Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 3, Episode 2, “By a Whisker,” 9/30/1968

This week at Chez Davis, Uncle Bill is yakking on the phone to someone named Charlie.

When the twins rush in, Jody is eager to show Bill his new regulation-sized basketball.

Soon the twins rush in, and Jody is eager to show Bill his new regulation-sized basketball.

Jody says smaller basketballs are baby stuff. Episode Theme Foreshadowing Alert!

This is pretty big talk from a boy who admits he doesn't know how to dribble.

This is pretty big talk from a boy who admits he doesn’t know how to dribble.

Meanwhile, Bill is craving cheese souffle, but French is all out of Gruyere–I hate when that happens.

French is about to leave for the Italian market when Jody asserts that he’s old enough to run the errand himself.

French disagrees, and Jody wanders off with one of his a-car-just-hit-my-dog faces.

French disagrees, and Jody wanders off with one of his a-car-just-hit-my-dog faces.

Now, Bill knows that it’s important to keep up a united front before the children.

After Jody leaves, though, he pulls French aside and suggests giving Jody more responsibility. (I bet he wouldn't suggest the same thing about Buffy.)

After Jody leaves, though, he pulls French aside and suggests giving Jody more responsibility. (I bet he wouldn’t suggest the same thing about Buffy.)

Bill gives a delighted Jody permission to run to the corner market.

He even agrees to let him stay out and play afterwards. I guess French isn't in any hurry to get that cheese.

He even agrees to let him stay out and play afterwards. I guess French isn’t in any hurry to get that cheese.

Of course, this whole dilemma is strange, since just last week we saw that Jody already has wandering-around privileges.

Amalfi's is the saddest little grocery story ever, but you can't beat their prices on candy and gum--three for a dime!

Amalfi’s is the saddest little grocery store ever, but you can’t beat their prices on candy bars and gum–three for a dime!

After completing his errand, Jody runs into an older boy he knows.

It's Eddie Munster!

You know him, too–it’s Eddie Munster!

This kid has a club called the Daredevils, and Jody is feeling so big for his britches that he requests membership.

Skinny has no interest in a seven-year-old member, but he is interested in Jody's new basketball.

Frankie has no interest in a seven-year-old member, but he is interested in Jody’s new basketball.

He takes Jody to meet the other club members and get their input.

They quickly see the wisdom of waiving age requirements for someone with a new basketball.

They quickly see the wisdom of waiving age requirements for someone with a new basketball.

They demand a proper initiation prank for Jody, though.

Uh-oh. Buddy Hinton's in this club. Things aren't going to end well.

Uh-oh. Buddy Hinton’s in this club. Things aren’t going to end well.

They decide that Jody should cut off a few of Mr. French’s whiskers and bring them back to the club for inspection. Yikes!

He also has to make an ungrammatical pledge to “not tell nobody” about the club’s secrets, under penalty of his teeth falling out and his toes dropping off.

At home, Jody starts scoping out French's face in a really subtle way.

At home, Jody starts scoping out French’s face in a really subtle way.

At one point, he even calls French “Mr. Whiskers” by mistake.

That goes over about as well as you might suspect

That goes over about as well as you might expect.

Meanwhile, Bill is leaving on another trip, and Buffy and Cissy are heading to the planetarium. They invite Jody, but he wants to stay home and carry out his plan. Buffy thinks he’s scared of the planetarium’s darkness–he takes umbrage, of course, at this slight to his new-found maturity.

Cissy sums up the situation quite well: "They should never have sent him for that cheese."

Cissy sums up the situation quite well: “They should never have sent him for that cheese.”

Cissy and Buffy barely make it out of the lobby before running into Sharon.

Sharon has tickets for a folk rock festival. Buffy says she doesn't want to go to the planetarium anyway, so Cissy gives her the apartment key and heads off with Sharon.

Sharon has tickets for a folk rock festival. Buffy says she doesn’t want to go to the planetarium anyway, so Cissy gives her the apartment key and heads off with Sharon.

Couldn’t Buffy just knock on the door? Yes, but then she wouldn’t be able to walk in on a dozing French, as Jody prepares to do some snipping.

She has good reason to look shocked.

She has good reason to look shocked.

Jody realizes she’s there before he carries through with the crime.

They run off to discuss the situation. Although Jody keeps his club's secrets, he reveals enough for Buffy to figure out what's happening.

They run off to discuss the situation. Although Jody trues to keep his club’s secrets, he reveals enough for Buffy to figure out what’s happening.

Good sister that she is, she offers to help.

That night, the kids rush French through his bedtime story. It's almost as if they're eager for everyone to go to sleep!

That night, the kids rush French through his bedtime story. It’s almost as if they’re eager for everyone to go to sleep!

By the way, Cissy is spending the night with Sharon–that’s another contrivance that’s required for this plot to work.

Buffy sets an alarm for midnight.

Buffy sets an alarm for midnight.

When it goes off, she wakes Jody, and they head for French’s room.

We get some amusing scenes of them crawling around the floor.

We get some amusing scenes of them crawling around the floor.

