Friday, May 1, 2015

“I’m gonna keep an eye on you!”


Actor-comedian Don Rickles—who celebrates his eighty-ninth birthday next Friday (May 8)—didn’t become a stand-up comic because of an overwhelming urge to be funny in front of large audiences…Rickles decided on his career path after becoming frustrated by his inability to find work as an actor.  Unfortunately for Don, his prepared material laid goose eggs in the various New York nightclubs where he chose to perfect his mirthmaking craft.  In response to the ribbing and heckling he received from the crowd, he decided to lob insults at his detractors…and found his gift for invective got more appreciative laughs and applause than the jokes he brought with him.  His comedy career got a further boost when he spotted The Chairman of the Board—Francis Albert Sinatra—in a Miami dive at which he was headlining, and jokingly told Sinatra: “Make yourself at home, Frank.  Hit somebody.”  Surprisingly, the singer did not have one of his hangers-on take Rickles out behind the club to be dealt with in an appropriate manner; instead, Sinatra encouraged his friends to catch the act of the man soon to be known as “Mr. Warmth” (though Frankie’s pet name for his nemesis was “Bullethead”), which paved the way for Don’s bookings into more lucrative Las Vegas venues.

Don made an auspicious film debut in 1958’s Run Silent, Run Deep (with Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable), which—though he had appeared occasionally on the small screen in various anthology programs—paved the way for his subsequent television career as a much-in-demand guest star on such classic shows as Wagon Train, The Addams Family, Burke’s Law, The Wild Wild West and many others.  Rickles played “Lyle Delp” in two classic installments of The Dick Van Dyke Show (“4 ½” and “The Alan Brady Show Goes to Jail”) and the story goes that his appearance on his pal Don Adams’ Get Smart sitcom—a two-parter entitled “The Little Black Book”—became a two-parter because he and Adams ad-libbed so much material they were able to make two episodes out of the finished product.  Rickles was a frequent guest on variety programs and talk shows (Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, etc.), and in addition to his television antics was a fixture in several of American International Pictures’ “Beach Party” films released in the 1960s.  (He’s also turned in some memorable performances in films like X—the Man with X-Ray Eyes [1963] and Casino [1995].)

A popular personality like Don Rickles would seem a natural for a television series of his own.  He hosted a self-titled variety series in 1968, and a sitcom with that same title ran for an eye-blink in 1972.  The problem with the sitcom version of The Don Rickles Show is that “The Merchant of Venom” had to have a vehicle suitable for his talents; he played an ad exec in the 1972 series, and it was obviously Don was a fish out of water in that set-up.  With the help of TV veteran Aaron Ruben, however, Rickles would find his biggest TV success beginning in December of 1976.  Ruben’s main claim to boob tube fame was taking grease monkey Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) out of Mayberry and into the United States Marine Corps with Gomer Pyle, USMC.  Utilizing Rickles’ former Navy background (Don was a Seaman First Class on the USS Cyrene during World War II), Aaron created for Don a similar service comedy in CPO Sharkey.  (Rickles actually guested on a Gomer episode in 1965, “My Buddy the War Hero.”)

The inaugural episode of Sharkey, “Oh Captain! My Captain,” introduces us to Chief Petty Officer Otto Sharkey (Don), a twenty-four year Navy veteran who reigns supreme at a San Diego training base and who feels out of step in what is now a “modern” Navy; his company of recruits is a rainbow of various ethnic stereotypes, and he complains to his best friend and fellow CPO Dave Robinson (Harrison Page) that the introduction of a female commander, Captain Quinlan (Elizabeth Allen), to the naval base is the straw that’s broken the camel’s back—he’s turning in his papers and retiring.  But the abrasive Sharkey also possesses a tenderness in his inner core: he convinces one of the recruits (Dennis Kort) who’s homesick to stick it out in the Navy (Sharkey lies to the young man, telling him he was just as scared when he joined), and word of this gets back to Captain Quinlan, who awards him with a commendation.  Sharkey changes his mind about retirement at episode’s end.

CPO Sharkey copied the Gomer Pyle formula to a T—the only difference is that the Sergeant Carter character, represented by Rickles’ Sharkey, had now taken center stage.  The role of Sharkey’s Gomer-like foil was played by 6’7” Peter Isacksen, who as country boy (Seaman) Lester Pruitt towered over his commanding officer, often prompting Sharkey to needle him with lines like “Why don’t you milk a giraffe?”  (In several episodes of Sharkey, Pruitt’s equally lanky girlfriend Evelyn would appear, played by 6’2” Rhonda Bates.  Bates had been a cast member on Blansky’s Beauties, which I watched back then because I did not know any better.)  The chemistry between Rickles and Isacksen was one of the highlights of Sharkey, and the pair were memorably featured together on a TV Guide cover (with Don having to stand on a footlocker, of course).

