Family Affair Friday: Season 1, Episode 23, “The Mother Tongue,” 2/27/1967

Welcome to Family Affair Friday, appearing on an actual Friday this week! In this episode we learn the twins’ bedtime, the general location of Uncle Bill’s office, and the limits of Mr. French’s linguistic abilities. We also get to see the only Family Affair guest cast member who was also a stripper. At least, I think she was the only one.

Season 1, Episode 23, “The Mother Tongue”

Written by: George Tibbles. Directed by: William D. Russell.

Synopsis

It’s 8 p.m. in the Davis household, which means it’s bedtime for Buffy and Jody.

The twins plead for a later bedtime, telling Uncle Bill that their new friend Marilyn gets to stay up to 8:30. Uncle Bill sends them off to bed anyway.

I don't blame him. I think I'd be tired of Buffy and Jody by 8 o'clock, too.

I don’t blame him. I think I’d be tired of Buffy and Jody by 8 o’clock, too.

The next day, the twins continue to rave about their new friend, who has inspired them to adopt higher standards of politeness and neatness.

They even give French a bow and curtsy as they leave the breakfast table. Naturally, he's baffled.

They even give French a bow and curtsy as they leave the breakfast table. Naturally, he’s baffled.

When French meets Marilyn, he quickly discovers that she doesn’t speak English.

Throughout

He finds himself in the first of several bowing standoffs with her. You know, that old TV trope–a non-Asian person meets an Asian person, and the Asian person bows, so the non-Asian person bows back, and then the Asian person bows again, and so on? Yes, it’s quite tedious.

French and Uncle Bill marvel at the ease with which Buffy, Jody, and Marilyn play, despite their language barrier.

Apparently Buffy owns a doll other than Mrs. Beasley. I don't know what kind of doll it is, but I'd bet Mattel made it.

Look, Buffy owns another doll besides Mrs. Beasley. I don’t know what kind of doll it is, but I’d bet Mattel made it.

Unfortunately, French decides to brush up on his own Cantonese so he can communicate with Marilyn.

The next time she comes over to play, he tries to tell her that she has the eyes of a fawn and the face of an angel.

The next time she comes over to play, he tries to tell her that she has the eyes of a fawn and the face of an angel.

He actually tells her that she has “the ears of a pig and the face of a horrifying demon.”

Marilyn, understandably, flees in horror.

Marilyn, understandably, flees in horror.

Marilyn’s father, a member of the Chinese delegation to the UN, pays Uncle Bill a visit at the office.

He explains French's mix-up and tells Bill how upset Marilyn's mother and grandmother are about the inadvertent insult.

He explains French’s mix-up and tells Bill how upset Marilyn’s mother and grandmother are about the inadvertent insult.

Uncle Bill promises that French will make amends, and French does try to do so when Marilyn returns to the Davis apartment. He hasn’t quite mastered the word “angel,” though–he tells her she has “the face of a serpent.”

Oh, no, he didn't!

Oh, no, he didn’t!

This prompts another visit from Marilyn’s father to Uncle Bill’s office.

Hmm. The UN is between 42nd and 48th streets, and Uncle Bill thanks Marilyn's father for coming "downtown." To solve such a small problem, Marilyn's father is really going out of his way.

Hmm. The UN is between 42nd and 48th streets, and Uncle Bill thanks Marilyn’s father for coming “downtown” to his office. To solve such a small problem, Marilyn’s father is really going out of his way.

Bowing to the wishes of his wife and mother-in-law, Mr. Chen bans Marilyn from playing with Buffy and Jody.

Marilyn, we hardly knew ye.

Marilyn, we hardly knew ye.

Facing the twins’ wrath, French decides to pay the Chens a visit.

Yes, Marilyn, I'd be wary, too.

Yes, Marilyn, I’d be wary, too.

Greeting Mrs. Chen and her mother, French gets off to a good start.

good start

Unfortunately, he doesn’t leave it at that.

bad finish

The ladies don't take this especially well, at least at first.

The ladies don’t take this especially well, at least at first. (Anyone know how to say “My walls are Family Affair green” in Cantonese?)

Marilyn, however, begins to see the humor in French’s well-meaning attempts.

amused

Soon, the whole Chen family realizes that French meant no harm. By the end of the episode, Buffy and Jody have picked up some Cantonese, and Marilyn is learning English (such as “color television”).

As French and Uncle Bill look on fondly, the three children indulge in some imaginary gun play.

Oh, Marilyn...You're going to fit in just fine here.

Oh, Marilyn…You’re going to fit in here just fine.

Commentary

A nice aspect of Family Affair is the cosmopolitan world the Davises inhabit. They interact with people across a wide range of ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I like the way the kids in this episode communicate across the cultural barrier with ease, while the adults struggle a bit. And the translations of French’s compliments are funny.

Random observation: John Williams is really tall, and Kathy Garver is really short.

Random observation: John Williams is really tall, and Kathy Garver is really short.

Guest Cast

Mr. Chen: Richard Loo. Marilyn: Lisa Fong. Mrs. Chen: Noel Toy. Grandmother: May Lee.

This capture is from the third visit Mr. Chen paid to Uncle Bill's office. He must have really liked getting away from the UN.

This capture is from the third visit Mr. Chen paid to Uncle Bill’s office. He must have really liked getting away from the UN.

Richard Loo had an active film career within the limits imposed on Asian-American actors of his time. He played Japanese characters in many World War II-era movies including Wake Island (Brian Donlevy from Episode 15 starred), Flying Tigers, and God is My Co-Pilot (with Andrea King from Episode 17). Later films included Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Around the World in 80 Days (the large cast also included Katy Koury from Episode 8) and The Man with the Golden Gun. He was Master Sun on TV’s Kung Fu and made guest appearances on many shows.

Noel Toy started her career as an exotic dancer and earned the nickname “the Chinese Sally Rand.” In 1945, she married character actor Carleton Young, who also made several Family Affair guest appearances. (We saw him a few weeks ago in Episode 20.)

Lisa Fong’s father was actor Benson Fong, who will show up three times in later Family Affair seasons.

Today’s Bonus Feature

Coming soon!

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2 thoughts on “Family Affair Friday: Season 1, Episode 23, “The Mother Tongue,” 2/27/1967

  1. Gina says:

    The doll in the red pajamas is Mattel’s Baby Secret.

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