The world lost one its most beloved entertainers in 2014. The role that first brought Robin Williams into the national spotlight also catapulted him onto toy-store shelves in 1979. Mork & Mindy spawned a card game, as well as a board game. I was in fourth grade when Mork & Mindy hit the airwaves, and it wasn’t long before my classmates were wearing rainbow suspenders and trying to speak Orkan. I’m sure many of us had this game; I remember playing it, but I’m not sure whether I owned it or a friend did.
This Week’s Game: Mork & Mindy Game.
Copyright Date: 1979.
Manufacturer: Parker Brothers.
Box: A full-color photo of the title characters spreads across the whole lid. It’s strange, though, that Parker Brothers chose a shot that provides a better view of Mindy’s face than Mork’s. He was unquestionably the show’s main draw, especially for young viewers.
The back of the box features a black-and-white photo of the game board and an explanation of the game. And this game does require quite a bit of explaining.
Recommended Ages: 7 to 14.
Object: Collecting more “grebbles” than other players. These, apparently, are Orkan coins.
Board: Against a green background, we have an oval game track in vivid shades of pink, purple, red, and orange. These spaces prominently feature Orkan words like “wump,” “splink,” and “nimnul.”
Illustrations of Mork and Mindy surround the track, and Mork does dominate here–he shows up twice as often as Mindy. (These illustrations are pretty good as game-board art goes and much better than those on the card game I linked above.)
A large egg labeled “Orson’s Nest Egg” fills up one corner, while the opposite corner shows six small egg-shaped spaces and a “Gleek Space.”
Game Pieces: The game includes 50 Grebble coins, which players try to collect. As pawns, they use colored cardboard markers that slide into a plastic base. One cardboard marker has the word Gleek on it; a player who rolls a six slides it into his or her plastic base along with the regular marker.
The game also includes Mork’s splinkblinker, which I’ll try to explain below.
Game Play: The grebbles start the game in Orson’s Nest Egg. Players move around the track and do a lot of splinking, which is apparently Orkan for bluffing. The player who lands on an “Everybody Splink” space drops both dice into the splinkblinker. He or she looks at the numbers showing, turns to the player on the left and announces any two numbers. The player on the left says “Kayo” if he or she believes the original player and “Shazbot” if he or she thinks the original player is lying. If the second player has guessed correctly, he or she wins two grebbles. Otherwise, the original player wins the grebbles. The splinking process repeats around the table until everyone has had a chance to guess.
Other spaces give players a chance to take grebbles from other players, to win grebbles by “making contact” with Orson, and to place a grebble in the “Grebble Up” row of eggs. A player who completes a row of at least three grebbles in the “Grebble Up” row wins them all.
The player who roles a six and possesses the “gleek” (until another player roles a six) has his or her grebble-earning power doubled and can’t lose grebbles to other players.
When Orson’s Nest Egg is empty, the player with the most grebbles wins.
“Sound confusing? Sound exciting? Sound like daffy fun?” the box asks. Well…confusing, certainly.
My Thoughts: It seems a bit over-complicated. I’m not sure my friends and I would have made it through a whole game, but we would have had fun spouting Orkan words at each other.
Bonus Feature: If reading about the game has made you want to revisit Mork & Mindy, this Season 1 gag reel is lots of fun. Be forewarned however: There’s strong language here, and it’s not Orkan.
Almost two years ago, I featured a 1979 Muppet Show game. Today’s version, from 1977, is special to me because I actually owned it as a child. (I probably received it as a gift for my ninth birthday.)
Today’s Game: The Muppet Show Game
Copyright Date: 1977.
Manufacturer: Parker Brothers.
Box: A colorful photographic array of Muppets and a large Muppet Show logo must have made this eye-catching in the toy aisle.
Recommended Ages: 7 to 14.
Board: It is meant to resemble a stage, with dressing rooms at the bottom and footlights at the top. Most squares are blank floor spaces, but others identify starting and stopping points for various “sets.”
This is a “set” for Veterinarian Hospital.
Various Muppets (including my daughter’s favorite, Janice) show up in illustrated form at the very top of the game board. This illustration is similar to the one on the 1979 game box.
Pawns: These feature double-sided photographs of eight characters. They make up color-coded teams, and each player manipulates both members of his or her team.
Object: Getting your two pawns, plus the color-coded set associated with them, from their starting spots on the board to their ending spots near the footlights.