One of my Facebook friends is a great guy I know from my halcyon college days at Marshall University, and the guy could be Peter Isacksen's twin, he looks that much like him,  I waited until he brought up the resemblance because I didn't want to hurt his feelings.  (He commented: "Of all the people. Could not look like George Clooney. Noooo...")

The abbreviated first season (fifteen episodes) of CPO Sharkey is scheduled to be released in a three-disc collection from Time-Life on May 19th, and I was fortunate enough to get a gander at the set courtesy of the generosity from Michael Krause at Foundry Communications.  I was a big fan of the sitcom when it originally aired; I know Rickles’ brand of ethnic insult humor is off-putting to a lot of people but I think that was the genius of the Sharkey series—it allowed Rickles to be Rickles, insomuch as you’d expect his character to be undecidedly non-P.C. due to the nature of his profession.  (Think of a watered-down version of R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket [1987].)  Still, I did kind of chuckle at the disclaimer that’s printed on the back of the DVD: “Warning: Some of the jokes and ethnic references heard in these episodes would most likely not be allowed on network TV today and reflect the tenor of the times.”

The emphasis on ethnic humor is one of the show’s weaknesses, but this is because the individuals that make up Sharkey’s Company 144 aren’t flesh-and-blood human beings but caricatures: you have the jive-talking Daniels (Jeff Hollis), Jewish intellectual Skolnik (David Landsberg), Latino Rodriguez (Richard Beauchamp) (who wins the Most Embarrassing Award with his frequent outburst of “margaritas and mamacitas”), Italian Mignone (Barry Pearl) and Polish Kowalski (Tom Ruben).  It was a time in TV history when series like All in the Family, Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man relied on that sort of humor and were popular shows, and if you know anything about Rickles’ stand-up style he’s nothing if not an equal opportunity offender.  The exchanges between Sharkey and his pal Robinson work best, probably because they echo the Archie Bunker-Lionel Jefferson dynamic of Family, in which Lionel mocks his bigoted neighbor by turning his offensive remarks back at him.

SHARKEY: You people haven’t been at this very long…
ROBINSON: What’s that supposed to mean?
SHARKEY: Well, let’s face it—not too long ago all you people had to work with was a frying pan or a bugle!
ROBINSON (clasping his hands): Oh…thank you, Bwana…for leading Young Spearcarrier to Great White Settlement!

The one individual spared Sharkey’s barbs was Captain Quinlan, and I’m not sure if that was because she outranked him or because the people behind the show were leery about letting Rickles appear unlikable by bullying Allen with his trademark invective.  (There was once an unwritten rule in sitcoms that the main character had to be sympathetic.)  In the fourth episode, “Goodbye Dolly” (12/29/76), the character of Lt. Whipple (Jonathan Daly) was introduced to provide the show’s star with a suitable nemesis.  Whipple was an arrogant know-it-all and brown noser whose pronounced front teeth would often prompt Sharkey to mimic him in a “rabbit” fashion whenever Whipple’s back was turned (Sharkey also called him “Lieutenant Bugs Bunny” out of earshot).  Whipple stayed around for the show’s second and last season when the decision was made to replace Quinlan with a by-the-book commander in Captain Buckner (played by character great Richard X. Slattery).

With the exception of “The Dear John Letter” (12/22/76), which is offered in truncated syndication form only because the episode’s master has gone missing from the vaults, the remaining episodes of CPO Sharkey are presented in the best possible shape to be expected from a series that was videotaped, not filmed.  It was a nice little wallow in nostalgia to watch the sitcom again, and a couple of episodes were quite enjoyable.  I found “Sharkey Finds Peace and Quiet” to be the best of the bunch; a risible outing in which our hero rents an apartment off-base to escape the demands of his recruits and other pests (Whipple) due to his habit of working late.  (Sharkey also wants a little rendezvous with “Natalie,” his girlfriend who, to my knowledge, was only talked to by telephone.  This episode also introduces Philip Simms as Recruit Apodaca, who replaced Mignone in Sharkey’s company come Season 2.)  “The Pizza Party” (3/23/77) is also a hoot; a planned graduation shindig in the barracks has to be halted because Sharkey is all too aware of the penalty should the men get caught.  (TDOY fave Vito Scotti plays the pizza delivery guy in this, which is probably why I was entertained by it so.)  Of course, it’s hard to resist the charms of the first season closer, “A Wino is Loose” (3/30/77), with Hal Horn favorite Larry Storch as the titular inebriate who insists on overstaying his welcome.  (I’ve always been a fan of Rickles’ appearance on F Troop in “The Return of Bald Eagle,” so it was a treat watching these two old pros work together again.)

