Sorry that I’m late with my Family Affair series this week–I was busy with my own adorable moppet yesterday. (Boy, would she hate hearing herself described that way.)
Written by: Douglas Tibbles and John McGreevey. Directed by: William D. Russell.
Coming home from school, Buffy and Jody announce proudly that they have been promoted to “upper first grade.”
They are disappointed that Uncle Bill is not there to share their joy–he’s working on a project in New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the twins exult in their new, advanced textbooks.
They soon find themselves stumped by “the new math,” however. Their engineer uncle could probably help them, but he’s spending all his time across the Hudson with Meg, who turns out to be a liberated, marriage-hating free spirit who has no interest in even hearing about the twins’ problems.
So where can Buffy and Jody turn for help?
Actually, Buffy and Jody are squealing with delight at the sight of their “friend,” Mr. Frack, the window washer. Mr. Frack says things like, “The difference between dumb and smart is how much you know,” so viewers quickly perceive where he falls on the dumb-smart divide. Naive Buffy and Jody, however, accept his help with their math homework.
The school alerts Uncle Bill to the deplorable state of the twins’ math homework, and while he’s looking for answers, he happens to run into their “tutor.”
He relieves Mr. Frack of his “helper” role while sparing the man’s feelings.
He assures her they’ll get together again sometime. I’m glad he doesn’t blow her off completely, even though I think he should be looking for more of a Fraulein Maria and less of a Baroness Schraeder now that he has kids.
This isn’t a great episode, but it has some high points. I love Buffy and Jody’s conversation about Dick and Jane. Mr. Frack and Meg are both interesting characters. I like the way this script shows that Bill’s priorities have changed without demonized Meg for having different priorities.
We also get another chance to see Brian Keith’s rapport with child actors.
We also get to see him save a scene with Buffy and Jody.
Mr. Frack: Sterling Holloway. Meg: Kipp Hamilton. Tim: Roy Roberts. Sally: Andrea Sacino. Holloway was the voice of Winnie the Pooh in many movies, including some that Sebastian Cabot narrated. He was also the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Roquefort in The Aristocrats, Kaa in The Jungle Book, Mr. Stork in Dumbo and Woodsy the Owl in many public service announcements. He had an extremely long career in films that spanned half a century and included such films as Meet John Doe and The Blue Bird. Notable was his role in 1945’s A Walk in the Sun. He also had a recurring role in The Adventures of Superman.
Hamilton’s most memorable TV guest appearance was as Pleasure O’Reilly in an episode of Bewitched. She seems to have quit acting shortly after this episode aired, around the time that her first husband died of a brain tumor.
Roberts also had a Bewitched connection–he played Darrin’s father. He had recurring roles in Petticoat Junction, Gunsmoke, The Lucy Show and The Beverly Hillbillies, among other shows.
Sacino was a voice in 1970’s special Santa Claus is Coming to Town. She appeared in several episodes of My Three Sons and had a regular role on a short-lived mid-sixties show called Many Happy Returns.
Uncle Bill is an experienced sailor. Buffy and Jody are learning Spanish at school. (This is another nice touch of realism for a big city school. In West Virginia, the only Spanish we learned before 8th grade was what we could pick up on Sesame Street. On the plus side, I don’t think the “new math” ever found its way to us.)
Today’s Bonus Feature
TV Guide, October 1, 1966
This article describes Brian Keith’s unusual work schedule, which explains why Uncle Bill was away so frequently. (The article also reveals his early ambition to be a sailor and his problems with math–interesting in the context of this episode.)
In this week’s review, you more or less answered two of the questions I had after watching this episode: What is upper first grade, and did new math have any great impact on US schools. Still I do not quite understand the concept behind upper first grade. Would it mean that if you are not promoted you have to start all over again with the “bunch of new kids”?
New math was a great issue in the sixties here in Germany, too, but never really caught on, I think. Thank goodness for that – I had to struggle enough with “normal” math and never won a single round!
But one longstanding (not FA-specific, though) question remains: Do American students and school kids really hand-carry around their books without a satchel? Buffy, Jody and Cissy do it all the time, and once Cissy even carried home half a library! Does this really work? What about small items? This always sort of fascinated me and I once tried it out myself. IT DIDN’T WORK OUT, even though I used a belt to tie it all together!!!
Brian Keith really DID have a way with kids. I like the scene with little Sally very much – his warm smile, his soft voice and affectionate gesture.
I must admit that I had to look up who are Fräulein Maria and Baroness Schroeder. Funny notion of pairing Bill up withsomebody being like a German, or rather Austrian, Fräulein or noblewoman.
P.S.: Isn’t your “own adorable moppet” going to read your blog and see how you describe her anyway? Or is she too young for that, or just not interested?
I love how you never fail to point out the Family-Affair green walls.
Family Affair Fridays are a real highlight in my blog-reading activities.
I also found this episode a bit frustrating; isn’t it out of character for Bill to stay away from the kids so much when he is about to leave the country for a couple of weeks. He must have been under a spell by Meg. I do enjoy the exchange between the twins during this episode. I am glad Uncle Bill redeems himself at the end.