My 5 Favorite…Things About Get Smart (in one episode)

This entry 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.

When I was a kid, Get Smart was one show I just didn’t get. With no experience of spy or action genres, I didn’t understand what was being spoofed. In the few minutes I caught here and there, before switching to another channel, I felt mystified and vaguely annoyed.

My attitude changed completely in 1991, when Nick at Night presented a week-long marathon called Maximum Smart. Watching each night, I found the show great fun and surprisingly subversive.

There are many things to love about Get Smart–Don Adams’ approach to comedy, the wacky gadgetry, even the gorgeous cars Max drives in the opening credits. For this post, I focused on five things that I especially enjoy, as seen in Season 2’s “Island of the Darned,” which originally aired November 26, 1966. I picked this episode because it includes my favorite quote from the series (see Number 5); as a good-but-not-great episode, it also provides a good example of some elements that kept Get Smart engaging week in and week out.

1. Action tropes, spoofed

The more you’ve seen of James Bond and other 1960s spy thrillers, the more you can enjoy Get Smart‘s parody of the genre. The show’s spoofs actually go beyond the spy genre to incorporate just about every variety of action cliche that turns up in mid-century entertainment. “Island of the Darned” is based on what TV Tropes calls “Hunting the Most Dangerous Game,” a scenario in which “the villains are hunters and the hero is the prey – the game – in a formalized hunting motif.” The trope is based on the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, which has been adapted for film several times. It’s also inspired episodes on TV shows that cross a range of genres, including Star Trek, Bonanza, The Avengers, and (in a tamer form) The Partridge Family.

Hans Hunter is played by Harold Gould, who is probably best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern's father on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. His Get Smart role shows a much more youthful and vigorous side of him.

Hans Hunter is played by Harold Gould, who is probably best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern’s father on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. His Get Smart role shows a much more youthful and vigorous side of him.

In “Island of the Darned,” KAOS operative Hans Hunter kills a CONTROL agent and has him stuffed and sent to the Chief’s office. Hunter’s goal is to lure Maxwell Smart to his island headquarters; when Max and 99 do show up there, he captures them and then offers a chance at freedom if they can elude his chase across the island until sundown.

2. Amusing Dialogue and Memorable Catchphrases

Get Smart abounds with fun exchanges. Here’s a good example from “Island of the Darned,” as the Chief fills in Hunter’s villainous backstory:

Chief: He was, at various times, a Nazi, a communist, a member of the mafia, and is right now one of the top executives of KAOS.

Max: If there’s anything I hate, it’s a joiner.

Max is also fond of what TV Tropes calls “reverse inflationary dialogue,” in which he begins with a strong statement followed up by increasingly less impressive ones. In this episode, one occurs when Max asks the Chief to send him after Hunter:

Max: Chief, you have to let me go after Hunter. I want to get that madman no matter how dangerous it is. I don’t care if he is one of the world’s greatest killers. I don’t care if he is a master of fiendish torture and death. I want him, Chief. You’ve got to let me have that assignment.

Chief: You’ve got it, Max.

Max: Of course, if you’d rather send someone else…

Chief: It’s all yours.

Max: I mean, I don’t want to force you into anything, Chief.

 Max’s famous “Would you believe?” routine is his ultimate example of reverse inflationary dialogue and represents one of the many catchphrases the show popularized. In this episode it comes just after Hunter captures Max and 99, as Max tries to convince the villain that backup is on the way. Hunter’s only response throughout is increasingly maniacal laughter.

Max: In a very short while, General Crawford and a hundred of his crack paratroopers will come crashing into this landing.

Would you believe J. Edgar Hoover and 10 of his G-men?

How about Tarzan and a couple of his apes?

Bomba the jungle boy?

Some of this episode’s jokes are obvious but still somehow amusing. When Hunter challenges Max to a game of Russian roulette, Max asks if they couldn’t switch to checkers.

This week's secret weapon from the CONTROL crime lab is a set of "bazooka butts," grenades disguised as cigarettes. When Max is told that if he fails to release the cigarette in time, it will blow a hole in the back of his head the size of a basketball, he inevitably replies, "Well, that's one way to quit smoking."

This week’s secret weapon from the CONTROL crime lab is a set of “bazooka butts,” grenades disguised as cigarettes. Max is told that if he fails to release the cigarette in time, it will blow a hole in the back of his head the size of a basketball; he inevitably replies, “Well, that’s one way to quit smoking.”

More unexpected is this exchange–it’s not exactly PC by modern standards, but I’m surprised it made it to the air at all in 1966:

Hunter: As you can see, Mr. Smart, my trophy collection includes one of almost every kind of animal…except one. You—a homo sapien.

Max (indignant): Now just a minute, Hunter. I’m as normal as you are.

3. Bureaucratic Inanities

Perhaps because my career history includes time in a government setting, I find myself tickled by the mundane bureaucratic details that bog down the battle between CONTROL and KAOS.

In this episode, the courier delivering the package that contains Agent 27's stuffed body insists on getting a real signature on his form--"The Chief" won't do.

In this episode, the courier delivering the package that contains Agent 27’s stuffed body insists on getting a real signature on his form–“The Chief” won’t do.