Included on the CPO Sharkey set is a classic Tonight Show with Johnny Carson sequence—one that I joked on Facebook may be remembered more than any episodes of the actual Sharkey series.  Don Rickles’ best friend Bob Newhart was guest-hosting for Carson one night, and when a joke of Don’s didn’t go over the way he hoped Rickles accidentally broke the cigarette box Johnny had been keeping on his desk since the show’s New York days.  The next night, Carson returns to find the damaged box and Doc Severinsen fills his boss in on how the mishap occurred; informed that Rickles is taping an episode of Sharkey across the way, Johnny bursts in the middle of taping and gives his frequent guest what for.

I don’t know where the Tonight Show clip of this encounter featured on the Sharkey collection originated, but I know it’s wildly different from the one you can watch on YouTube because the CPO Sharkey collection’s version eliminates a pair of Carson-emulating-Rickles jokes (he cracks to Don’s Sharkey co-star Page “I hope you kept the cotton mill down South—if this show goes like the others, you’ll be out of work come January!”) and the hilarious bit where Rickles begins to grovel in Johnny’s presence (“Keep me on your show…you mean so much to me” ) is shot from a different angle (my guess is that it was one of the Sharkey cameras).  (The bit where Don introduces Carson to his audience, and Johnny replies in a petulant Jack Benny manner “They know who I am!” is falling-down hysterical.)

No self-respecting Don Rickles fan will want to be without CPO Sharkey: The Complete Season One; it was the perfect vehicle for the comic’s caustic style of humor (though the Sharkey character is really just a big pussycat), and even when an episode isn’t exactly teeming with giggles Rickles is capable of carrying the load with attitude to spare (in one episode, he even self-references his famous nickname by referring to himself as “Mr. Warmth”).  I’m looking forward to catching Season Two if Time-Life gets that far, and in case it slips my mind next Friday—happy birthday to you, Mr. Rickles.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Classic Movie Blog Association’s Fabulous Films of the 1930s Blogathon: Sons of the Desert (1933)


The following essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the Fabulous Films of the 1930’s Blogathon, hosted by The Classic Movie Blog Association and currently underway from April 27-May 1, 2015.  For a list of the participating blogs and the movies/topics discussed, click here.


By the 1920’s, comedy producer Mack Sennett had begun to cede ground to the man he once acknowledged as his only true rival in the field of movie comedy shorts production: Hal Roach.  Roach, who established his “Lot of Fun” back in 1915 producing comedies starring his friend Harold Lloyd, had usurped Sennett by creating a new style of movie mirth that, while certainly not skimping on physical comedy, phased out the manic Keystone slapstick in favor of what we might now acknowledge as the antecedent of the modern situation comedy.  Roach’s roster of funsters included Lloyd, Charley Chase, Our Gang (The Little Rascals)…and two men that begun their acting careers in the 1910s until appearing together briefly in a 1921 comedy entitled Lucky Dog: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Five years later, the two men would appear in a Roach “Comedy All-Stars” production entitled 45 Minutes from Hollywood—and several short comedies later, Laurel & Hardy would go on to become the biggest stars at Hal Roach’s studio.  Not only did they make a series of hilarious silent two-reel comedies that still win over the audiences today (Two Tars, Big Business), they successfully transitioned into talkies—with their natural speaking voices causing them no problems the way sound derailed the careers of other stars from the silent era.  Even though displaying their names on a theater marquee guaranteed that customers would pay admission just to chortle at their antics, Stan and Ollie’s careers faced a formidable threat with the onslaught of the Great Depression.

