Good news, Family Affair fans! Kathy Garver’s book Surviving Cissy is now in stock at Amazon and B&N.com. My copy has already arrived, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. After I do, I’ll be posting a review. To celebrate its release, I am also posting a special edition of Spin Again Sunday tomorrow. Family Affair fans won’t want to miss it!
Written by: Austin and Irma Kalish. Directed by: Charles Barton.
As we reach the end of Season 3, our scene opens at the park.
I wonder how Buffy got Jody and that other boy to hold her jump rope for her.
As the kids play, the nanny and butler crew is having a chat–or a chinwag, as they might say.
Their topic is a recent appearance by “her majesty” on “the telly.”
We know, we know–you’re British!
Always nostalgic, they quickly transition from talking about Queen Elizabeth II to remembering her grandmother, Mary of Teck.
Queen Mary was “a symbol of strength and continuity,” Miss Faversham sighs. (I’m more used to hearing the intervening queen, the late Queen Mother, described that way, but it makes sense that Miss F would have a soft spot for her childhood queen.)
Meanwhile, some onlookers have noticed our quintessentially British servants.
They are especially taken with Mr. French.
He’s perfect, they say–“right down to the last whisker.”
When they approach French, he assumes they are salesmen and dismisses them in his inimitable way.
“I would suggest that you be off, post-haste.”
His high-handedness only endears him to these strangers further. You see, they are movie producers, and they think French would be perfect to play Henry VIII in their upcoming film.
Mr. Hardcastle and Mrs. Marley make some dismissive comments about the producers being “in trade” and movie acting being undignified. Miss Faversham admits that French bears a resemblance to the much-married monarch, however. French utters a few “stuff and nonsense”-type demurrals, but he begins to come around when producer Fred Wallace notes the Queen has knighted many movie actors.
His other friends, also coming around, suggest that French might perform a service to Britain by giving an accurate portrayal of King Henry.
“One must sacrifice oneself in the name of one’s country,” Mrs. Marley argues. “Even one’s dignity.”
When Buffy and Jody arrive on the scene, French realizes he still has an out–his child care responsibilities will preclude any movie work.
“You’re going to pass up the chance of a lifetime to play nurse to two kids?,” Wallace’s mystified associate asks.
Of course, the kids are all for French doing the movie. They enjoy the idea of living with someone who’s “like Lassie and all the other movie stars.” (Lassie seems like an unlikely reference here, since kids their age would associate the dog with TV rather than movies.)
Mostly, they want to be able to trade French’s autograph to their friends for really important things…such as bubble gum.
Their opinion doesn’t sway French, of course, but when Hardcastle asks what Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Francis Drake would have done, French weakens.
Back at home, Cissy becomes another enthusiastic cheerleader for French’s taking the role.
“It’s absolutely ideal casting,” she gushes. She even wishes that she could co-star in the film as one of Henry’s wives.
French admits he would find it appealing to counter farcical depictions of Henry VIII–“the throwing of chicken bones” and all that.
Making one last attempt to resist the cinema’s call, French announces that his place is with the Davis family.
Uncle Bill replies that they can spare him for awhile.
It would be a patriotic gesture, Cissy adds, reminding him that “England expects every man to…you know.”
French finally gives in–he’ll play the part and donate his salary to a British charity.
He doesn’t even pick up on any danger signals when he visits the producers’ offices, but we do.
These guys seem unfamiliar with Shakespeare, and their “wardrobe department” turns out to be a rack in the basement.
(It may be the Family Affair green walls that make French feel at home and blind him to impending trouble.)
At home, Buffy and Jody are stepping up to handle household tasks that French doesn’t have time for.
You wouldn’t expect Bill to hang up his own jacket or put away his own briefcase, would you?
And what exactly is French doing?
Getting into character.
“Is he our Mr. French?” a wide-eyed Buffy wonders.
“Used to be,” Jody replies.
Cissy thinks French looks “beautiful” and Buffy admires his “miniskirt and pantyhose.”
Jody adds that he now understands why men grew beards back in the day–so you could tell them from the ladies.
It’s a measure of how much French is enjoying himself that all this emasculation doesn’t faze him.
Later, Bill asks some gentle questions about what kind of production French is working on, since it doesn’t seem to involve a script, rehearsals, or much of a crew.
French says the picture is intended for art houses and tosses around words like “new wave” and “trans-realism.”
He admits he doesn’t know what that last term means, though.
Bill remains skeptical.
So skeptical that he’s soon calling a friend with entertainment industry connections.
Herb is familiar with Fred Wallace’s operation–Wallace is a “shoestring operator” who makes a feature for about $1,500 or $2,000 and tries to turn a small profit.
Wallace probably cast French so he could “save beard money,” Herb adds.
Bill is worried about the final product embarrassing French. He asks Herb if there is any way to screen the film before it’s released, and Herb promises to ask around.
Meanwhile, French is basking in his friends’ admiration.