I especially enjoy the courier’s parting remarks:

Delivery Man: I’ve delivered a lot of packages in my time, some here to CONTROL and some over to KAOS headquarters, and I’ll tell you this: Crime may not pay, but it sure tips a lot better.

4. Agent 99

Barbara Feldon’s Agent 99 is an admirable example of a smart, hard-working, courageous woman by the standards of the time. American TV was apparently not ready for a true female badass like The Avengers‘ Emma Peel, so 99 spends a lot of time showing off her feminine side. In this episode, she screams when Agent 27’s body is revealed, and during the long outdoor chase scenes, she occasionally whines about her ability to go on (although she does keep going).

As usual, she also spends a lot of time juggling the need to keep Max on track with her wish to protect his ego.

As usual, she also spends a lot of time juggling the need to keep Max on track with her wish to protect his ego.

Still, it’s always clear that 99 is more intelligent and competent than her partner (admittedly, not a high bar). At this episode’s climax, she has to prod him several times before he remembers the existence of the Bazooka butts, the weapon that saves their lives.

We don't get to see much of 99's fun 1960s fashions in this episode, which she spends mostly in a safari suit as she runs through woods and slides down hills. (Actually, that doesn't look much at all like Barbara Feldon sliding down that hill, does it?)

We don’t get to see much of 99’s fun 1960s fashions in this episode, which she spends mostly in a safari suit as she runs through woods and slides down hills. (Actually, that doesn’t look much like Barbara Feldon sliding down that hill, does it?)

5. A Strain of Subversion

My favorite thing about Get Smart is the mildly subversive nature of a show produced at the height of the cold war that made the cold war look ridiculous. Most likely, show co-creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry set the tone. Brooks explained in 1965, “It’s a show in which you can comment, too. I don’t mean we’re in the broken-wing business. We’re not social workers, but we can do some comment such as you can’t inject in, say, My Three Sons.”

This episode’s script (which Henry had a hand in writing) ends with my favorite exchange from the series. It takes place just after gets blown up.

99: Oh, Max, how terrible.

Max: He deserved it, 99. He was a KAOS killer.

99: Sometimes I wonder if we’re any better, Max.

Max: What are you talking about, 99? We have to shoot and kill and destroy. We represent everything that’s wholesome and good in the world.

We, and the agents, are left with a moment of moral confusion.

We, and the agents, are left to sort out the implications.

This is a pretty bold line for mainstream TV at a time when the Vietnam War was still escalating. (I must not have been the only one who liked the line because it showed up again, in a slightly different form, in the 1989 reunion movie Get Smart, Again!)

I hope this brief celebration of Get Smart whets your appetite to watch the show on MeTV this summer. And I hope you let me know your favorite things about the series!

Some of my other posts related to shows on MeTV’s summer schedule:

Gilligan’s Island Game

H.R. Pufnstuf Game

H.R. Pufnstuf and the Best School Library Book Ever

Batman Game

Gomer Pyle Game

Alice: An Appreciation (The Brady Bunch)

Everything is Gray: Five Moral Lessons from Naked City

The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Family Affair Connections, Part 1

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Everything is Gray: Five Moral Lessons from Naked City

Classic TV Detectives Blogathon bannerIn an Italian restaurant near the New York City Criminal Court Building, Detective Adam Flint is brooding about the nature of guilt.

“I deal with guilt every day, and it’s been years I thought about what it really is,” he muses to his actress fiancée Libby.

At this moment, Detective Flint has good reason to wonder. He’s in the restaurant during the lunch recess of a murder trial—the re-trial, actually, of a thief and murderer named Joseph Creeley. Detective Flint apprehended Creeley years earlier, in a violent confrontation that followed Creeley’s robbery of a jewelry store. In the course of the robbery, Creeley killed the old man who owned the store and permanently crippled his widow.

Flint is a prosecution witness in this trial, as he was in the previous one that sent Creeley to death row. But this time, Flint is hoping that the defense will prevail.

You see, shortly before Creeley’s scheduled execution, doctors found a tumor growing in the criminal’s brain. When they removed it, they also removed the past 10 years from Creeley’s memory, as well as the violent impulses that took over his life in the months leading up to the robbery.

Creeley’s defense attorney is arguing that the tumor caused that violent behavior—that the tumor, in fact, was the real murderer.

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This kind of complicated moral dilemma is a defining feature of Naked City, which began life as a half-hour series based closely on the 1948 Mark Hellinger film of the same name. John McIntire recreated Barry Fitzgerald’s role as the wise and experience Lieutenant Muldoon and dimply James Franciscus played rookie detective Jimmy Halloran.

Like the motion picture Naked City, the series filmed in New York City, largely on the city’s streets.

Critics embraced it from the beginning.

UPI’s William Ewald praised the show’s layered treatment of crime and justice: “It recognizes that not all juvenile delinquents are punks, that violence is a symptom of something out of joint, that life isn’t merely a matter of the good guys versus the bad guys. And although its plots are usually thin, sorrow and pity wash over its flesh. It faces up to the human condition, unlike slicker action shows…”

The show died after one season. Producer Herbert Leonard and frequent writer Stirling Silliphant went on to create another acclaimed series, Route 66, then got the green light to revive Naked City in an hour-long format.

