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.

Embarrassing Treasures Field Trip: The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention 2013

They had me at Margaret O’Brien.

I don’t remember what made me browse the web site for the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention earlier this year, but as soon as I saw Margaret O’Brien on the celebrity list, I ordered my tickets.

MANC takes place each fall in Baltimore. For three days, celebrities make themselves available for autograph signings and Q&A sessions; experts hold seminars on old-time radio, classic television, and classic movie topics; vendors sell movie posters, books, and other collectibles; and classic screen performances play in the Movie Room.

I’ve thought about attending before (and I really wish I’d attended in 2009, when Johnny Whitaker and one-time Family Affair guest star Lee Meriwether were guests). The chance to see my favorite child star in person stirred me into seizing the moment. It’s a sad reality that few golden-age stars remain with us, and we lose more every year.

This was the first nostalgia convention I’ve attended, and what follows is a brief, impressionistic review. Unfortunately, it lacks photos—I forgot to pack my camera, and my iPhone images didn’t turn out well.

Educational Sessions

Mornings at MANC are devoted to presentations on vintage entertainment topics. The presenters are people who’ve invested enormous time into learning about their subject. John C. Abbott, for instance, has produced an exhaustive three-volume work called The Who is Johnny Dollar? Matter about radio’s famous insurance investigator. He’s analyzed not only the remaining recorded episodes but those that exist only in script form. He can tell you everything from Johnny’s address to how many times he’s been shot.

Sally Stephens talked about Gracie Allen’s 1940 run for the presidency, a months-long joke that played out on several radio shows and in live appearances. Stephens effectively integrated radio clips into her presentation, which made her topic come alive.

Joanna Wilson gave a great presentation on TV adaptions of A Christmas Carol. I’d been eagerly anticipating this presentation for two reasons:

  • I love TV Christmas specials and episodes.
  • Wilson is a fellow Classic TV Blog Association member, and I hoped to meet her and to purchase her book, ‘Tis the Season TV.

Wilson’s presentation didn’t disappoint–her passion for her subject matter really came through, and the audience responded with similar enthusiasm. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of straight A Christmas Carol adaptations. (What does it say about me that my favorite theatrical version features the Muppets?) I still enjoyed learning about all the versions TV has produced, and I was glad that Wilson touched on many of my favorite Dickens-influenced TV episodes, including ones from The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Avengers, and Family Ties.

It was fun to meet another blogger, and I’m enjoying Wilson’s book, which I highly recommend to all Christmas TV fans.

(Be sure to read her convention recap, too–it has pictures!)

Author Gene Blottner did a presentation on film noir star Audrey Totter and made good use of clips from Totter’s career.

Garyn Roberts, a noted Ray Bradbury scholar, hosted a celebration of the author and gave another talk about Dick Tracy in popular culture.

Celebrity Appearances

As Ed Asner walked into his Q&A session, his cell phone rang. Nodding to the audience, he quipped, “It’s for you.”

This was the perfect introduction for Asner, who was as gruff, unfiltered, and entertaining as you would expect. He had high praise for many of his former co-stars, especially Ted Knight from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Nancy Marchand from Lou Grant. (He also had high praise for Marchand’s legs.) 

Johnny Crawford from The Rifleman appeared on a panel with Jeff Connors, real-life son of Rifleman star Chuck Connors. Both men recalled the elder Connors with affection. Crawford said that Connors was protective toward him on the set; no director who treated Crawford unkindly would continue working on the show.

Crawford reminisced about some of his favorite guest stars on the show, including John Anderson and Royal Dano. He especially enjoyed working with two-time guest star Sammy Davis Jr., who loved Westerns.

His favorite episodes from the show are “The Pet” and “The Sharpshooter.” (Sam Peckinpah wrote the latter’s script.)

All the talk about the show’s warm father-son dynamic inspired me to make The Rifleman a regular part of my Me-TV viewing.

Crawford also talked his experiences as a first-season Mouseketeer and joked about his crush on Karen, which Cubby thwarted.