Here you can see dressing rooms, where characters start the game, as well as two starting points for sets.
The photo above shows ending points for several characters and sets.
Game Play: A Muppet Show “script” guides players on their journey.
First, they use this double spinner to determine their act and scene numbers.
Then, they look that combination up in this script, which tells them how many spaces they can move either their set or one of their Muppets. They can move forward, backwards, sideways, and–if specifically told to do so–diagonally. Occasionally, they get a chance to move another player’s Muppet. They can also try to block other players with their own Muppets.
My Thoughts: This is a simple game, but the character pawns and unique way of moving them makes it fun to play.
Remember the TV show Apple’s Way? I do, just barely. Earl Hamner created it as a modern take on the family themes that The Waltons explored so successfully.Wikipedia tells me that the Apple family followed that 1970s dream of ditching the urban rat race and retreating to the country.
The set is the main thing that impressed me as a child: The Apples’ house had a cool interior and a working mill outside. Also, I remember one episode in which the little boy got hit by a car. At least, I think I remember that–my memory for TV details is notoriously unreliable.
The show lasted two short seasons, which was enough to launch a board game. The box seems to overstate things a bit, though, when it says, “From the popular TV show.”
Today’s Game: Apple’s Way.
Copyright Date: 1974.
Manufacturer: Milton Bradley.
Box: A photo of the cast–including Ronny Cox as the dad and Vince Van Patten as the older son–superimposed on an attention-getting hot-pink background. Kristy McNichol played the younger daughter in the second season, replacing actress Frannie Michel. A Van Patten and Kristy McNichol…yep, this is a 1970s family drama. (Thanks to commenter Matt for pointing out my mistake in the first version of this posting.)
Recommended Ages: 7 to 15.
Object: Be the first to match all your cards.
Game Board: Old-timey drawings of the mill alternate with color photos from the series.
This close-up from the board shows that the Apples had a lamb.
They also had a dog, apparently.
And dinnerware that resembles Corelle.
Game Pieces: Players move standard plastic pawns. Green and yellow cards show the Apple family engaging in typical activities at home and in the community.
Life for the Apples was a never-ending whirlwind of excitement.
Game Play: Players get four yellow cards at the start. They move around the board and try to land on the picture spaces, where they can pick up green cards. The goal is to get green cards that match the numbers and activities on the yellow cards. Manufacturers add a few wrinkles to make things more interesting. For example, a player must announce whether he’s looking for a “Home” or “Away” card before he chooses a green card. If he gets the type of card wrong, he has to show the card to all the other players before putting it back in its pile.
My Thoughts: On the plus side, I always like a TV game that includes color photos from the show.
This isn’t the most exciting game in the world, but it does seem to match the excitement level on the show, judging from this–the most boring TV opening imaginable:
“They gave me funny things to do, and I did them funny. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”—Ann B. Davis
(May 3, 1926-June 1, 2014)
This review is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out this blogathon’s complete schedule.
As a mental exercise, try to imagine someone other than Robert Reed and Florence Henderson playing The Brady Bunch’s parents. As important as those actors were to the show’s success, many others could have probably managed a respectable “wise father” or “concerned mother” role.
Now, picture other children replacing the familiar Brady kids. As appealing as the entire juvenile cast was, 1970s casting agents could surely have supplied other hunky teen boys and All-American girls with “hair of gold” to play what were basically average kids.
It is much harder to envision anyone other than Ann B. Davis wearing Alice Nelson’s blue uniform. She was as central to The Brady Bunch as she was on the show’s opening-titles grid.
Ann B. Davis was irreplaceable.
That’s what made her passing such sad news, even though she had lived a full and seemingly happy, spiritually fulfilled 88 years.
Few actors have kept their private lives as private as Davis did. All her obituaries outline the same basic facts: She was born in Schenectady, New York, and raised in Erie, Pa. As a child, she caught the performing bug while putting on shows with her twin sister Harriet. Her mother was an amateur actor, and her older brother was a professional dancer who would appear on Broadway. Ann enrolled at the University of Michigan with plans to be a doctor, but soon switched her focus to acting. After graduating and heading to California in 1948, she did theater and nightclub work until getting her big break.
That was her supporting role as Schultzy on The Bob Cummings Show (Love That Bob), for which she would win two Emmys. The show ran from 1955 to 1959 and was a major ratings success, and Davis’ role as Cummings’ lovelorn, plain-Jane assistant brought her fame.
