Family Affair Friday: Season 1, Episode 4, A Matter of School, 10/3/66

This is part of my weekly series about the classic CBS sitcom Family Affair

Season 1, Episode 4, “The Matter of School,” 10/3/66

Written by: Henry Garson. Directed by: William D. Russell.

Synopsis

It’s time to enroll the kids in school. While it’s a simple matter to enroll Buffy and Jody in first grade, Uncle Bill is less certain about what’s best for Cissy. He rejects immediately French’s suggestion of Miss Haycroft’s School in London but reluctantly considers sending her to Bryerfield, a boarding school in Connecticut. Cissy really wants to go to Lexie High, a public school in the city, especially after grocery delivery boy Freddy sings the school’s praises.

Freddy wants to share more than Sugar Pops with Cissy.

But she misinterprets Uncle Bill’s mention of Bryerfield as a hint it would ease a burden on him if she lived at school. She chooses Bryerfield, and Uncle Bill promises her a big evening her first weekend home–dinner at 21, a musical, and a visit to a nightclub. Business makes him forget his promise, though, reinforcing Cissy’s idea that she should be “out of his hair.”

Cute dress. This is a good fashion episode for Cissy.

When she mentions this to Buffy and Jody, they decide to get out of Mr. French’s hair and attempt to take a cab to Connecticut. Talking to the kids, Bill uncovers Cissy’s misconception, and French reminds him about the plans he forgot with Cissy. Uncle Bill rushes to Connecticut to bring Cissy home, and later he finally escorts a lovely Cissy on that special date.

Cissy dressed for her evening out

Random Thoughts

The bonding between Cissy and Uncle Bill is touching, and the ending is sweet. Buffy and Jody provide comedic counterpoint to main story, especially in the scene in which exasperated Mr. French registers the twins for school. (First grade is taught in morning and afternoon sessions, and French asks if the kids can attend both!)

Buffy tries to show her principal exactly where she got vaccinated

This episode introduces a pervasive Family Affair idea that the children will be interacting with peers from many different backgrounds. Freddy tells Cissy and Uncle Bill that kids from penthouses and kids from basements attend Lexie High, and Buffy and Jody quickly make friends with a cabdriver’s son. The principal also notes that the twins will hear a variety of languages spoken in their class.

Uncle Bill’s clients from Afghanistan. The Davis world is a cosmopolitan one.

Guest Cast

Ted Gaynor: John Hubbard. Mrs. Brown: Sarah Selby. Mrs. Hedgemot: Gertrude Graner. Mr. Kabul: Aly Wassil. Freddy: Eugene Martin. Mr. Razini: Naji Gabbay. Mr. Chill: Reginald Lal Singh. Barbara: Liza Garson. Murray: Tony Campo. Sarah Selby had a recurring role for many years as Ma Smalley on Gunsmoke, and she was Aunt Polly in a 1974 TV version of Huckleberry Finn. She would appear in four more Family Affair episodes. Campo, who would return as a different character in season five, was the third Scotty Baldwin on General Hospital; Johnny Whitaker was the first. Gabbay and Wassil would both reappear in season two’s “The Beasley Story,” and Martin would appear once more as Freddy. Hubbard, who would reappear in several episodes as Uncle Bill’s partner, starred in many largely unmemorable films of the 1940s. I strongly suspect Liza Garson is a relative of producer and sometimes writer Henry Garson. Her character struck me as oddly superfluous in her scene even before I noticed the familiar last name.

Barbara’s job is to stand awkwardly behind the principal

Fun Facts

Buffy and Jody attended kindergarten in Terre Haute. In his reluctance to progress to first grade, Jody shows the first sign of being less academically minded than Buffy. The Davis’ apartment building is at 600 E. 62nd Street.

Continuity Notes

Cissy’s desire not to be a burden to Uncle Bill stems from her fear that she was “dumped” on him. We have Terre Haute references. Miss Faversham is mentioned.