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Debuting in 1960, this version starred Paul Burke as sensitive young Detective Adam Flint opposite Horace McMahon’s crusty Lieutenant Mike Parker. (Harry Bellaver played another 65th precinct officer, Detective Frank Arcaro, throughout both versions of the series.)

This version aired for three seasons, and its 1963 cancellation surprised its cast and outraged critics.

In a way, though, it seems fitting that Naked City died when it did, before the assassination of John F. Kennedy ended the brief era of idealism it represents, and before the rapid cultural shifts of the late 1960s polarized our national discourse in ways that still reverberate today.

Naked City’s vision of the human experience is as complex as the city in which its stories unfold, as varied as those 8 million people who populate it.

Since this is the Classic TV Detectives Blogathon, I prepared by focusing on the detectives themselves. This isn’t easy because Naked City does not dwell on its officers’ backstories and personal motivations. In Season One, we get occasional glimpses of Detective Halloran’s wife; she mostly waits at home and worries about him. Subsequent seasons give a more substantial role to Detective Flint’s fiancée Libby, who’s living a proto-That Girl life as an aspiring actress. Nancy Malone imbues Libby with warmth and intelligence, and she and Paul Burke make Libby and Adam a believable couple. Libby still mostly exists to be a sounding board and solace for Adam, though.

Adam and Libby in their typical attitudes--he worrying about work, she worrying about him.

Adam and Libby in their typical attitudes–he worrying about work, she worrying about him.

As I watched episodes whose events touched the show’s detectives in a more personal way than usual, I learned little about their lives but a lot about the moral vision that guides them—and, by extension, the show itself:

1. “Everything is gray.”
Those are the words that Joseph Creeley mutters as he awakens after surgery and finds a 10-year void in his memory. Struggling with the nature of guilt, Adam repeats these words during his lunch with Libby. His ability to see so many sides to an issue frustrates him, although Libby assures him it’s one of his finest qualities.

This is one of Naked City’s finest qualities, too. Its stories evoke a measure of our sympathy for nearly every character, even those we first encounter during brutal acts of violence.

Consider this 10-minute opening sequence from 1961’s “Requiem for a Sunday Afternoon.” We feel the wronged husband’s pain but can’t see the young man dragged into this situation (Burt Reynolds!) as a villain. We can even find some understanding for the wife, trapped in a marriage she never wanted.

2. When you want to know who you are, look inward.

In “Bullets Cost Too Much,” Adam endures the shifting winds of public opinion. Paying a visit to a bar that hasn’t been closing on time, he witnesses an armed robbery. A mouthy drunk gets in the thieves’ way and gets shot, while Adam sits and watches, unable to intervene without endangering other bar patrons. The thieves get away, although Adam shoots one during the escape.

The jeering crowds that gather around Adam even toss out the ultimate Cold War-era insult, comparing him to Communist security forces.

The jeering crowds that gather around Adam even toss out the ultimate Cold War-era insult, likening him to Communist security forces.

In a parallel story, the doctor brother of one of the thieves struggles with his conscience as he treats the wounded man and avoids alerting the authorities.

In the end, Adam helps capture the thieves and earns headlines as glowing as previous ones were critical.

nc bullets 2

Libby frames both to remind Adam to rely on his own sense of integrity, rather than external assessments.

(In the show’s typically complex way, we are left to doubt whether Adam’s original judgment in the bar was correct. The doctor’s girlfriend, a sympathetic and unbiased character, tells Libby that she studied bar diagrams closely and believes that Adam could have used the element of surprise to save the drunk’s life.)

3. “Life is precious, every hour of it.”

Those are Adam’s words in the Joseph Creeley trial, as he explains why he authorized Creeley’s risky brain surgery. (Unable to decide for himself about the surgery, Creeley had given Adam his power of attorney.)

Adam’s reverence for life faces its toughest test in “Prime of Life” when Lieutenant Parker orders him to witness an execution.

As moments pass slowly in the death chamber, Adam has flashbacks to the condemned man’s crime, as well as to his own agonized soul-searching in the weeks leading up to the execution.

As moments pass slowly in the death chamber, Adam has flashbacks to the condemned man’s crime, as well as to his own agonized soul-searching in the weeks leading up to the execution.

After the execution, as Adam drives away from the prison, we are left to reflect on the words Lieutenant Parker used when tasking Adam with this duty: “That gun you carry gives you the power of life and death…maybe it’s a good thing to think about life and death.”

4. “We are all responsible for each other.”

Describing a 1958 episode about juvenile delinquency, TV critic Fred Remington described the main character’s problem as “a terrible, aching loneliness.”

Naked City rarely attaches labels or diagnoses to its criminals, but a lack of human connection seems to drive many of them.

In the first-season episode “ And a Merry Christmas to the Force on Patrol,” an officer subbing for Detective Halloran on Christmas Eve gets shot during a liquor store stake-out. One thief, Marco, is captured, but he refuses to help police identify or locate his brother. Halloran is shaken and angry, but Lieutenant Muldoon takes a softer approach. When Marco learns that his brother was shot while fleeing, Marco breaks down and tells Muldoon where to find him.

