Written by: Austin and Irma Kalish. Directed by: Charles Barton.
When we look on in on the Davis family this week, we find that the kids have just returned from school. The girls soon head back out to visit a neighbor, but Jody stays to talk to Uncle Bill about his grades. It seems he got an A in penmanship but missed four words on his spelling test. Bill tells him to spend more time studying his spelling.
Meanwhile, French is concerned because the girls are spending so much time with their upstairs neighbor, Miss London. Bill only knows that she’s an unmarried older women with no children, and he assumes that the girls are helping her with household chores. Kids, Uncle Bill notes, will do housework for other people that they wouldn’t do at home even if they go paid.
Jody, who seems sharper than usual this week, asks how much Uncle Bill is willing to pay.
And that’s about all we see of Jody this week because it’s time venture upstairs with the girls and meet the new neighbor:
In Davis-land, she is Laura London, a Broadway star, and the girls are enchanted by her show business stories–like the time she played Portia in a musical version The Merchant of Venice. (Portia’s “quality of mercy” monologue became a conga number!)
Soon the girls have transformed their living space into what French calls an “off-Broadway bedroom.”
French is not amused, especially when Buffy demands an actress-style dinner–carrots and cottage cheese.
The next day, when he goes upstairs to fetch the girls, he gets a chance to meet Miss London, along with her maid, Ruby. It’s good news/bad news on the diversity front this week. The good news: We finally have an African-American character with a name who gets to utter several lines.
The three have a funny exchange about whether French resembles one of Laura’s former husbands, Stonewall.
“Stonewall was fuzzier,” Ruby argues.
French returns to the Davis apartment filled with disdain for Laura, whom he considers course, loud, and uncultured. But when Bill hears that Miss London is Laura London, he admits to being a fan.
Bill doesn’t think French has anything to worry about, but he agrees to talk to Laura himself.
Meanwhile, the girls are starting to lose their minds. Laura has praised their talent and encouraged them to pursue stage careers as a “sister act.”
And Buffy is practicing her autograph, although she can only print it. She’s also thinking about changing her name.
The girls start neglecting their schoolwork and their friends, and French gets a call from Buffy’s teacher about the song Buffy performed during show and tell. It seems that one more chorus of the bawdy lyrics would have caused authorities to raid the school.
Buffy thinks her teacher is just a square who couldn’t tell a “backdrop” from a “second banana.”
Soon the problem escalates to the point that Cissy wants to quit school and pursue stardom full-time. Between head-rubs, Bill agrees to watch Buffy and Cissy perform.
In Laura’s apartment, the Davis Sisters (Vicky and Venetia) perform “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy.
Mere pictures alone can’t really do justice to this scene.
Bill decides to take Laura out to dinner to discuss the situation.
Bill expresses his worry about the girls’ desire to quit school. Laura doesn’t see what the big deal is–she dropped out.
With the girls the next day, Laura lays it on thick about the downside of stardom.
It’s hard to watch that scene now without wondering if that’s how Anissa Jones felt about her childhood.
Later, they talk to Uncle Bill. Cissy and Buffy still plan a stage career–but they will wait until after they finish school.
Bill is so relieved to have this nightmare end that he offers to take the kids out to a movie. When French reminds him that it’s a school night, he rescinds the offer, causing Buffy to utter the line that must appear in every theater-themed classic TV episode: “That’s show biz!”
Joan Blondell plus a musical number equals a memorable episode (whether you want to remember the musical number or not).
The cheesy show biz lingo gets old pretty fast.
Laura London: Joan Blondell. Ruby: Ernestine Wade. Blondell had a long career in films, mainly in “wisecracking friend of the leading lady” roles in light musicals. Some highlights from her career in the 1930s include Golddiggers of 1933, Footlight Parade and The Crowd Roars. She was once married to Dick Powell. Later, she had more serious roles in such films as Cry Havoc (fellow Family Affair alum Ann Sothern also starred) and the wonderful A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She had regular roles in the TV series Here Come the Brides and Banyon and played Vi in 1978’s Grease.
Wade played Sapphire Stevens in the TV series Amos and Andy.
Buffy’s favorite food is southern fried chicken.
Gypsy–my favorite musical–struck a chord with TV producers. Here are other examples of what happens when Sondheim meets sitcom.