Notable Quotes

“She’s like Cinderella, but tomorrow she’ll be our sister again.” Buffy, on Cissy

Today’s Bonus Feature

A Family Affair parody from Mad Magazine, April 1969

If you enjoyed this post, read all my Family Affair entries!

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Family Affair Friday: Season 1, Episode 3, A Gift Horse, 9/26/66

This is part of my weekly series about the classic CBS sitcom Family Affair

Season 1, Episode 3, A Gift Horse, 9/26/66.
Written by: John McGreevey. Directed by: William D. Russell.

Synopsis

Uncle Bill returns from East Africa with gifts for the kids, and Cissy gives him a hand-knit tie. With $1.07 between them, Buffy and Jody decide to find the perfect gift for Uncle Bill. Baffled by French’s suggestion of a gift certificate, they search in vain for something Bill needs. Soon they learn that their friend Mr. McGovern, who operates a hansom cab with a broken-down horse named Rosie, is giving up his cab and parting with Rosie. Of course, they decide a horse is the one thing Uncle Bill needs.

Rosie. She really does look broken down.

When French learns that McGovern sold the children the horse, he bawls the man out for taking advantage of children. Realizing what the gift means to the twins, however, Uncle Bill accepts it and makes arrangements to send “the Rose of Killarney” to live with friends near Danbury, Connecticut.

Mr. French sees the horse. I love Sebastian Cabot’s reactions!

Random Thoughts: Kids, horses–Uncle Bill’s apartment is becoming a real dumping ground. A cute episode. At first, I did think Mr. McGovern was unethical for allowing the kids to “buy” the horse, but he obviously wanted to make sure his friend had a good home.

One big happy family

Not a “Helicopter Butler,” Apparently: When French leaves to confront Mr. McGovern about the horse, no one is at home to supervise 6-year-old Buffy and Jody.

Gratuitous twin cuteness

Guest Cast: Emmet Parnell McGovern: Paul Hartman. Scotty: Karl Lukas. Hartman’s film career included Inherit the Wind and The Thrill of it All. He had a regular role as Bert Smedley, the barber, on Petticoat Junction, and as Emmet Clark in the 1967-68 season of The Andy Griffith Show and on its spin-off Mayberry R.F.D. Lukas would return as Scotty in quite a few Family Affair episodes.

A thaw in Anglo-Irish relations

Fun Facts: Scotty, the doorman, makes his first appearance.

Scotty. Gee, do you think that big sign will figure into the upcoming scene?

Notable Quotes: “It’s just what I wanted, if I knew there was stuff like this.” Jody, receiving an ant farm

Gratuitous Uncle Bill smile

“Mr. Davis is not running a home for superannuated horses.”—French

In the episode’s tag, the twins give Mr. French a gift–kittens!

Of course, he takes this turn of events in stride.

Another kitten shot because…well, I love kittens. And it’s my blog.

Today’s Bonus Feature

TV Guide, December 16, 1967, with a first-person Sebastian Cabot feature. Some things we learn:

* He thinks Michael Redgrave is a better actor than Laurence Olivier.

* Walt Disney doesn’t pay well.

* Brian Keith loves kids but doesn’t suffer foolish reporters gladly.

Family Affair Friday: Episode 2, Jody and Cissy, 9/19/66

This is part of my weekly series about the classic CBS sitcom Family Affair

Episode 2, Jody and Cissy, 9/19/66.
Written by: Edmund Hartmann and Henry Garson. Directed by: William D. Russell.

Synopsis

When Uncle Bill calls home from Peru, he is surprised to learn that Cissy has joined the household. Upon his return, he make plans to send her back to Indiana. Overhearing him, Cissy pretends she wants to go. When she says she thinks it’s foolish, at her age, to “believe in the magic of people loving and caring,” Uncle Bill feels guilty and decides she should stay.

Real subtle, Cissy.

Fashion Note: Cissy wears a cute suit in this scene.