They’re almost busted, though, when French’s phone rings.

It's a wrong number, and French is cranky. Even if someone named Gussie lived there, she wouldn't be taking calls in the middle of the night, he barks.

It’s a wrong number, and French is cranky. Even if someone named Gussie lived there, she wouldn’t be taking calls in the middle of the night, he barks.

(During my teenage years, I had a phone just like French’s in my room.)

The next day, a sheepish Jody tells the Daredevils that he's giving up.

The next day, a sheepish Jody tells the Daredevils that he’s giving up.

He still wants to join, but Buddy Hinton’s all, “We don’t allow babies in this club.”

With renewed determination, Jody goes home to do the deed. This time, he tells Buffy that he’ll handle it alone.

He manages to take several snips before French awakens.

He manages to take several snips before French awakens.

Then, unfortunately, he freezes like a deer in the headlights, allowing French to grab the envelope and figure out what’s happened.

He's really mad. He says "invasion of privacy" more than once, and the British pronunciation of privacy makes it sound even worse.

He’s really mad. He says “invasion of privacy” more than once, and the British pronunciation of privacy makes it sound even worse.

When Bill hears about it, he feels that Jody must have had some reason for his actions, beyond just a wild hair (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Bound to secrecy about the club, Jody won't confide anything.

Bound to secrecy about the club, Jody won’t confide anything.

Random Set Design Observation: I like Jody’s room a lot better than the girls’. That desk/table is a nice, functional piece.

Bill finds out what happened when the daredevils come to the door and express remorse for the way they treated Jody.

Bill finds out what happened when the daredevils come to the door and express remorse for the way they treated Jody.

Hmm. The bullies in my neighborhood weren’t real big on remorse and confession.

Now, Bill and French change their tunes–they’re glad that Jody is honoring the “gentleman’s code” by keeping his friends’ secrets.

Though Jody still faces punishment, Bill quickly sends him on another errand.

Though Jody still faces punishment, Bill quickly entrusts him with another errand.

So, now a second-grader is wandering the streets, and he’s learned that he shouldn’t confide in his parents if someone swears him to secrecy about something.

Great day's parenting there, guys.

Great day’s parenting there, guys.

Commentary

The beard-snipping scene generates about as much suspense as Family Affair can muster, and French outrage is always entertaining.

Random Set Design Observation #2: The girls have some dreary-looking books. And what is that yellow thing?!

Random Set Design Observation #2: The girls have some dreary-looking books. And what is that yellow thing?!

Guest Cast

Sharon James: Sherry Alberoni. Sparky: Lindy Davis. Merv: Gerald Edwards. Jose: Ric Natoli. Frankie: Butch Patrick. Skinny: Russell Schulman. Mr. Amalfi: A.G. Vitanza.

For Patrick, this episode fell between his stints on The Munsters and Lidsville. Shortly after it aired, he began a recurring role as Ernie’s friend Gordon on My Three Sons. Schulman also made one appearance as Gordon.

Gerald Edwards voiced the character Weird Harold on Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids.

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Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 3, Episode 1, “The Latch-Key Kid,” 9/23/1968

Teleplay by: Peggy Chantler Dick. Story by: Douglas and Peggy Dick. Directed by: Charles Barton.

When we look in on the third season of Family Affair, French is bringing everyone “to-mah-to” juice, and Cissy is looking like the cat who at the canary.

On second though, she's looking more like the canary.

On second thought, she’s looking more like the canary.

She’s just gotten her hair styled at the beauty parlor. Seeing Cissy’s results inexplicably inspires Buffy’s desire to go to the beauty parlor, too. When Bill says she’s too young, she asks why Jody gets to visit the barber by himself.

Bill tells her she won't like the answer. I'm pretty sure I won't like it  either.

Bill tells her she won’t like the answer. I’m pretty sure I won’t like it either.

Yep, it’s because she’s a girl. Bill admits it’s not fair, but he sticks to his decision.(Someone must cut Buffy’s hair, though. I guess that’s another job French gets stuck with.)

The next day at school, Buffy is still pining for greater independence when she meets Lana. a new girl in class. We quickly find out that Lana comes from a different social sphere than the Davis kids.

We quickly find out that Lana comes from a different social sphere than the Davis kids.

She has a single mother who used to be a maid and now works as a manicurist. She also wears a key around her neck, to let herself in her apartment after school.

(As an aside, Buffy’s sandwich is meat on whole wheat. Ew. At least it’s better than meat on white, I guess.)

The key fascinates Buffy, who sees it as a shiny symbol of freedom. She even gets Lana's permission to wear it for the rest of the day.

The key fascinates Buffy, who sees it as a shiny symbol of freedom. She even gets Lana’s permission to wear it for the rest of the day.

That night, Buffy asks Bill if she can have a key to the Davis apartment. When he says she’s too young, she complains about being treated like a baby at age 7. (Wow these kids are aging slowly.)

She again asks why Jody gets more freedom; apparently, he gets to stay at the playground by himself after school while Buffy goes home with French.  Bill says little girls need more protection.

Sure, Uncle Bill. Bad things never happen to little boys who are walking around the city alone.