Julie Newmar shared a Q&A session with Elizabeth Shepherd, a British actress best known for her role in 1964’s The Tomb of Ligeia, as well as her status as The Avengers‘ first Emma Peel. (Producers quickly replaced her with Diana Rigg, and the scenes that Shepherd shot for the show no longer exist.)

Newmar and Shepherd made an interesting study in contrasts. Newmar was expansive, dramatic, and occasionally random. (She sometimes interrupted Shepherd to ask her an off-the-wall question.) Shepherd was down-to-earth and good at telling stories, as when she described her perilous encounters with trained ravens during the filming of The Omen II.

Newmar said her ballet background gave her the cat-like physique that served her well in her famous Batman role. Her most challenging role was on the short-lived series My Living Doll because it was difficult to find the humanity in her robot character.

An experienced Shakespearean stage actress, Shepherd made an interesting point about theater being a burgeoning new field to the Elizabethans, as social media is to us today. She treated the MANC audience to an excellent dramatic recitation from Shakespeare.

(Note to the loud talker behind me who rarely shut his mouth throughout the Newmar and Shepherd Q&A: Not cool. Seriously. When everyone around you is glaring, it’s time to shut up.)

Margaret O’Brien exuded graciousness throughout her presentation.

She had good things to say about nearly everyone she worked with, from Charles Laughton (“He was wonderful”) to Lionel Barrymore (“He was almost like a grandfather”) to Judy Garland (“She loved children”).

She even had a good relationship with studio head Louis B. Mayer, who wanted to marry her mother, glamorous flamenco dancer Gladys Flores.

O’Brien talked again and again about the supportive, protective role her mother played in her life. Flores made sure that O’Brien got the salary she deserved for Meet Me in Saint Louis. She kept O’Brien in line during the perilous teenage years, once busting her at a nightclub after she sneaked out with Natalie Wood. She kept the child-hating Wallace Beery from stealing O’Brien’s hot lunch on the set of Bad Bascomb. (Beery seemed to be the only person in Hollywood to earn O’Brien’s ire.)

It’s apparent that her mother’s influence kept O’Brien from the pitfalls of child stardom and enabled her to simply enjoy the movie-making process.

O’Brien, who traveled to Japan in 1952 to make the movie Girls Hand in Hand, talked about the importance of travel and getting to know people from other cultures. Again, she praised the influence of her mother, who served as her role model as a strong, independent woman.

“I never feel that I can’t do something,” O’Brien said.

Autographs and Vendors

The welcoming letter in the convention program noted that some people attend only to collect autographs, while skipping all the sessions. I took the opposite approach. I’ve never been an autograph collector, and I feel awkward approaching celebrities–there’s nothing that I could say that they haven’t heard thousands of times. MANC attracts a knowledgeable crowd, so audience members covered most of the questions I would have asked during the Q&A sessions. (I did hope to ask Robert Loggia about his work with Brian Keith on Disney’s Elfego Baca, but Loggia is in frail health, and I couldn’t bring myself to bother him.)

For those who do want to collect autographs, MANC is ideal. Celebrities are available for long periods throughout the three-day conference, so lines stay short, and fans have time to chat with their favorite stars.

Vendor tables lined the main hallway leading to the seminar room. When I didn’t see anything I wanted there, I figured the spending money I brought with me was safe. On the second day, I realized that many more vendors were offering their wares on another floor. I picked up a few vintage books and magazines and a set of Dr. Doolittle paper dolls. I also bought several current books, including books about Peggy Ann Garner and 1950s live television by author Sandra Grabman, who attended the convention.

My only regret was that I didn’t find any good games for future Spin Again Sunday posts.

My overall experience at MANC was wonderful, and I would highly recommend it to all fans of vintage entertainment. The $15-a-day admission price is a small price to pay for seeing your favorite stars in person and hearing from experts on interesting topics. I hope to go again in coming years. (I definitely will if Kathy Garver appears–I’m not missing another Family Affair star!)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.