This almost leads to another departure–that of French, who believes the three children require a housekeeper/nanny (“a middle-aged, well upholstered, kindly and experience” housekeeper/nanny). When Buffy slips her beloved Mrs. Beasley in French’s suitcase to keep him company, French is touched and returns to the Davis household.

Real subtle, Buffy.

Seriously, these girls have man-management skills that would make Enid Haupt proud. Well, I guess an orphan’s gotta do what an orphan’s gotta do.

Random Thoughts

Buffy and Jody are adorable again–I especially like Buffy’s description of slippers as “hairy shoes.”

So much awww…..

I also like that the kids’ emotional troubles haven’t instantly disappeared. Jody has a nightmare and cries out for his mother, while Buffy mentions crying at night while Uncle Bill was gone. I’m glad that Uncle Bill relents and lets Jody sleep with him after the nightmare.

This green paint shows up everywhere on Family Affair. It goes especially well with the orange couch in Uncle Bill’s office. Speaking of color, what’s up with his hair.

Continuity Nod: Buffy mentions that Mrs. Beasley now has glasses. Actually, the doll’s whole face has changed since the pilot–thank goodness.

Real-Life Shout Out: Mr. French reads Winnie the Pooh to Buffy and Jody. Sebastian Cabot narrated several animated Winnie the Pooh stories, starting the same year this episode was made, 1966.

The perfect person to read Winnie the Pooh.

Guest Cast:

Hardcastle: Noel Drayton.

Miss Lee: Betty Lynn.  She played Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. She would return three times as Uncle Bill’s secretary.

Radio Operator: James Victor.

Fun Facts: Uncle Bill has done some big game hunting. Jody doesn’t care for baths, at least those given by women. Uncle Bill smokes. Jody has a turtle. Cissy is 15. Uncle Bill’s secretary, Miss Lee, makes her first appearance.

Vintage Sitcom Cliche: The bouncy instrumental “teenage music” Cissy plays.

This Week’s Bonus Feature: A photo story about Johnny Whitaker and Anissa Jones on the Family Affair set, from TV Guide, June 24, 1967.

TV Guide, June 24, 1967

Other Entries in this Series

Family Affair Friday: Episode 1, Buffy (Pilot), 9/12/66

This is the first in a weekly series reviewing episodes of the classic CBS sitcom Family Affair

Episode 1, Buffy (Pilot), 9/12/66
Written by: Edmund Hartmann. Directed by: James Sheldon.

Synopsis

Successful construction engineer Bill Davis resides in what his gentleman’s gentleman French refers to as “the quiet, monastic atmosphere of the bachelor apartment.” (“Monastic” is a bit ironic–Bill’s calendar shows him dating four women in less than a week.) As we meet him, he is returning from work in India that was successful enough to land him on the cover of World magazine.

Slowest. News week. Ever.

Without warning, Fran Higer arrives from Terre Haute, Ind., with Bill’s young niece, Buffy. Buffy’s parents were killed in an “accident,” presumably a car accident, about a year before. Bill was in Turkey at the time, and Buffy and her siblings were separated and placed with various relatives in Terre Haute. Fran wants Buffy to live with Bill because the child–defiant and unemotional–can’t get along with Mr. Higer. Believing that his bachelor status and frequent travels make him unsuitable as a father figure, Bill resists.

Buffy arrives.

Meanwhile, French is appalled at having to perform such duties as serving milk and cookies and escorting Buffy to the bathroom. He calls her “a little clot,” and she responds by biting his leg.

French, bitten. Well, he sort of had it coming.

Bill gently reprimands Buffy and tries to make her see that living with him would not be ideal for her. “Why don’t you want me to live with you?” she asks flatly. During this conversation, Fran slips out and leaves Buffy behind. The next morning, Buffy overhears Bill telling French that he is sending her back to Terre Haute. Buffy spends the day with French in the park, where French faces teasing from a group of nannies who believe he has joined their ranks.

French: “I am no one’s nanny.”

