Written by: Elroy Schwartz. Directed by: Charles Barton.
It’s Saturday morning, and Uncle Bill is getting ready for a golf game. Buffy and Jody are disappointed that he can’t spend time with them. He’s not about to give up his “Bill time,” though.
“It’s not often that I can get away on a Saturday,” he says.
As it happens, Bill’s plans are about to fall apart, anyway. A phone call brings bad news.
The whole family rushes into the den and gathers around the rabbit-eared set.
(I wonder how long it took Elroy Schwartz to come up with just the right African-sounding strings of syllables for those names?)
The almost-finished bridge, the announcer tells nation, is a project of the William Davis Construction Company.
Soon, Cissy is answering calls from the wire services, and Bill is rushing to his office.
At the office, Bill learns that only one person was injured–Clark McAlister, who has been supervising the construction project. It’s feared that McAlister’s back may be broken.
Bill also learns about rumors going around that blame the collapse on the use of shoddy materials. Bill, who trusts McAlister’s integrity, decides to fly to D.C. and speak to Matongo’s ambassador in person.
Glasses Guy will continue to advocate evading personal responsibility throughout the episode, so we can be pretty sure he’s a lawyer.
Bill emphasizes the he doesn’t believe his employees cut corners, but he promises to cover the disaster’s full cost if the company is found liable.
(The ambassador’s office introduces a recurring color scheme in this episode–red and blue. It also conveys some subtle hints in case you forget where Matongo is located. Elephant, gazelle, zebra-skin rug…Africa!)
If that happens, Bill pledges, he will cover the losses out of his personal assets. He sticks to this position even when Glasses Guy tells him it will cost him everything he has.
(Discussion question: How rich do we think Uncle Bill is? We know he’s “lives-in-a-nice-Manhattan-apartment-with-a fulltime-manservant” rich. But I’m surprised that he’s “able to-cover-the-cost-of-a-bridge-collapse-out-of-his-personal-assets” rich.)
French reprimands Jody for closing the door with his foot. C’mon, French–the kid’s hands are full!
Bill lets them know that they may soon lose everything they have, including their apartment.
(Dumping this on them before the investigation is even completed? Smooth move, Uncle Bill. I mean, it’s not like these kids have any ongoing issues with trauma and loss, right?)
All three kids insist that they won’t mind moving, as long as the family stays together.
Jody adds that he doesn’t need a whole room for himself. If they get a smaller apartment, he can sleep with Mr. French. This earns one of French’s patented horrified looks, which provides the best laugh in this mostly-serious episode.
(Judging by upcoming scenes, he really should have used words instead.)
McAlister says the bridge showed no signs of stress before it suddenly collapsed. The local workers are not to blame for the incident, he adds. They are they best crew he’s ever had.
Bill tells him to concentrate on getting well and informs him that he is flying a specialist in from Johns Hopkins.
She tells Bill that no one blames him for her dad’s condition. Then she hints around that her dad would be relieved if he didn’t have to worry about her college costs.
(Poor Bill’s on a fast track to the fat-fat-the-water-rat side of town.)
Back at home, the kids are still worried, and French isn’t exactly reassuring.
And he doesn’t mean it in the “Totally awesome!” sense.
The kids just want to know that they won’t be shipped back to Aunt Fran, but French says that children need a suitable, stable environment.
“If a family is a family, it doesn’t get sent away all the time,” Buffy insists.
The next morning, Cissy announces to the twins that she is going to get a job to help the family stay together. Jody says he will run errands to make money and suggests to Buffy that she try babysitting. After all, she likes babies–or at least dolls.
Meanwhile, Buffy takes up dog-walking.
(Notice: Red and blue dress.)
The kids also sell their prized possessions.
That’s probably a fair price for the belt, but Jody’s going to regret his transaction someday. (Here’s a ball from the same era that went for over $700 at auction.)
Bill won’t hear of it. He’d rather lose everything than sacrifice his integrity. When Glasses Guy asks about the kids, Bill says they took him for better or worse.
