Written by: John McGreevey. Directed by: Charles Barton.
As our episode opens, French is shopping with the twins at one of those little markets they frequent.
A moment later, French’s life changes when he locks eyes with a stranger as they reach for the same casaba melon. Actually, it’s not a total stranger.
In the Davis universe, it’s Florence Cahill, whose late husband owned French’s favorite tobacco shop. She and French hit it off, and soon he and the kids are walking her home. She mentions that she’s recently set aside her widow’s weeds and then comes right out and asks French to “share her melon.”
In response to the twins’ curiosity about Mrs. Cahill, French reminds them that he does not discuss “matters of personal concern.”
Seemingly puzzled about the nature of French’s profession, Florence probes him for details. He says he began training for the role of gentleman’s gentleman at 16 and entered service at 22.
As their lunch concludes, French invites Florence to go out to dinner with him on his next night off.
Florence wonders aloud whether French wouldn’t rather have a place of his own. He notes that living with an employer is simply part of his profession.
Suddenly, things get all kinds of awkward when Bill returns to the apartment unexpectedly with his date. (If you’re wondering where the kids are on this particular evening–well, so am I.)
He even tries to keep Bill out of the kitchen and unaware of Florence’s presence.
The next day, at the market, French is still apologizing to Florence for his “distressing predicament.”
Florence disagrees. She thinks he would do a wonderful job running a restaurant. In fact, she’s willing to invest her savings to help him get started.
The kids are also sad, of course. Cissy actually urges Bill to order French to stay. Apparently, her education skipped over the war about hundred years earlier that made such arrangements illegal.
Meanwhile, French starts interviewing his potential replacements.
French isn’t impressed.
He’s much more to French’s liking and gets the nod.
When they see him again, it’s at his restaurant, Our Mr. French, which is off to a thriving start.
Cissy praises the restaurant’s decor, indicating either that she has impeccable manners or that she’s just surprised paint colors besides green exist.
Indeed, the next day, when French comes upon the children in the park, he takes exception to the way Mr. Smyser is overseeing them.
Smyser himself tells French that children are shaping up well–although “the adolescent” is proving more resistant to his methods.
Realizing that his reaction is a bit out of proportion, Florence wonders whether any replacement would please him.
She’s enjoying the restaurant business and will try to keep the place afloat. (That may prove difficult, since a positive newspaper review mentioned the presence of “the incomparable Mr. French” as a major selling point. Oh, well–it’s not like she invested her whole life savings in it or something.)
In parting, French gets two cheek-kisses from her–that’s a lot of action by his standards.
French, in turn, is showing his love for them by pointing out their hygienic flaws.
All’s well that ends well.
This episode reveals the difficult social position French occupies as an adult with no real home of his own. I like the Ann Sothern character, who could have been played as a villainess trying to steal French away. She’s actually a nice lady who has his best interests at heart. You can’t even hate Smyser too much. French did choose him for his hard-line stance on child-rearing.
If this were real life, I’d worry about the dependence French has on his employer’s family and how it impedes his personal and professional growth. In 1960s TV, though, you’ll find many people willing to live asexual lives of perpetual servitude to make middle-class families happy.
Florence Cahill: Ann Sothern. Mr. Smyser: Laurie Main. Mr. Tyburn: Leslie Randall. Miss Martin: Kaye Elhardt. Clerk: Ralph Manza.
Sothern appeared in B movies throughout the 1930s and starred for ten years in the Maisie series of films. Some of her more important films include Cry Havoc, Words and Music, and A Letter to Three Wives (she also had a part in a TV remake of the latter). For eight years she starred in two TV series, Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show, and received four Emmy nominations. She was also the voice of the title character in the series My Mother, The Car. With her last film role, in 1987’s The Whales of August, Sothern captured an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Leslie Randall, whose brief scene was a comic highlight of this episode, starred with his wife in a popular British sitcom called Joan and Leslie. He would return once more as Mr. Tyburn on Family Affair. And he’s still alive–something I’m always happy to report about any Family Affair guest star.
I always admire the tenacity of a bit player like Ralph Manza. From Perry Mason in the 1950s, through 1960s westerns, through Barney Miller and CHiPs in the 1970s, Newhart and The Golden Girls in the 1980s, and Seinfeld and Home Improvement in the 1990s, he kept right on working.He died in 2000.
Our Mr. French was located on E. 54th Street. Jody has trouble tying his shoelaces. Buffy’s non-stop skipping record is 139.
Jody’s turtle gets yet another mention.
What are “sloppy Samuels”–the food that Buffy wants French to prepare for his homecoming celebration? Are they anything like sloppy Joes? And why would French deign to make anything that’s “sloppy?”