Later, Muldoon has to return to Marco’s cell to inform him that his brother died before police got to him.

Marco, shattered that his brother died alone, reaches out to the only person can—Muldoon.

Marco, shattered that his brother died alone, reaches out to the only person can—Muldoon.

(By the way, Frank Sutton plays Marco. If, like me, you know him mainly as Sergeant Carter in Gomer Pyle, his dramatic acting in this and other Naked City episodes will amaze you.)

“We are all responsible for each other,” is what Adam tells Libby after the Joseph Creeley case goes to the jury. She doubts whether she could handle the responsibility of deciding a man’s fate, but Adam argues that judging and being judged is part of our human compact.

5. There are no easy answers—and sometimes no answers at all.

Naked City doesn’t paint criminals as monsters, but it does not downplay crime’s horror. When violence erupts on this show, it is usually sudden and brutal.

The 1962 episode “A Case Study of Two Savages” has a particularly high body count. Arkansas’ Ansel Boake (Rip Torn) arrives in New York with his teenage bride and begins shooting everyone who gets in his way. This includes Detective Frank Arcaro, who merely stops to tell the youth that his license plate is loose.

This gun store owner, relishing Ansel's country bumpkin humor, has only a few seconds left to live.

This gun store owner, relishing Ansel’s country bumpkin humor, has only a few seconds left to live.

A convalescing Arcaro tells Adam to find out why the young man shot him. When police finally catch up with Ansel and kill him during a bank robbery, his wife (Tuesday Weld) can’t offer much of an answer.

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“Just for the hell of it, I guess,” she says.

Likewise, Jimmy Halloran comes up short during the first-season episode “Burst of Passion,” which concerns the kind of mass shooting we see all too often today. Jimmy’s friendly, church-going neighbor snaps, embarking on a shooting rampage. Witnesses debate the killer’s mental state, while Jimmy tracks the man down to the deserted off-season environs of Coney Island. (I love the scenery in this one.)

Halloran ends up shooting his neighbor; before dying, the man rambles semi-coherently about mankind’s failures and the need to begin again.

We’re left with narrator’s observation that sometimes there are no answers, at least not comforting ones.

We get no answers in the Joseph Creeley case, either.

nc creeley

After the jury gets the case, Adam and Libby leave it and the New York Criminal Court Building behind. Due to his faith in the jury system, Adam conveys a renewed sense of peace.

My first reaction on watching this episode was annoyance that we didn’t learn the jury’s decision. Then I realized that this story’s thorny moral dilemma doesn’t lend itself to a simple answer—it is something viewers need to think through for themselves.

In the world of Naked City, asking questions is more important than finding answers.

Read more entries from the Classic TV Detectives Blogathon.

Alice: An Appreciation

“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)

Ann_B._Davis_1973

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.

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.

Overnight Success

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.”)

Lovable

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.

Memo from David O. Selznick: The Corinthian, 1943

GreatImaginaryFilm-Caine_zpsfdf9dfa1Georgette Heyer created the “Regency Romance” genre. By 1940, she had published Georgian romances and a mystery and historical novels set during the Regency period. That year, she was working on a detective novel but found herself unable to concentrate on it due to her worries about the war. Instead, she dashed off a lighthearted romance set during the Regency period. The Corinthian would set the pattern for almost two dozen subsequent Heyer works and scores of books by her imitators.

While Heyer enjoyed popular success, critics ignored her work. Despite the cinematic possibilities of her novels, which combine romance, humor, intrigue, and adventure, filmmakers ignored her as well. Only two of her works have received film treatments—The Reluctant Widow became a British film called The Inheritance (1950), and Arabella was the basis for a German film in 1959.

As soon as I read about this blogathon, I knew I wanted to give Heyer life on screen. And, since I was dreaming, I decided to dream big. Few golden-age producers were as successful at adapting books for the screen as David O. Selznick. As a child he absorbed classics like David Copperfield and Anna Karenina, which he later brought to the screen. Throughout his career, he also adapted popular contemporary works, including Portrait of Jennie, Rebecca, and—of course—Gone With the Wind.

After completing the Academy-Award-winning Rebecca, Selznick liquidated his company and took a short break from filmmaking. As Irene Mayer Selznick described in her autobiography A Private View, Selznick was battling depression and amphetamine addiction during this period and found it impossible to make a sustained effort on any picture.

In my imaginary world, however, Selznick came across Heyer’s novel and found in reading it the same diverting escape she found in writing it. Believing that the movie-going public might be ready for a similar diversion, he determined to produce it. Production took place late in 1942 for an early 1943 release.

Producing an imaginary movie has many advantages; the greatest is that you don’t have to worry about studio contracts. In casting my movie, however, I have tried to stay somewhat within the realm of possibility. I nabbed my leading man before he started military service. For my leading lady, I chose a genuine Selznick discovery, although I moved up the date of her breakthrough. For the supporting cast and production staff, I sought people with whom Selznick had previously worked.