“Once a gentleman’s gentleman, always a gentleman’s gentleman,” Hardcastle says, and the others agree that success hasn’t changed him a bit.
The women note with excitement that they have organized a premiere that will benefit the British Colonial Society. They even plan to send the Queen a print of the film!
Uncle Bill soon gets a look at this production. (Herb made the arrangements through some wheeling and dealing with Wallace.)
Right from the title card, it doesn’t look promising.
And it goes downhill from there.
For instance, a dance between Henry and Anne Boleyn is sped up and scored with silly music and sound effects. When Henry sings “Greensleeves” to Anne, that’s also accelerated, Chipmunks-style.
And a scene in which the King and Queen watch a performance at court…
…becomes ridiculous when a belly-dancer is edited in as the performer.
How does Bill react to all this?
Even Herb’s experiencing a little second-hand embarrassment.
His theory is that Wallace shot a legitimate version of the Henry VIII story, didn’t like how it turned out, and then “hoked up the film.”
(The biggest hits of 1969 inlcuded Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, and True Grit. Somehow, I can’t imagine that a “hoked up” Tudor film would do well at the box office.)
Wallace disagrees, however, and resists Bill’s offer to buy the film from him.
“I smell big money,” he says. “Your Mr. French is funny.”
He’s not sympathetic to Bill’s argument that the movie will humiliate French. And he’s incredulous that Bill is “all worked up over a butler,” though Bill says French is his friend, too. Aww…
Bill threatens to sue Wallace for fraud since French didn’t agree to star in a comedy, but Wallace points out that French’s contract didn’t include script approval.
Wallace is right, it seems to me, but Bill is also right when he says the legal process could strand the film in limbo for a while.
“Sell it to me or don’t sell, and go into court,” he says finally, making Wallace an offer he can’t refuse–$2,000.
On the night of the premiere, everyone is excited.
“Goodbye, Mr. French; hello, star of the cinema,” Hardcastle crows.
Cissy can’t wait to tell all her friends that she knows a movie star.
She seems to be forgetting that she’s already met a few, like Uncle Bill’s friend who almost escorted her to a dance, and the female star Bill almost married, and…
Soon, French comes on stage and makes a stunning announcement.
The film’s only existing print has been destroyed in a laboratory fire!
He notes an odd coincidence: It is June 29, the anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Globe Theater in 1613. And the fire started during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII.”
Since the movie is unavailable, French announces that he will give readings “from that inflammable play.” He starts with Henry’s speech after the birth of Elizabeth.
Buffy and Jody don’t understand the speech, but they enjoy hearing French intone it. And, since their separation anxiety is never far from the surface, they are relieved that French won’t become a big movie star and leave the Davis home.
Cissy likes French’s reading but still wishes she could have seen the movie.
Yes, Bill agrees…wouldn’t that have been something?
As a child, I would have found this episode dull–too much of French’s friends and not enough of the kids. It’s still not really a favorite, but it has its charms: Seeing Bill’s affection for French, seeing French in his costume, and seeing Joe Flynn on Family Affair.
Bill put a high value on protecting French’s feelings–according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $2,000 in 1969 is equivalent to about $13,000 in today’s money.
Bill’s expressions during the movie screening are another highlight.
Fun fact: French believes he resembles the Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII.
What do you think?
Miss Faversham: Heather Angel. Mr. Hardcastle: Noel Drayton. Fred Wallace: Joe Flynn. Herb Donaldson: Del Moore. Mrs. Marley: Margaret Muse. Tony Brooks: Dick Patterson. Actress: Anne Travis.
Joe Flynn is fondly remembered for his role as Captain Wallace ‘Leadbottom’ Binghamton on McHale’s Navy. Like Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot, he also had a strong association with Disney: He appeared in live-action films such as The Love Bug and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and was a voice actor in The Rescuers. The latter film was released three years after his death in 1974; Flynn was only 49 when he drowned in his swimming pool after suffering a heart attack.
Margaret Muse was the third wife of silent film actor Charles Meredith. Her TV appearances included two episodes of Burke’s Law, and she had a family connection with that show’s star, Gene Barry—her son married Barry’s sister.
Dick Patterson’s 1999 obituary describes him as a “song and dance man.” He made several appearances on Broadway in musicals such as Fade Out – Fade In and Smile. As a TV guest actor, he showed up in several episodes each of Love, American Style and Here’s Lucy and two episodes of The Brian Keith Show. On film, he appeared in Grease and Grease II, the campy Village People vehicle Can’t Stop the Music (directed by Season 5 Family Affair cast member Nancy Walker), and Disney’s Strongest Man in the World (1975), in which Joe Flynn starred. (The cast also included three-time Family Affair guest star Benson Fong and Michael McGreevey, son of frequent Family Affair writer John McGreevey.)
Anne Travis’ acting career seems to have been about as successful as Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII. As best I can tell, she was in this episode and maybe an episode of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.