.

He gives Eve a doll that delights her.

The adults look on sadly, but the children seem oblivious.

The adults look on sadly, but the children seem oblivious.

When the Davises get home, and the kids are in bed, Bill helps French de-Santa-fy himself.

They express relief that Buffy and Jody were too young to understand the real reason for the early celebration.

They express relief that Buffy and Jody are too young to understand the real reason for the early celebration.

But when Bill goes out into the hallway, he hears sobs coming from the girls’ room.

The episode ends with Bill embracing Buffy, who obviously knew the truth all along.

The episode ends with Bill embracing Buffy, who obviously knew the truth all along.

Commentary

This episode is difficult for me to evaluate. The story idea is rather maudlin, and it is handled in a superficial way that doesn’t generate much real emotion in the viewer. On the other hand, it is so very Family Affair. Can you imagine any other sitcom from the same era telling this story? Especially in a (sort of) Christmas episode?!

I like the fact that the dialog is subtle; the episode conveys Eve’s fate through knowing glances and awkward pauses.

I can’t help wondering how Brian Keith, who had lost a young son, felt about this episode’s subject.

Guest Cast

Eve Bowers: Eve Plumb. Miss Cummings: Joan Vohs. Mrs. Bowers: Ann McCrea. Dr. Flanders: Ivan Bonar. Mr. Bowers: Paul Sorensen.

Eve Plumb, of course, would go on to play Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch, which debuted about 10 months after this episode aired. (“Christmas Came a Little Early” has another Brady connection–writer Elroy Schwartz is the son of Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz. This is the third of six Family Affair episodes Elroy Schwartz wrote.)

All the other guest actors are Family Affair “repeat offenders,” except Paul Sorensen. Late in his career, he had a recurring role in Dallas as Andy Bradley.

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9 thoughts on “Family Affair Friday: Season 3, Episode 7, “Christmas Came a Little Early,” 11/11/1968

  1. MC says:

    I have to admit, the end of this episode always makes me cry. Poor little Buffy! She understands more about death than most kids her age, I guess, because she lost her parents.

    • Amy says:

      That is a good observation. I like the story’s implication that kids understand a lot more than adults give them credit for. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Orschel52 says:

    It seems to have become a standard procedure that I briefly wonder about a certain Family Affair scene and then quickly decide: OK, that’s America – only to find out after your post that this obviously is not America. This time I wondered about Eve having her medical tests in the hospital without her parents being present, and brought home by a doctor and a nurse.

    Uncle Bill’s conversation with Buffy after Mrs. Bowers’ visit is very touching – and great acting of both Brian Keith (I’m wondering about his personal feelings, too) and Anissa Jones. Yet I just can’t figure out what Bill wants to keep a secret. They weren’t actually talking about Eve’s illness being terminal (and Buffy isn’t supposed to know this anyway), and everything else they talked about is nothing to be kept a secret. But maybe I’m just too emotionally disabled to figure this out.

    This episode stayed in my mind for a very long time – not because of its theme, but rather because of its abrupt ending on German TV. On its first airing sometime between 1969 and 1972, the last scene was cut off entirely – something done extremely rarely on national TV for breaking news or the coverage of current events (in this case I always thought the Pope had visited Germany, only to find out now that the Pope never came to Germany in this time period! Odd!). Even though I (presumably) missed the entire first half of the episode anyway, after that abrupt ending I kept wondering for many years what might have happened after Bill entered Buffy’s room on hearing her sobbing – and did not find out until a couple of years ago when I saw the episode on YouTube. And, as I had suspected, the scene (Bill simply holding Buffy in his arms and rocking her) was very moving and made me cry.

    • Amy says:

      I do the same thing when something strange happens on screen, except I think, “Maybe that’s how it was in the 1960s” or “Maybe that’s how it was in big cities.” I do wonder, for example, whether any school systems let home-bound students phone in. I’m pretty sure Eve’s parents would have been at the hospital for her testing, though.

      It must have been frustrating to miss the ending scene. I never saw this episode during my childhood, but I’m sure it would have had a big emotional impact on me. The last scene is painful to watch because it makes me think about Brian Keith’s real-life loss and the fact that Anissa Jones would have such a short life.

      I’m glad you brought up the “secret” exchange because I didn’t understand it, either. That’s why I didn’t mention in my summary. The best I can come up with is that Buffy shouldn’t mention that Mrs. Bowers brought up the possibility of stopping visits. The script should have made that part more clear.

      As always, thanks for your thoughtful comments. And Frohe Ostern (if you celebrate Easter). : )

      • Orschel52 says:

        Missing the ending scene was indeed quite frustrating and annoying! In the 90s, when FA was re-aired and I missed the whole episode again, I even wrote to RTL asking for a videotape (some stations offered such service). All I got in reply was a RTL sticker!
        In the first run, I had not only missed the ending, but also the major part of this episode – my memory only starts with the Christmas party. I’m pretty sure all those very emotional scenes would have deeply touched me and therefore have clearly stuck in my mind.

        Yeah, your theory about the proposed stopping of visits seems quite plausible.

        Thanks for your Easter wishes (hey, in German!). Hope you’ve had – and are still having – a nice time too.

  3. gina says:

    In the sixties there were so many things that kids died of slowly. Heart issues, no artificial hearts while waiting for transplants, leukemia, diabetes complications and endless other things. Polio and T.B. were finally preventable, but measles, chicken pox, whooping cough vaccines were yet to come.

    • Amy says:

      That’s a good point I hadn’t considered. I was born the same week this episode aired, and it seems that doctors were making rapid advances against childhood diseases throughout that era. For instance, I don’t remember any of my classmates getting measles.

      It does surprise me that a comedy show would address such a sad topic, but Family Affair always did have kind of a “dramedy” vibe.

  4. Stan Evans says:

    This is a terrific blog. I enjoyed all of your entries about “Family Affair” and other TV stuff.

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