What follows are excerpts from Selznick’s imaginary memos about this film. Selznick was a legendary memo writer. In some cases, I have re-purposed his own words from the 1972 collection Memo from David O. Selznick to serve my film’s purposes.

Note: For those unfamiliar with The Corinthian, Wikipedia provides a good plot summary and detailed list of characters.

The Property

To: Miss Katharine Brown

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I have gone over and carefully thought about The Corinthian. I do feel that it has showmanship values, though it is a very simple and slight story compared to Gone With the Wind or Rebecca. For that reason, I have hopes that it might be simpler to film and relatively inexpensive, and the public might welcome it as an escape from the world situation. Obviously, we do not want to pay a large price for a book by an obscure author, so I would only recommend purchasing it if we can get a good bargain. If your information about Miss Heyer’s finances is correct, we should be able to do so.

The Casting

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea*

For the role of Pen Creed, I think it is essential that we use a new face. As described by the author, the character is only 17 years old, with an innocent, open demeanor and a hint of merriment. It is essential that we cast someone with a combination of exciting beauty and fresh purity. (Another advantage to a fresh actress is that she won’t object to the haircut required for a character who disguises herself as a boy throughout most of the picture.)

Rhonda Fleming Source: Wikipedia

Rhonda Fleming
Source: Wikipedia

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea

I am seriously considering Anne Baxter for the role of Pen. She did an excellent test for Rebecca, and the main strike against her was her youth. In The Corinthian, of course, that would be an asset. I have also considered Jennifer, but I don’t think she is the right type for this role.

We have another young woman named Rhonda Fleming under contract, and we are preparing a test for her. Since the plan is to film in Technicolor, her red hair would be an advantage, especially in the scene where Cedric Brandon recognizes her from her lock of hair. Of course, we would have to engage a dialogue coach for extensive work on her accent.

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea

With Miss Fleming in place, the choice of a leading man with box office stature becomes critical. Heyer’s hero is a world-weary man of fashion, but he has a strong masculine presence that saves him from being a “pretty boy.” The character is about 30, and I think if we cast an actor much older than that, the pairing of him with Miss Fleming will be distasteful.

Robert Taylor Source: Wikipedia

Robert Taylor
Source: Wikipedia

Of course, the great difficulty is that most men of the right age are tied up with military service. The most perfect actor I can imagine for the role is Errol Flynn, but I don’t think this is the time to cast him in a romance with a teen-aged heroine. I’ve heard that we might be able to get Robert Taylor before he starts his service.

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea

For the supporting characters, I think things will proceed most smoothly if we choose British actors in most cases. We should look at the actors used in Rebecca and Jane Eyre as a starting point. For the character of Lydia, it is important that we choose an actress who comes across as less mature and less clever than our heroine.

The Director

To: Mr. John Hay Whitney

In a director, we need someone with a light touch for comedy and experience with Technicolor. I wish I could use George, who has a great sense of the style of a book and of a picture and who could undoubtedly draw a good performance from Rhonda. Bill Wellman has the experience with color, but I don’t think he would be right for this picture. Someone like John Cromwell might be the safest choice, if we hold Mr. Menzies responsible for the physical aspects of the production and the final word on Technicolor issues.

The Script

To: Miss Katharine Brown

The ideal script, as far as I am concerned, would be one that contained very little original dialog. Dialog is one of the novel’s strengths, so we need a writer who will adapt it as faithfully as possible. Ben Hecht is good at conveying the mood of a novel, but I question whether he’s right because of the English atmosphere. Clemence Dane is a possibility, as is Aldous Huxley.

To: Mr. Aldous Huxley

With such a short novel, I think there is very little that can be cut without hurting the story. Certainly, the opening scene with Richard and his sister and mother should be shortened so the audience can meet the heroine more quickly. I would also recommend keeping the scenes relating to the diamond heist as short as possible. Overall, the film needs to have a brisk pace. Short scenes are at the very essence of good motion-picture making, and one of the great values that we have in this medium, by comparison with the stage.

I agree that the number of characters is high, but most are essential to the story. I don’t think we need to see the father of the Brandon brothers but can imply his character through their actions. I don’t think we need to see Pen’s intended either, which spares us the difficulty of casting a man “with a face like a fish.”

To Mr. Cromwell:

I think we must be very careful in both the script and in the reading of the lines by English actors to avoid anything which might be difficult for an American to understand—as to actual phrasing and as to dialect. This issue is most acute with Jimmy Yarde and his criminal slang. I think we should commission the script girl, or some other American, to watch this point carefully throughout the making of the picture and to call to your attention anything which she thinks is dangerous from this standpoint.

The Production and Post-Production

Beau Brummel. In the novel, he is a friend of the hero.

Beau Brummel. In the novel, he is a friend of the hero.

To: Mr. Cromwell

Regarding the wardrobe, I would like to be as historically accurate in the women’s costumes as possible, avoiding the mess MGM made of Pride and Prejudice. I trust Walter Plunkett and Rene Hubert when it comes to period costumes.