The figures for movie theater attendance plummeted once owners realized people were forced to cut back their time spent at the “flickers” in favor of luxuries like food, clothing and shelter.  To compensate for the loss, studios stepped up their production of “B” pictures in order to be able to offer a “two-for-one” experience at the movies.  As such, the traditional theater program of a main feature supplemented by “extras” like cartoons, newsreels and serial chapters began to vanish from some venues…and that also included two-reel comedies, which were Hal Roach’s bread-and-butter.  Roach was able to keep his studio afloat by phasing Laurel & Hardy into feature films, such as their 1931 starring debut Pardon Us.  Hal continued to star The Boys in at least two full-length features a year (while their two-reel subjects continued until 1935), and for those employees who weren’t able to duplicate L&H’s success, they were forced to find work elsewhere.

Sons of the Desert was the second of the two Laurel & Hardy feature films released in 1933 (the first was the comic operetta The Devil’s Brother, also known as Fra Diavolo).  The title refers to a fraternal lodge of which Stan and Ollie are loyal members, and during a special meeting the Exalted Ruler (John Elliott)—Stan humorously refers to him as the “Exhausted Ruler”—calls for the membership to swear a solemn oath: that all brothers in good standing will attend the annual “Sons of the Desert” convention in Chicago.  On their way home from the meeting, Stan is worried: he shouldn’t have taken the oath, because he’s not certain his wife Betty (Dorothy Christy) will let him go.

Ollie is incredulous—Mrs. Laurel is going to have to let Stan go, since he swore an oath.  (Oliver: “Do you have to ask your wife everything?”  Stan: “Well, if I didn’t ask her I wouldn’t know what she wanted me to do.”)  Oliver suggests that his pal pattern his life after his own; in the Hardy household, he is “king of his [own] castle.”  The only problem is, Mrs. Lottie Hardy (Mae Busch) appears to have usurped her husband’s scepter; she informs him he is most certainly not going to Chicago—the two of them will vacation in the mountains.  When Oliver protests, he winds up on the receiving end of crockery aimed at his cranium…courtesy of the little woman.

So Ollie resorts to a bit of subterfuge: he pretends to be ill from a nervous breakdown, and he’s enlisted Stan to find a doctor (Lucien Littlefield) to prescribe the remedy in the form of a sea voyage to Honolulu.  (Stan rounds up a veterinarian by mistake; Oliver: “Why did you get a veterinarian?” Stan: “Well, I didn’t think his religion would make any difference…”) Dr. Littlefield diagnoses Ollie with “Canis Delirious,” and tells Mrs. Hardy that Honolulu is the only thing that will cure him.  Mrs. H hates the sea, so Oliver suggests that Stan go with him.  (This is the point in the narrative where Stan refuses…only because his wife has said “yes” to his attending the convention, and he plans to go.)

The two men wind up in Chicago, marching in a parade, enjoying good fellowship…and sampling a generous helping of champagne and dancing girls.  On the day they’re due back home in Los Angeles, a local newspaper screams out the headline: “Honolulu Liner Sinking! Floundering in Typhoon!”  Well…here’s another nice mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
Film historian Leonard Maltin, one of the first film critics to champion the cinematic cause of Laurel & Hardy, is unabashed in his praise for Sons of the Desert, calling it “the best feature the team ever did.”  He continues:  “It manages to take the kind of material used in the Laurel & Hardy two-reelers and expand it to feature-length without padding or musical subplots.  It remains one-hundred per cent pure Laurel & Hardy.”  L&H fans enjoy all of the team’s features, but admit that many of them feature unnecessary musical interludes and romantic subplots in order to expand the material beyond the duo's usual two-reel comedy comfort.  Though the script treatment for Desert was written by character actor Frank Craven (a member of Oliver Hardy’s golfing foursome, and best known as the pipe-smoking narrator of the movie adaptation of Our Town [1940], which he co-scripted with the play’s original author Thornton Wilder), much of the inspiration for the film comes from an earlier silent short The Boys starred in, We Faw Down (1928).

Still, one of the pleasures of Desert is that you don’t have to be familiar with the history of Laurel & Hardy to enjoy the film, because their beloved personalities are immediately established after the opening credits roll.  Stan and Ollie are kids that have never completely grown up; both of them are also not very bright—it’s just that Ollie maintains a sense of superiority that he’s the smarter of the two (except he isn’t), and Stan is blissfully content to be his partner’s one man fan club.  Critic Danny Peary mused in an essay on the film that the duo were in some ways an adult version of Hal Roach’s Our Gang, and if you’ve ever seen any of the Little Rascals shorts that feature byplay with George “Spanky” McFarland and Scotty Beckett (and later Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer), you’ll notice that much of their dialogue and mannerisms mirror those of Stan and Ollie.