“I was an overnight success at 28,” she said in a 1989 interview. “I began to understand the power of TV. Within five weeks–and I was playing a small part, a supporting part–after the series went on the air I was recognized on the street wherever I went. Very scary!”
The show was never widely syndicated, so it is unfamiliar to most people my age and younger.
As you can see from this clip, Schultzy shares certain qualities with Alice Nelson and other classic TV “old maids,” such as Sally Rogers and Jane Hathaway—a lack of feminine graces combined with desperate, unfulfilled man-hungriness.
All About Alice
As Alice, Davis delivered many self-deprecating punchlines. As a kid, I saw Alice as she presented herself to the audience—plain, overweight, old. Having reached Alice’s age myself, I see things differently, of course, and wonder how Davis felt about her portrayal.
She claimed to take it in stride.
“I know at least a couple hundred glamour gals who are starving in this town. I’d rather be myself and eating,” she said.
Her Brady Bunch role combined a poor self-image and an unflattering costume with corny jokes and broad physical humor. If everyone was doing the hula, Alice would be throwing her back out. If a bucket of paint appeared, Alice would be stepping in it. If someone built a dunk tank in the back yard, Alice was getting wet.
It all added up to a role many actors would have hated. Indeed, Davis’ co-star Robert Reed, went nearly mad with disgust over the show’s scripts. He would fire off multi-page memos to producers about the show’s implausibilities, many of which involved Alice. “Even a laugh machine would balk,” he wrote about typical tag scene.
Davis was different. Like Alice delighting in the dunk tank, she threw herself into her role and made the best of it.
In Growing Up Brady, Barry Williams quotes Producer Lloyd Schwartz on the difference between Davis and Reed: “She’d say, ‘A lot of people worked very hard on this, and maybe it isn’t great, but if that’s the case, they really need me to make it work.’ Opposite attitudes.”
In fact, Davis saw Alice’s wacky predicaments as opportunities for her to shine comedically.
And while she didn’t take herself too seriously, she cared enough about her role to create a mental backstory for her character that explains Alice’s single-minded devotion to the Brady family.
In the post-Brady years, the show wasn’t a millstone around Davis’ neck as it was for so many of her co-stars. Shortly after it ended, she became a born-again Christian and curtailed her show business career.
“It’s amazing, but at the age of 47 my life suddenly got to the good part,” she told Australia’s Courier-Mail in 1989. “I thought I had had the good part, but it’s as if the Lord had said, ‘Let’s give this kid everything the world has to offer, then make her a better offer and see what happens.’ Am I happy? Oh, boy!”
She spent many years living in an Episcopalian religious community, first in Denver and then in Ambridge. Pa. She worked with a mission helping homeless people and traveled the country talking to church groups. Eventually, she settled in San Antonio, Texas, with retired Episcopal bishop William Frey and his family.
A born trouper, she never completely gave up acting; she did a great deal of regional theater and showed up for almost every Brady reunion. (One critic, panning A Very Brady Christmas, called Alice “the only real-looking character in the whole fairy story.”)
She also compiled a Brady Bunch cookbook in 1994, while admitting that cooking and child care were not really part of her skill set.
She looked back on her Brady experience with fondness.
“Wouldn’t we all love to have belonged to a perfect family, with brothers and sisters to lean on and where every problem is solved in 23 minutes?” she said.
(And it’s not as though she were incapable of looking back on past work with a critical eye. Speaking of the Cummings show, she once told The Times of London: “Comedy like that gets dated pretty fast, especially since it’s anti-feminist.”)
In the early 1990s, when Brady nostalgia was at its height, many experts advanced theories about the show’s appeal to Generation X. My college sociology textbook even explored the subject.
To me, the answer has always been simple: Creator Sherwood Schwartz created a world as a child would wish it to be—a world of good-natured siblings, goofy fun, and people who rally around to solve your every problem.
Blogger Hank Stuever summed it up beautifully in The Washington Post this week, but I disagree with his assertion about Alice’s role in this child-centered utopia: “The entire premise of the show seemed to acknowledge, at least in subtext, that Alice was filling the need that Carol Brady could not fill. It’s the great unspoken truth of The Brady Bunch, particularly in retrospect: Ann B. Davis was the better mother.”