It might be wise to bring in Gile Steele to give the men’s costumes extra attention. Richard’s attention to his clothing is central to his character, but we have to make sure his costumes don’t look ridiculous to modern audiences, even if it means sacrificing some historical accuracy.

To: Max Steiner

In preparing your score, spend whatever time you have free in study of the music of the period.

To: Miss Katharine Brown

I will admit that I have had some concerns about the title, as I don’t think audiences will be familiar with the term as Heyer uses it. Any synonym I can think of, such as “dandy” or “bon vivant” has effeminate connotations we want to avoid. It will probably be best to stay with Heyer’s title and make the meaning clear in the script itself. My experience has been that if a book has succeed with a title that seems a bad picture title, picture producers are foolish to worry about it.

Cast

Richard Wyndham: Robert Taylor
Penelope Creed: Rhonda Fleming
Lord George Trevor: Robert Morley
Lady Louisa Trevor: Agnes Moorehead
Lady Aurelia Wyndham: Gladys Cooper
Melissa Brandon: Valerie Hobson
Beverley Brandon: Eric Blore
Cedric Brandon: Reginald Denny
Piers Luttrell: Hugh Marlowe
Lydia Daubenay: Joan Greenwood
Jimmy Yarde: Gordon Harker
Horace Trimble: Trevor Howard

* Executive Vice President and General Manager, David O. Selznick Productions, Inc.

Leave it to Beaver: A Father’s Journey

403X403-SOCTVBLOGWard Cleaver: “When I was a boy, if I’d broken a window, I’d have had to pay for it…Not only that but I’d have gotten a pretty good taste of the strap, too.”

Beaver: “Gee, Dad—you must have had a real mean father.”

Years ago, when I was watching my way through Leave it to Beaver for the billionth time, I noticed an interesting pattern. In many episodes, after Beaver’s troubles resolve themselves, Ward and June share a quiet moment. Almost invariably, she asks him how his father would have handled a situation like Beaver’s. And almost invariably, Ward describes his father reacting with less understanding—and more hitting.

From Leave It to Beaver’s premier in 1957, TV critics recognized a small innovation that the show introduced to TV—its point of view.

“With Beaver, we aimed at showing the child’s view of this world,” Joe Connelly told the Associated Press in 1960. Connelly, with Bob Mosher, created and produced the series.

In my opinion, however, the show’s perspective is more complicated than that. Leave it to Beaver shows a child’s world as filtered through the perspective of a warm but bewildered father—a father who is groping toward a new model for fatherhood, quite different from the one he experienced growing up.

This dual perspective came naturally for Mosher and Connelly, who had eight children between them when Leave It to Beaver premiered. For story ideas, they drew upon their real families. The episode in which Aunt Martha forces Beaver to wear short pants to school, and the episode where the boys break Ward’s car window and attempt to hide it, came directly from the life of Connelly’s son Richard.

Changing Roles

470px-Cleaver_family_Leave_it_to_Beaver_1960

Leave It to Beaver‘s Ward Cleaver fulfilled traditional father roles as a provider and an authority figure. In almost every episode, however, he made a conscious effort to be a more warm and understanding father than his own father had been.

In the 1950s, when upper-middle-class parents like Ward and June Cleaver had a question about parenting, there was one man they turned to—Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care was published to instant acclaim in 1946. As a 1955 article in the Milwaukee Journal put it, “The words ‘Dr. Spock says,’ heard daily in households from coast to coast, have made him ‘everybody’s baby doctor.’”

Dr. Spock stressed a relaxed and tolerant attitude toward children and encouraged parents to enjoy their children.

As years passed and new editions of the book appeared, Dr. Spock increased his focus on the father’s role in parenting, but even the earliest edition encouraged fathers to play a more active and positive role than their own fathers did.

In the early editions of his book, Dr. Spock discouraged spanking, although he stopped short of condemning the practice entirely.

As a 1998 Baltimore Sun article assessing Dr. Spock’s legacy stated: “It can be argued that Dr. Spock, more than anyone, sparked a revolution in how children were raised, turning baby-boom parents away from the strict discipline and prudish standards of their own parents and grandparents in favor of a more flexible approach that stresses plenty of love, caring and attention for children.”

Ward’s Parenting Journey

Hugh Beaumont was an ordained minister; this background might have helped him create his authoritative but compassionate portrayal of Ward.

Hugh Beaumont was an ordained minister; this background might have helped him create his authoritative but compassionate portrayal of Ward.

The words Leave It to Beaver have become a descriptive term for retrograde, sexist images of American life. It’s ironic, then, that the program actually shows a man who is working hard to become a “modern” father.

In a classic first-season episode, “The Haircut,” Ward and June discover that Beaver cut his own hair—badly—after losing his haircut money. Ward’s reaction is typical for the series:

Ward: “Boy, when I was a kid, my father would have whaled the tar out of me…Don’t worry, I’m not going to resort to physical violence. I’m tempted, though.”

Again and again, Ward rises above the temptation to discipline the boys the way he got disciplined. As other episodes show, he wants to have a warm relationship with his boys, even if he doesn’t always know how to build that relationship.