Sure, Uncle Bill. Bad things never happen to little boys who wander around the city alone.

Buffy also wants to change her name. Lana has started calling her Ava, an alternate name Lana’s movie-fan mother considered for Lana. (Note to the IMDb: Ava is NOT Buffy’s real name.)

The next day, Buffy and Lana are walking out of school together when French arrives to pick Buffy up.

The next day, Buffy and Lana are walking out of school together when French arrives to pick Buffy up.

In an amusing exchange, Lana wonders why French dresses so funny, and Buffy explains that he’s English.

Lana's slum is on the way the home, so French invites her to walk with them.

Lana’s slum is on the way the home, so French invites her to walk with them.

Lana’s empty apartment horrifies French.

At least it's clean--and the Family Affair green paint is reassuring.

At least it’s clean–and the Family Affair green paint is reassuring.

Buffy congratulates Lana for having “her own TV,” which is weird since it’s in the living room. Maybe she’s just trying to be polite. Lana wants Buffy to come over after school the next day, and French says he’ll ask Mr. Davis.

At home, of course, French is all hell-to-the-no.

At home, of course, French is all hell-to-the-no.

She has little supervision and is “hardly a suitable companion for a young gentlewoman,” he says, going so far as to call Lana “a street urchin.” Now, I don’t like French’s snobbery, but I wouldn’t let my 7-year-old go over to her house without at least getting to know her mother and making sure a responsible adult would be present at all times.

Bill, though, says sure. I guess little girls don't need that much protection.

Bill, though, says sure. I guess little girls don’t need that much protection.

French and Jody drop the girls off in Lana's mom-less apartment the next afternoon.

French and Jody drop the girls off in Lana’s mom-less apartment the next afternoon.

Lana’s mother does make a brief appearance, stopping at home after work to dress for a date.

Note that she's clutching a movie magazine. Okay, okay, we get it--she's working class!

Note that she’s clutching a movie magazine. Okay, okay, we get it–she’s working class!

The girls have to shop for and prepare their own dinner.

They choose frozen pizza and soda, which seems pretty realistic.

They choose frozen pizza and soda, which seems pretty realistic.

They play dress up in Lana’s mom’s shoes, and Lana does “Ava’s” hair.

The resulting hair-do is definitely the visual highlight of this episode.

The resulting hair-do is the visual highlight of this episode. Buffy looks like she wandered away from the Grand Ol3 Opry.

When Bill comes to retrieve Buffy, he finally groks to the fact that Lana is home alone. When she asks if she can have a sleepover with Buffy the next night, he agrees.

The Davis apartment amazes Lana, of course.

The Davis apartment amazes Lana, of course.

She’s also taken aback by the many rule French lays down: Homework before fun, playing instead of watching the afternoon movie, no running in the house.

At bed time, she allows Bill to tuck her in, pretending that it's another house rule, when it's clear that she just wants the adult attention.

At bed time, she allows Bill to tuck her in, pretending that it’s another house rule, when it’s clear that she just wants the adult attention.

When Buffy takes Lana home the next day, Lana breaks down.

Laying it right out there, Buffy asks if she is crying because she lives where she does instead where Buffy lives.

Laying it right out there, Buffy asks if she is crying because she lives where she does instead where Buffy lives.

Lana says it’s not that–it’s because Buffy has so many people to “boss her around.” Lana’s all-too-aware that freedom can spring from a lack of caring. Buffy tells her that when she feels like being bossed around, she should call on the Davises.

Soon, Lana is doing just that. For example, she phones French to see if she can watch a horror movie on TV. His reply: "Certainly not!"

Soon, Lana is doing just that. For example, she phones French to see if she can watch a horror movie on TV. His reply: “Certainly not!”

And Buffy’s learned to accept her family’s rules without chafing, so I guess all’s well that ends well. Somehow,  I still feel sad, though.

Commentary

I thought the “latch-key” phenomenon dated from the 1970s, but the term originated during World War II. I personally loved having a key and letting myself in at home, but it didn’t happen until I was about 10, and I wasn’t left alone for hours. I’m of two minds about whether the Davis family should have done more to improve Lana’s sad situation. On the one hand, a scene with Bill talking to Lana’s mother about the problem might have been hard to take. Bill keeps himself busy with work and dating, so the only real difference between him and Lana’s mom is the ability to pay for high quality child care. On the other hand, Lana seems to be suffering from some pretty serious neglect. I’ll be interested in hearing what other Family Affair fans think.

Inconsistency Alert

The gender-based treatment of Buffy and Jody is a new thing. In the past, the twins’ level of freedom has varied dramatically from episode to episode, but it has always applied equally to both kids.

Guest Cast

Lana’s Mother: Eve Brent. Lana: Susan Benjamin Neher.

Susan Benjamin Neher

Susan Benjamin Neher

Neher appeared previously on Family Affair under the name Susan Benjamin. From 1969 to 1971, she had a regular role in another Don Fedderson single-dad series, To Rome with Love. A commenter directed me to this segment of the pilot that’s available on Youtube–check it out!