From my perspective, Mike and Carol were definitely the parents, but Alice was something even better: A cross between an adult and a friend. She would join in your sack race, bake your cookies, dress up as a pilgrim for your home movie, and clean your room—and she would do it all with a smile.
Everyone has parents, but a child can only dream of having an Alice.
And no one but Ann B. Davis could have brought this dream to life in such an endearing way.
“I think I’m lovable,” she once said. “That’s the gift God gave me.”
Lovable. And irreplaceable.
Some Alice Favorites
I must admit that the Alice-centric episodes of The Brady Bunch don’t rank among my favorites. Playing tough “Sergeant Emma” was probably fun for Davis, but none of the Brady double-role episodes work for me. And “Alice’s September Song,” about Alice’s shady old flame Mark Millard, bored me as a child and saddens me now.
I much prefer Alice as a cheerful supporting presence in a typical episode. Here are two quintessential Alice moments, when she gets involved with the kids and pays the price with her dignity.
Alice could be supportive as well as silly. My favorite Alice moment, by far, is her scene with Jan in “Lost Locket, Found Locket.”
I do like getting to see a different side of Alice now and then, such as when she turns on the charm for a surprisingly lascivious Jackie Coogan.
Other Ann B. Davis Sightings
In the late 1970s, Davis did some commercials that played on her Brady image (although, in the second example, they use the name of her Bob Cummings Show character).
Davis had a few small film roles in the 1960s. You can catch a glimpse of her here in the Rock Hudson-Doris Day film Lover Come Back.
Did any single 1960s TV stars NOT appear on The Dating Game? This is cringe-worthy viewing, but Davis is a good sport.
You can see more of Ann B. Davis in action during MeTV’s 3-hour tribute marathon this Sunday, June 8, at 12 p.m. EDT.
Last week, we explored the game inspired by that 1970s icon, the Six Million Dollar Man. This week, we turn to the fairer electromechanical sex.
This Week’s Game: The Bionic Woman.
Manufactured by: Parker Brothers.
Copyright Date: 1976.
Recommended Ages: 7 to 12. (Curious that Parker Brothers recommended the Six Million Dollar Man game for ages 7 to 14. Perhaps they figured that girls mature earlier and set aside toys like this at a younger age.)
Box: My copy is a bit faded, but the color scheme is vivid greed and hot pink. We get a pretty close-up illustration of Jaime Sommers, along with her “autograph.” The action scene seems to show her trying to capture a mountain lion with a wispy net. I wonder what that mountain lion ever did to her.
Game Board: It’s disappointingly generic–trails of white dots and pink lines across some forested terrain. Looking closer, you can see some situations crying out for bionic attention, including a power plant inferno.
There’s also this train derailment.
Object: “Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, needs your help. She must travel by airplane, helicopter, and automobile to carry out many dangerous adventures. Your job is to help Jaime through these adventures and assist her whenever you can. If you cover a lot of territory and complete the Top Secret Assignment…you may win the game.”
Game Play: I’ll try to make this as simple as possible, which is more than I can say for Parker Brothers.
That’s a lot of words.
All players start at “H.Q.,” and receive an Adventure Card telling them where to go and how many points they will earn.
These cards make you understand how tough Jaime’s life must be. She not only does standard superhero stuff like stopping runaway school buses, but must also be on call to repair faulty hospital equipment.
Players head to the space on the board that corresponds to their adventure number. They can either travel by “automobile”–following the white circles; by “helicopter”–sliding up or down the pink lines; or by “airplane,” which requires landing on an Airport space by exact count and then moving to any other Airport space.
When you complete your adventure, you can accept your points or take a double-or-nothing gamble that requires rolling 7 or higher. Then you start a new adventure. When a player rolls double ones or sixes, their mission becomes a Special Assignment, which earns 50 bonus points. After players have completed four Special Assignments, the next double ones or sixes trigger a Top Secret Assignment. That carries 100 bonus points, and its completion ends the game. Since the player with the most points wins, getting the Top Secret Assignment is usually the deciding factor.
Six Million Dollar Shout-Out: Sometimes, instead of an adventure card, players receive a “Steve Austin Assists” card. The idea that Jaime requires this assistance seems a little sexist. And since Steve only lets you double-roll one die, his help isn’t worth much.
Game Pieces: Regular plastic pawns. There are also white plastic clips players attach to their cards–one clip designates a Special Assignment; two clips indicate a Top Secret Assignment.