At the suggestion of his partner, Ted Gaynor, Bill decides to send Buffy to school in Switzerland rather than back to Terre Haute. When he tells Buffy, she is characteristically unresponsive, but in her room she cries and writes a farewell note.

Awww.

Years of nanny experience help French’s friend Miss Faversham lead French to Buffy’s hiding place in the basement. When Uncle Bill realizes how upset she is, he tells her she can stay. “Grown-ups always tell you things like that at night to make you go to sleep. It’s all different in the morning,” she replies. Uncle Bill assures her that he’s telling the truth and tells her that he loves her. For the first time, Buffy smiles and stops her curt “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” answers.

Awww times 10.

Soon Uncle Bill must leave for Peru. Just as he’s leaving, Buffy’s twin Jody arrives with another relative, who thought the twins should be together. After Bill departs, the twins’ teenage sister Cissy shows up, leaving an exasperated French to remark, “Good heavens, I am a nanny.”

Awww to the infinite power.

Random Thoughts

This is a good pilot that sets up the show’s situation with equal parts comedy and pathos. Tiny Anissa Jones and Johnnie Whitaker are at their most adorable. Jones’ portrayal is mostly deadpan, but that’s appropriate for Buffy’s mental state.

Buffy’s apparently suffered some harsh treatment in her prior home, considering her remark about being stuck in a closet as punishment and her cynicism about adults’ sincerity. Fran’s behavior here–dumping Buffy at the apartment and sneaking out–is pretty disgusting. I guess a charitable interpretation is that she knew Buffy and Uncle Bill would be better off together, and that Bill would come around in time. Mr. Higer sounds like a real jerk–what kind of person can’t be patient with a recently orphaned child?

The oh-so-sensitive Aunt Fran. By the way, the books in Uncle Bill’s den seem to be of the Reader’s Digest condensed variety. I know he’s a busy man, but really.

The pilot version of Mrs. Beasley lacks glasses and has a creepier face than the one used throughout the series.

Mrs. Beasley 1.0

Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot are both wonderful in this episode. Keith exudes warmth in his emotional scene with Buffy, and Cabot conveys  wonderful disgust with the whole idea of child care.

Notable Quotes

French: “May I ask, madam, what is a Buffy?”

Buffy: “Mrs. Beasley is not a doll. Mrs. Beasley is my friend.”

French, shortly after Buffy arrives, regarding Uncle Bill’s date: “Miss  Larrabee fled, sir.”

French: “Back home, in civilization, we have infancy and manhood–nothing in between.”

An exchange between Buffy and Jody about Mr. French:

Jody: Who’s he?

Buffy: He’s the maid.

Jody: Does he like kids?

Buffy: I don’t think so.

Jody: Could he run fast?

Buffy: No.

Jody: (After a thoughtful pause) Okay, I’ll stay.

Guest Cast

Ted Gaynor: Philip Ober. Among Ober’s many guest appearances were two on I Love Lucy–not surprising since he was once married to Vivian Vance. He appeared twice on Sebastian Cabot’s early 1960s series Checkmate (which is available on DVD–wow). He also appeared in many movies, including North by Northwest and From Here to Eternity.

Fran Higer: Louise Latham, who would return twice as Aunt Fran. Latham’s career spanned from Perry Mason and Gunsmoke in the ’50s to CHiPs and The Waltons in the ’70s, Designing Women and Hunter in the ’80s; E.R. in the ’90s; and The X-Files in 2000. Her first movie role was as the title character’s mother in Hitchcock’s Marnie.

Miss Faversham: Heather Angel. She appeared in many movies, including That Hamilton Woman and Suspicion. She also did voices in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Her Family Affair role would be a recurring one.

Miss Larrabee: Lisa Seagram.

Miss Hodges: Sandra Wirth.

Bess Melville: Barbara Perry.

Miss Ponsonby: Nora Marlowe.

Mrs. Grayson: Shirley O’Hara.