(If only he had made his intentions to keep family together this clear when he was talking to the kids.)
The kids present him with their earnings to date, which amounts to about $6.
“When a family faces troubles together, they’re not so hard,” Buffy says.
The next day, he visits McAlister at the hospital again and hears some good news.
(Red and blue again. And some good, old Family Affair green.)
While he’s at the hospital, Bill takes a call from work. The ambassador wants Bill to see him right away.
It seems that enemies of Matongo’s government sabotaged the project. But now, Matongo’s people are more determined than ever to see that bridge is completed.
Bill says they can talk about re-building soon, but first he has to take care of some family problems–including buying back a baseball and a gum-wrapper belt.
And everyone is thrilled that another threat to their family unity has been averted.
“There was never any question,” French replies.
Awww. (And, again–red and blue!)
This episode is unusual, with its minimal jokes and its emphasis on business matters. I like it: Scenarios that threaten the family’s solidarity always make for compelling episodes, and Brian Keith’s non-verbal acting is excellent, especially in the final scene with the ambassador.
The show takes pains to present Bill as the most benevolent kind of capitalist imaginable–he treats his employees well, pays for their health care himself when they are injured on the job, and stakes his entire fortune on his company’s integrity.
We get references to Sharon and Aunt Fran. Jody’s signed baseball has been mentioned before, too.
Mr. McAlister: Horace McMahon. Barbara: Maura McGiveney. Ambassador: Davis Roberts. Hank: John Alvin. Mel: William Boyett. Nurse: Ila Britton.
This is Ila Britton’s last of four brief Family Affair appearances.
Character actor McMahon made a film and TV career out of playing what his IMDb bio describes as “assorted New York characters – thugs, cabbies, henchmen, bouncers.” This episode was his last on-screen appearance; he died less than three years after it aired.
British actress Maura McGiveney was the daughter of vaudeville “quick-change artist” Owen McGiveney. Shortly after this episode aired, she appeared in the cast of one of TV’s biggest bombs—ABC’s one-episode wonder Turn-On.
Davis Roberts worked regularly as a TV character actor right up until his death in 1993.
William Boyett seemed to specialize in playing policemen and judges throughout his prolific career as a character actor. He had regular roles on Adam-12 and the 1950s cop show Highway Patrol. He also made frequent appearances on both the 1950s and 1960s versions of Dragnet. This is his first of six appearances on Family Affair.
“(Poor Bill’s on a fast track to the fat-fat-the-water-rat side of town.)” – Thanks for the best laugh I’ve had in a week! And I really liked this episode as well – especially when the kids offer their earnings to Uncle Bill. Just a beautiful classic TV moment.
Glad you got a laugh of this week’s post! This is my favorite kind of Family Affair episode, with heart-warming moments like the one you mentioned and minimal corniness.
That screencap of Buffy walking the poodle is adorable. She looks so proud and determined to be doing such a Grown-Up Thing. She’s so cute!
She really was cute, and the not-infrequent appearance of dogs on the show always increases the cuteness quotient. Thanks for the comment!
Noble be man, helpful and good!!! Really, why this very idealistic picture of Bill Davis in a capitalist surrounding? Why put him on this pedestal? Though the fringe benefits for his staff seem quite realistic (including college costs for the daughter, though?), using every dime he has to cover the losses seems very weird. This time, I did not think ‘this is America’, but rather ‘this is not America’.
I like your definitions of rich and your description of the lawyer as ‘Glasses Guy’. Great post, as always!
I find it interesting to ponder what the producers were thinking in making Bill such a paragon of business virtue. It’s possible that distrust of institutions and “the establishment” was pervasive enough by 1969 that they had to emphasize that Bill was one of the good guys, even if he was a rich white businessman.
Glad you enjoyed the post!
This is one of my favorite episodes. It has the essence of “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. That is the story written in 1905 where the wife sells her long locks of hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch. The same day her husband sells his watch to buy his wife beautiful combs for her long hair. I love how Buffy, Jody and Cissy were willing to do so much to help Uncle Bill. The story shows much love.