Oliver Hardy gets big laughs in Sons of the Desert asserting that he’s boss of his household when he’s anything but.  In his arguments with his wife, he’s always wearing the look of a kid too embarrassed to admit the truth to his mother or he fidgets nervously, drawing circles on the walls and table with his index finger.  He calls Lottie “Sugar” and isn’t opposed to using baby-talk to soften his wife’s anger.  Stan is just as childlike: when he refuses to back Oliver’s tall tale that the two of them really were in Honolulu the entire time (despite the published newspaper evidence to the contrary), Ollie blackmails his pal by threatening to tell Mrs. Laurel that Stan was smoking a cigarette.  “All right, go ahead and tell her,” declares his friend.  Would you tell her that?” Stan then asks after a pause, on the verge of tears.

Before her name became a catchphrase for Jackie Gleason’s Stanley R. Sogg character (“The ever popular Mae Busch!”) the real Mae enjoyed a prolific career in silent movies such as Foolish Wives (1922) and The Unholy Three (1925).  Most classic film fans love Mae for her work with Laurel & Hardy, however; she played Ollie’s wife in the duo’s first talkie, Unaccustomed as We Are (1929), and later in Their First Mistake (1932) and The Bohemian Girl (1936).  While Mae may have perfected the battle-axe stereotype working alongside Stan and Ollie, she still displayed enough versatility to play other characters in L&H comedies like Chickens Come Home (1931—she’s a woman from Ollie’s past who threatens to torpedo his political ambitions) and Oliver the Eighth (1934—as a murderous widow who marries men named “Oliver”…and then dispatches them to the Great Beyond).  Dorothy Christie excels equally as non-harridan Mrs. Laurel; Dorothy worked with such legendary comedians in the likes of So This is Paris (1930; with Will Rogers) and Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931; with Buster Keaton).

L&H fans have another motivation for their love of Sons of the Desert: Stan and Ollie’s fellow employee Charley Chase appears in a hilarious turn as an obnoxious conventioneer.  Aside from the occasional feature film like The King of the Wild Horses (1924) or Modern Love (1929), Chase’s domain was pretty much the short subject, and when it came time for Hal Roach to phase out two-reel comedies his longtime shorts star bore the brunt of this decision, becoming briefly unemployed until he was hired by Columbia’s short subjects department in 1937 (being a major studio, Columbia was able to continue cranking out two-reel comedies because they weren’t dependent on them as Hal was for their bottom line).  So it’s a treat to see the three men interact in this comedy—it wasn’t the first time they worked together (Hardy played the heavy in many of Charley’s two-reelers before he was teamed with Stan, and the trio appeared in 1927's Now We'll Tell One and the Max Davidson short Call of the Cuckoo), but with the exception of an L&H cameo in one of Roach’s last two-reel Chase comedies, On the Wrong Trek (1936), Desert would function as their swan song.  Charley is unquestionably in his element as the convention’s merry prankster, swatting attendees’ behinds with a paddle and executing lame practical jokes like the old “squirting flower” routine.

By the oddest of movie coincidences, Charley happens to be the wayward brother of Lottie Hardy, and there’s an amusing sequence where he calls up his sis to catch up on what’s doin’ and eventually puts Ollie on the phone with her.  (The look on Hardy’s face when he realizes whom he’s speaking with is priceless.)  I agree with Danny Peary that Chase’s participation in Desert is all-too-brief; rather than having the wives learn that their spouses deceived them by seeing them cavort in Chicago via a movie newsreel (it’s kind of an awkward plot point, seeing as how Lottie and Betty are concerned about their husbands dying in a shipwreck—who would go to a movie at that time?), it might have been better for Chase’s character to show up in L.A. and spill the beans about seeing Oliver in Chicago.

While I’m quite fond of Sons of the Desert, I’ve never made any bones about the fact that my favorite Laurel & Hardy feature remains Way Out West (1937)…but the economy of Desert’s plot (it’s a time-tested one, which later turned up on TV shows like The Honeymooners), brevity with the musical numbers (the featured tune is “Honolulu Baby,” one of musician Marvin Hatley’s favorite compositions) and its utter lack of pretense make it a firm favorite among the duo’s fans.  Leslie Halliwell called the movie “quintessential” and L&H biographer John McCabe recorded that Stan Laurel’s impression of Desert was that it was the “jolliest” of their collaborations.