Critical Reaction

Critics didn’t exactly embrace Family Affair. Though I like the show, I find this snarky Cleveland Amory review from the December 24, 1966 TV Guide pretty amusing.

Final Fun Facts

Uncle Bill is not fond of ballet. Bill’s business partner is Ted Gaynor.

Where to Watch

The whole pilot episode is available on Youtube. Here is part one:

Dreaming of Family Affair

Something I’d seen on TV as a child haunted my memory for years.

It involved a perky teenage girl beginning her service as a hospital volunteer. In her starched candy-striper uniform, she was the picture of efficiency. During her first day on the job, however, she made a terrible mistake. An old woman patient begged the girl for a glass of water, and the girl gave it to her. She didn’t know that the woman was on her way into surgery and barred from drinking food and water. The old woman’s doctor became furious with the girl because her mistake could have cost the old woman her life.

Many years later, I saw this show again. My husband, who watched with me, had never seen it before but had heard my description. Well, the show wasn’t quite the way I remembered it. The old woman’s begging and the doctor’s reaction weren’t nearly as dramatic on film as they were in my memory. My husband still teases me about this incident when I share other childhood memories.

In my defense, CBS showed Family Affair in daytime reruns from September 1970 to January 1973, so I was no more than four when I watched Cissy Davis’ stint as a candy striper.

But that scene and others made a vivid—if inaccurate—impression on my young mind, and gave Family Affair a special place in my heart.

Too young for the show’s 1966-1971 primetime run, I discovered it in those daytime reruns. After that, it pretty much disappeared until TV Land aired it in the 1990s.

Revisiting the show then was like encountering an old friend. I enjoyed it so much that in the late ‘90s and early aughts I ran a comprehensive Family Affair web site.

(Kathy Garver left an approving message on my guestbook!)

Since that site is lost in the mists of time and the wreckage of Geocities, I am declaring Fridays Family Affair days on Embarrassing Treasures.  Starting next week, I’ll take a fresh look at one episode each week and share images from my large collection of Family Affair memorabilia.

Why do I like Family Affair so much?

1.      A strange poignancy permeates the show and makes it stand out from similar shows. Unlike every other classic TV sitcom whose premise involved dead parents (My Three Sons, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and many more), Family Affair showed kids who remembered and missed their parents occasionally—not just in the first episode or even the first season.

2.      Brian Keith is my favorite on-screen father figure ever. Whenever his paternal love radiates through his ruggedly masculine persona, I melt. This happens often in Family Affair, but my favorite Brian Keith dad moment comes in Disney’s 1961 The Parent Trap. Check out the scene that begins at 4:00, when he realizes he’s seeing his daughter Sharon for the first time since she was a baby.

When Keith died in 1997, Entertainment Weekly called him an underrated actor—I wholeheartedly agree.

3.      Mrs. Beasley! What sitcom ever had a product tie-in like this one?  Her old-lady look is unique in the world of dolls and straddles the line between cute and creepy. Episodes where Mrs. Beasley gets lost are always great.

4.      The setting is exotic. Sure, it’s just New York City. But to small-town kids like me, a city childhood did seem exotic. Buffy and Jody lived in a high-rise apartment building and had a terrace. They played in Central Park. A British butler was their babysitter.

Buffy, Mr. French, and Jody

5.      Mr. French! Sebastian Cabot’s chagrined portrayal of Mr. French, forced to take on a nanny role he never sought, cuts the show’s saccharine level and provides some genuine humor.

6.      Buffy and Jody. The names alone are fun to say. (As a young child, I thought “Buffy and Jody” was the show’s title.) Anissa Jones and Johnnie Whitaker are genuinely adorable in the early seasons, although they later faced the curse common to sitcom kids—a mandate to continue being little and adorable long after it was possible or desirable.

7.      That jaunty Frank De Vol theme song and the kaleidoscopic opening effect that mesmerized me as a child (and reminded me of my grandma’s bingo markers). My memory never failed me where that was concerned.