Take the first season episode “The Perfect Father,” for example. Ward grows increasingly distressed as Wally and the Beav spend all their time at the Dennisons’ house, where Mr. Dennison has installed a “regulation” basketball hoop.

Soon Ward is installing his own hoop and spending time with the boys and their friends as they play basketball. His action backfires, however, when his overbearing presence drives the neighborhood kids away.

This is certainly a departure from the all-wise, “father knows best” image presented in other early family comedies. Only when Ward runs into Mr. Dennison, and gets some advice from that more experienced father, does he realize his mistake.

Mr. Dennison: “If you ask me, the secret of getting close to your kids is to know when to stay away from them.”

In the moving second-season episode “Most Interesting Character,” we get a glimpse of Ward through Beaver’s eyes and see that Ward is succeeding in his efforts to be an involved and supportive father.

After struggling to make his father seem interesting for a school composition, and making a foray into fiction, Beaver decides to write the truth:

“He does not have an interesting job. He just works hard and takes care of all of us. He never shot things in Africa or saved anybody that was drowning, but that’s all right with me because when I am sick, he brings me ice cream, and when I tell him things or ask things, he always listens to me, and he gives up a whole Saturday to make junk with me in the garage. He may not be interesting to you, or someone else, because he’s not your father, just mine.”

Other Thoughts About Leave It to Beaver

Leave It to Beaver aired from 1957 to 1963. When CBS cancelled the show after two seasons, ABC picked it up.

Leave It to Beaver aired from 1957 to 1963. When CBS cancelled the show after two seasons, ABC picked it up.

Watching Beaver episodes in preparation for this blog post reminded what an enjoyable show this is. While the Cleavers are rather bland characters, Mosher and Connelly surround them with a hilarious collection of kids and adults, each believably annoying in his or her own way—from know-it-all Judy, whose mother was apparently one of the first helicopter parents—she threatened to call the school and complain if Judy didn’t pass her school orchestra audition—to overbearing braggart Fred Rutherford, to the ultimate in two-faced trouble-makers, Eddie Haskell.

The writers also slip some great lines into their scripts. I loved the randomness of this comment from “Train Trip”:

Ward, on how the boys could amuse themselves in a train station: “Well, you could always watch a fat lady hit a kid.”

June: “Why would they do that?”

Ward: “I don’t know…but I’ve never been in a railroad station yet where there wasn’t a fat lady hitting a kid.”

(If you substitute Wal-Mart for railroad station, this observation still holds true.)

In the early episodes, even June could bring the snark, as in The Perfect Father:

Ward, while installing the basketball hoop: “I must have put up hundreds of these all over the South Pacific when I was in the Seabees.”

June: “Well…I guess we all contributed to victory in our own way.”

So, if you haven’t seen Leave It to Beaver for a while, be sure to catch it on Me-TV—you’re sure to find it rewarding.

And when you do watch it, keep an eye on Ward and his journey to modern fatherhood.


“This post is part of Me-TV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to http://classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com) to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to http://metvnetwork.com to learn more about Me-TV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.”

Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 2, Episode 10, “You Like Buffy Better,” 11/10/1967

403X403-SOCTVBLOGAttention classic TV fans: Don’t Miss Me-TV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon, starting July 15! All week long, a large collection of bloggers will be sharing their thoughts about great shows on Me-TV’s schedule, including That Girl, Bewitched, The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and many more. (Of course, I’m particularly interested in the bloggers who will be turning their attention to Family Affair.) I’ll be posting my entry, a look at Leave it to Beaver from Ward Cleaver’s perspective, on July 19.

Many thanks to the Classic TV Blog Association for hosting this event and to Me-TV for making so many classic shows available to viewers.

Now, on to Family Affair

Written by: Hannibal Coons (Seriously? Apparently so, although his real first name was Stanley.) and Harry Winkler. Directed by: Charles Barton.

This week’s episode opens as Uncle Bill prepares for a date, blissfully unaware of all the trouble that’s about to rain down on him.

That trouble begins innocently enough, when Jody requests help with a bridge he’s designing for school. Revealing that he’s learned his lesson about such projects, Bill first seeks assurance that parents are allowed to help.

As Jody and Bill talk engineering, Buffy barges in with exciting news--her dance studio has picked her to try out for a television role.

As Jody and Bill talk engineering, Buffy barges in with exciting news–her dance studio has picked her to try out for a television role.

Jody resents Buffy’s intrusion, while Buffy finds Uncle Bill less than enthralled with her news. (In fairness to him, it’s been established that he hates ballet.)

Neither kids has to worry about it for long, as Bill soon shoos them from the room in preparation for his date.

Buffy and Jody introduce themselves to the lady in question, who has some kind of tumbleweed attached to her head.

Buffy and Jody introduce themselves to the lady in question, who has some kind of tumbleweed attached to her head.

“At Uncle Bill’s age,” the kids observe, “men are just more interested in pretty ladies than in little kids.” Ouch.

Later that night, Buffy confides her troubles to Mrs. Beasley.

Later that night, Buffy confides her troubles to Mrs. Beasley.

“I’m glad you’re not a man,” she tells the doll. “At least I have one friend.” Ouch again.

