Written by: John McGreevey. Directed by: Charles Barton.
Uncle Bill is entertaining some friends, the Changs, when Buffy and Jody enter the living room to say good night.
His own children, Tommy and Susie, want no part of old Chinese customs, Mr. Chang sighs. They are afraid to do anything that would classify them as “foreigners.”
Mrs. Chang offers to tuck Buffy and Jody into bed.
(Davis guests sure enjoy putting the twins to bed. It’s never occurred to me to tuck in someone else’s kids.)
Mrs. Chang tells Buffy and Jody a lovely story about the Land of…Fusang? (That’s the best I can come up with based on the pronunciation and my Googling. Someone please correct me on this or any other Chinese reference that I get wrong.) In this land, every day is a holiday, falls don’t result in skinned knees, all girls are pretty, and all boys are strong. When it rains, it rains lemonade, and it snows strawberry, chocolate, and peppermint stick ice cream.
As the Changs prepare to leave, Mr. Chang invites the Davis family to spend Chinese New Year at their home.
Mr. Chang thinks hosting company will do his father some good.
When the Davises arrive at the Chang’s house, they learn that Tommy and Susie are attending a basketball game and won’t be joining in the celebration.
As we’ll find out later, she’s more like the Chang version of Aunt Fran.
While Liang takes the twins to meet Grandfather Chang, Mr. Chang explains that his father is physically fine. Emotionally, however, he feels he has nothing left to live for. He’s stopped eating and is just marking time, “waiting for it all to be over.”
Meanwhile, Grandfather is in the other room, showing Buffy and Jody his bird.
He tells them that birds are good company for someone as “old and useless” as himself. The kids find Grandfather anything but useless, however.
Grandfather and the twins hit it off so well that, the next day, Mr. Chang arrives at the Davis apartment bearing a gift.
Mr. Chang says his father has had a new sparkle in his eye since he met the twins, and he requests that they visit again.
Since Grandfather said birds are excellent company for lonely people, the twins thought Mr. French should have their feathered friend!
When the twins visit Grandfather again, Buffy brings Mrs. Beasley with her. Grandfather calls the doll “most beautiful lady” and Buffy makes her bow–cute!
He tells them a story about his own childhood. His grandfather also kept birds, and together they would carry the cages out into the woods. The would hang the cages in the trees, and his grandfather’s friends would join them and do the same with their bird cages. “The trees were filled with singing birds,” Grandfather remembers.
The twins tell him that they have no grandparents.
“Will you be our grandfather?” they ask.
At home, the kids’ enthusiasm for Chinese culture affects everyone.
The kids are wearing adorable Chinese clothing, and French is using a gong to call everyone to dinner. Both the clothing and the gong are gifts from Grandfather Chang.
Wow, Cissy is culturally insensitive. She’s also more right than she knows–see the Guest Cast section.
Buffy has a secret weapon, though–her tongue.
(I like this scene–my daughter used to stick her tongue out whenever she was concentrating on something.)
Everyone is just as happy as happy can be. Well, almost everybody.
While Grandfather naps in the next room, Liang complains that he is just living for his visits from the twins. She doesn’t believe the twins are sincere in their affection for him. Grandfather awakes to overhear her saying, “No good can come from having strangers invent reasons for him to stay alive.”
Grandfather confronts Liang, who tells him that the twins’ attention to him has been a “cruel trick.” Believing her, he slips back into his funk.
“We’re not playing a game–we missed you,” the kids tell Grandfather. They talk about how they want to bring their friends over to meet him.
(By the way, Grandfather has a nice ripple afghan. We crocheters notice these things.)
(And Liang, I hope, will channel her hostility in a more productive direction–like bitch-slapping Tommy and Susie for ignoring their grandfather.)
Soon, Grandfather and the kids are heading to Central Park for a good, old-fashioned bird hanging.
Everyone has a good laugh, unaware that French’s bird will disappear before the next episode. I’m guessing that French put the cage on the terrace and “accidentally” left the door open.
Once again, Family Affair explores one of the cultures in New York’s melting pot. Though the show over-relies on stereotypes at times, its heart is clearly in the right place. This episode is sweet, and it makes sense that orphaned children and a lonely old man could forge a strong bond.
Only one person fails to cover himself with glory during this episode.
Grandfather Chang: Keye Luke. Paul Chang: Benson Fong. Betty Chang: Lisa Lu. Liang: Beulah Quo.
Luke was a major Chinese-American actor. He first came to prominence playing “Number One Son” Lee Chan in the 1930s Charlie Chan films. and had small parts in dozens of movies right up until his death in 1991. (His last role was in Woody Allen’s Alice.) On Broadway, he appeared in Flower Drum Song. He voiced Charlie Chan in the 1970s cartoon The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He was Master Po in the TV series Kung Fu and made frequent guest appearances on M*A*S*H. He was also an accomplished artist; it was while working as a commercial artist that he first came to the attention of movie studios.
Benson Fong’s career parallel’s Luke’s in many ways. He played “Number Three Son” in several 1940s Charlie Chan films. (A fun review of one of these recently appeared at Silver Screenings.) He had a role in the movie version of Flower Drum Song and appeared in several episodes of Kung Fu. Family Affair creator Don Fedderson must have liked him because Fong had a recurring role as Ray Wong in Fedderson’s other show, My Three Sons. He would appear in two more episodes of Family Affair, and two of his children also played guest roles on the show–daughter Lisa in Episode 1.23 and son Brian in season five. Benson Fong was also a successful restauranteur. He died in 1987.
Lisa Lu had a recurring role in the TV series Have Gun, Will Travel. Most of her other roles have been small, but I’m happy to report that she’s still alive and working.
Beulah Quo worked steadily in television until her death in 2002. Like Fong, she had a recurring role on My Three Sons.
I recognized Lisa Lu from The Joy Luck Club. She was one of the mothers. But she’s a lot younger here.
Yes, that was probably one of her most visible roles.
I found this post to be surprisingly moving – the thought of that sad old man being so lonely and isolated…
Loved the talcum powder observations, and I want Mrs Chang’s gown! It’s stunning.
Also, thanks for the mention. 🙂
It is a sweet episode, and I think I would rank it among my favorites. Keye Luke gives a nice, understated performance as Grandfather.
Good old Swissy Mouse balloons. Disney did battle with them for years over copyright violation. Used to be sold at fairs and parades in the 1960s.
I’m so glad you explained those balloons! They really perplexed me.