My Thoughts: I would have been thrilled to receive this game in 1976. I don’t think I would have played it much, though, after scanning those intimidating instructions. If anything, my friends and I might have come up with our own simplified scenario.
Bonus Feature: For a show that only lasted two years, The Bionic Woman inspired many toys. Kenner’s Jaime doll was surprisingly ugly, but it was fun to open her leg panels to see her bionic parts. And, as you can see here, her bionic side and her feminine side co-existed happily.
She had many cool accessories (the dome house!), documented on the fun site Retrojunk.
Game Box: In shades of blue, we see Steve Austin’s face, with circles radiating out from his zoom-lens left eye. The bold red game name makes a nice contrast with the background blue. Four inset drawings show Steve rescuing a stranded astronaut, preventing a nuclear background attempt, knocking out an international crime ring, and locating an underwater missile network. All in a day’s work when you’re part cyborg.
Game Board: The same four assignment drawings are featured here, along with some bright 1970s green and orange graphics. I like the “futuristic” font on the Power squares.
Game Pieces: I love the “computer spinner.” The pawns show Steve running (in slow motion, no doubt).
Nice track suit, Steve.
Object: “Each player controls a bionic man–but only one is the real Six Million Dollar Man. The first player to complete his 4 assignments wins the game, proving that he’s the Six Million Dollar Man.
Game Play: It’s basically a race through the four assignments on the board, with a few elements added to make it more interesting. Players get and lose Power cards throughout the game. Without at least one of these cards in their possession, players lose a turn. At the end of each assignment, you have to roll a certain number, or higher, to move forward. Each failure to move forward costs a player a Power card.
Random Oddity: At the bottom of the instructions are these words: “We will be glad to answer inquiries concerning these rules.” A mailing address in Salem, Massachusetts, is listed. In a game with a high-tech theme, it’s funny to see this reminder of how far we’ve come since the 1970s. Can you imagine using snail mail to ask a question about a game and having to wait days or weeks for a response?
My Thoughts: If you were going to a boy’s birthday party in the mid-1970s, this would have been an ideal gift. Personally, I was more of a Bionic Woman fan. I’ll review that show’s game next week.
This month, I am honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for TV collectibles, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.
My Three Sons premiered on September 29, 1960, and ran for 12 years. The latter half of the show saw many changes for widower Steve Douglas and his family–the show changed networks, switched from black and white to color, and re-located its setting from the Midwest to Southern California (a change prompted by a real-life change in production facilities).
One son married and departed, a new son joined the family through adoption, grandfather Bub left, and salty Uncle Charley took over as caretaker. In its last few years, the all-male cast got an estrogen infusion: Second son Rob married Katie and moved her into the family home; third son Chip eloped with Polly; and Steve married widow Barbara, who had a young daughter.
The coloring book barely mentions Polly, though she was part of the show by 1971. I can’t blame Saalfield. The Chip-Polly marriage was an unfortunate development, mainly because the actors playing the newlyweds looked like 12-year-olds.
It’s not hard to imagine what Executive Producer Don Fedderson was thinking when he introduced Barbara’s daughter, Dodie. Family Affair‘s Buffy and her doll Mrs. Beasley were a merchandising gold mine. Collectibles like this coloring book and Dodie paper dolls–both printed by Saalfield–represented attempts to recapture the Buffy magic. Producers even gave Dodie a companion doll, Myrtle.
Unusually short girl with unlikely name + strange-looking doll = cha-ching!
Dodie merchandising didn’t come close to matching the success of Buffy and Mrs. Beasley, though.
This coloring book features “Dodie’s Favorite Things to Do,” a theme that enabled Saalfield to use random toy and teddy bear pictures for about half the content.
The other pages feature the Douglas family. The illustrator does a decent job with the likenesses, especially Fred MacMurray’s.
Rob and Katie’s triplets are in almost as many pictures as Dodie.
Fun fact: The episode featuring the triplets’ birth aired on the day I was born.
The coloring book includes paper dolls of the triplets and Dodie.
It also includes this creepiness. Kids are supposed to transform it into a picture of what they want to be when they grow up.
One of Dodie’s own career aspirations is stewardess.
Uncle Charley gets some ink in the coloring book (although it spells his name wrong).
What a fascinating revelation.
The image below is the only one that comes directly from the show.
I take back what I said about the decent likenesses. I think they borrowed this face from a Planet of the Apes coloring book.