Cissy overhears Buffy’s comments and gets that concerned look on her face–that look usually bodes ill for Uncle Bill.

She waits up for him to return from his date and tells him that he needs to spend more time with Buffy.

She waits up for him to return from his date and tells him that he needs to spend more time with Buffy.

Uncle Bill agrees to do so, but when Cissy changes the subject to her latest boyfriend, Bill pleads exhaustion and heads for bed. Great–now all the kids are frustrated.

The next day, Bill makes time to talk with Buffy and to watch her "buttercup dance." But now Cissy, who was so concerned about her sister the night before, tries to monopolize Bill's attention for their delayed boyfriend discussion.

The next day, Bill makes time to talk with Buffy and to watch her “buttercup dance.” But now Cissy, who was so concerned about her sister the night before, tries to monopolize Bill’s attention for their delayed boyfriend discussion.

By the way, doesn’t the girls’ room look much more spacious than usual?

Soon, Jody enters with a request for more bridge assistance, but Bill keeps his focus on Buffy, especially when he learns that the TV producer she’ll be auditioning for is a friend of his.

VTS_01_5.VOB_000372111

Bill calls his friend to put in a good word for Buffy. (Oh, that’s why the room looked so spacious–the desk had temporarily disappeared, as desks are wont to do.)

At school the next day, Ronny Bartlett questions why he hasn’t been able to meet Uncle Bill yet.

Teenage boys are always so anxious to meet their girlfriends' parents.

Teenage boys are always so anxious to meet their girlfriends’ parents.

Cissy promises that she’ll make the introduction after school, but it turns out to be a chaotic afternoon at the Davis apartment.

In Bill’s absence, French has tried to help Jody with the bridge and made a royal mess of it.

Bill finds Jody sulking and refusing to work on the project at all.

Bill finds Jody sulking and refusing to work on the project at all.

Before he can offer much help, Bill has another obligation–taking Buffy to her audition.

VTS_01_5.VOB_000763903

Buffy gives an underwhelming performance for the TV producer, who has to explain to Bill that she’s not ready for prime time.

Bill takes a dejected Buffy home, where he finds an equally dejected Jody, as well as Cissy waiting with a nervous Ronny.

VTS_01_5.VOB_000823762

Random mystery: Buffy both leaves the apartment and returns to it in her leotard, so what’s in that awesome flowered suitcase?

Cissy springs upon Bill the news that she and Ronny are going steady and planning marriage in a few years. Now, from my study of old teen advice books, I know that parents considered “going steady” a fast train to nookie-ville, which explains Bill’s harsh reaction.

By the time Bill finishes his man-to-man talk with Ronny, fruit punch is spilling, the boy's voice is cracking, and the "going steady" is over.

By the time Bill finishes his man-to-man talk with Ronny, fruit punch is spilling, the boy’s voice is cracking, and the “going steady” is over.

Cissy takes this development in the calm fashion that any teenage girl would.

"You've ruined my life!" she screeches. "I love Ronny!"

“You’ve ruined my life!” she screeches. “I love Ronny!”

By this time, Uncle Bill feels like the challenges of parenting have defeated him (and I’m feeling glad that I have only one child).

French, however, raises an interesting possibility--maybe parenting isn't the problem. Maybe the kids are acting like little jerks.

French, however, raises an interesting possibility–maybe parenting isn’t the problem. Maybe the kids are acting like little jerks.

Bill seizes on this theory with enthusiasm and calls all the kids into the living for for a talking-to.

Unlike real kids, the Davis kids accept that they've been making unreasonable demands on Bill's attention, and everyone ends up happy.

Unlike real kids, the Davis kids accept that they’ve been making unreasonable demands on Bill’s attention, and everyone ends up happy.

Commentary

These conflicts would arise in a real family situation, especially when the time Uncle Bill spends at home is so limited. I began the episode feeling sorry for the kids and ended it feeling sorry for Bill. It’s nice to see the kids have to take responsibility for their own behavior at the end.

Guest Cast

Ronny Bartlett: Gregg Fedderson. Miss Peterson: Olga Kaya. Ballet Mother: Katey Barrett. Alicia: Kellie Flanagan. Secretary: Charlotte Askins. Eric Langley: Del Moore.

This is the second appearance by Flanagan, best known for the TV version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Oh, Me-TV--any chance you could resurrect that show?

This is the second appearance by Flanagan, best known for the TV version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Oh, Me-TV–any chance you could resurrect that show?

Moore’s career included a regular role on Bachelor Father–a show with a premise similar to Family Affair‘s–and a part in 1963’s The Nutty Professor.

Fedderson, the son of executive producer Don Fedderson, would make many more appearances as Cissy's date, usually named Gregg. He was the brother of Petticoat Junction's Mike Minor.

Fedderson, the son of executive producer Don Fedderson, would make many more appearances as Cissy’s date, usually named Gregg. He was the brother of Petticoat Junction‘s Mike Minor.

Fun Facts

Uncle Bill once built a bridge over the Amazon.

Notable Quotes

“I do it better with my costume on–all fluffy and buttercuppy.”–Buffy, practicing her buttercup dance.