Equally jolly was the idea that McCabe presented to Stan Laurel in later years that an organization dedicated to the love of Laurel & Hardy be patterned after the lodge in the film; Stan gave it his blessing, but, as L&H biographer Richard W. Bann explains, “his sole proviso was that the group should, at all times, maintain what he called ‘a half-assed dignity,’ which objective has been met more than halfway! Stan also suggested a motto, to be shown along with a pair of derby hats, to read, ‘Two minds without a single thought.’The “tents” of the Sons of the Desert sweep the United States and worldwide, and are named after the various shorts and feature films starring the duo (for example, the “Berth Marks” tent is located in Augusta, GA).  Over eighty years since it made its appearance in movie theaters, Sons of the Desert remains the apotheosis of Laurel and Hardy’s feature film career, a marvelous testament to the greatest movie comedy team of all time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

“…we’ve got to skedaddle on out of here…”


Back in February of 2011, I did a write-up on an installment of PBS’ Pioneers of Television series entitled “Local Kids’ TV”; it was a very entertaining hour that discussed those shows produced by local TV stations…that admittedly did very little but hawk toys and Sugar-Coated Frosted Bombs to the younger set in order to help those stations’ bottom line.  (And that’s the way we liked it, if I may comment in my old man voice.)  Oh, sure—you had souls who worked for a higher educational purpose, like Fred Rogers and Jim Henson, but most of them had very little aspiration beyond just entertaining the heck out of kids (see The Wallace and Ladmo Show).  Then Boston housewife Peggy Charen and her organization ACT (Action for Children’s Television) came along and spoiled a good time for everyone else, and that’s why afternoon TV is clogged with crap like The Dr. Oz Show and 2,000 individuals clad in judicial robes.

I liberated this candid photo from one of my Facebook pals, who worked at WSAZ-TV for many years and as such, worked with Jule "Mr. Cartoon" Huffman as well.  (This friend was a "substitute Beeper" on a few occasions, though he kept his appearances secret from his circle of friends to avoid embarrassment.)
I then diverged in the post about one of my childhood heroes: Mr. Cartoon, the king of kiddie TV from 4 to 5pm, who taught me the four magic words (“Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome” and “Excuse me”) but mostly just aired cartoons out the wazoo, inspiring in me a love of animation and classic movies in general.  The man cast as Monsieur Cartoon was Jule Huffman, a singer-announcer who doubled as WSAZ-TV’s (Huntington, WV) weatherman when the grown-ups’ show was on.  Huffman was not the first guy to play Mr. Cartoon (that honor went to a man named George Lewis) but he definitely donned the loud sportscoat, fedora and sunglasses the longest—for twenty-five years, he was a role model for those kids in the Huntington-Charleston-TriState viewing area.

Jule Huffman at his 90th birthday celebration, obviously telling those in attendance at the Huntington Masonic Temple to "take one more deep breath."  (I rooked this picture and two others from www.herald-dispatch.com, the online site of Huntington newspaper The Herald-Dispatch...or as we called it when I attended Marshall, "the Herald-Disgrace.")
Jule Huffman passed away at the age of 91 today.  Hearing the news of his death on Facebook filled me with a tremendous sadness, because I did think highly of him when I was a kidlet (even though I probably turned out differently than most of the kids in the Kartooners’ Korner—twisted and evil) and not only do I regret never getting the opportunity to be on his show (you can read all about that in the post) I lament the fact that I never took the time to perhaps put pen to paper and let him know that I was grateful for all the joy and fun he brought to me and the others who watched him every day Monday through Friday.  Huffman was more than just a TV personality; he worked tirelessly for charitable causes and insisted on maintaining professionalism and respectability both in his career and his church.

The formidable team of Mr. Cartoon and Beeper.
 Bye, Mr. Cartoon.  Requiescat in pace, Jule.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #70


Since I thought this past weekend was going to be a busy one, what with some projects I was working on and the like, I slacked off on last week’s Serial Saturdays and Doris Day(s) and instead finished up a couple of reviews for ClassicFlix—one of which has already been posted, Day of the Outlaw (1959).  I also peeked at some free HBO/Cinemax that U-Verse was nice enough to gift us, but mostly got caught up on some items that I had stashed on the DVR:

Rain (1932) – Technically, this should fall under the category of what I jokingly call a “Cinematic Vegetable,” because although I had seen bits and pieces of it (I had a college instructor use clips in a film class I once took) I’d never sat down and screened it all the way through.  Stranded on the slightly-moist island of Pago Pago (that’s where the titular precipitation comes in), good-time gal Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford) whoops it up with a group of American soldiers stationed there…much to the disapproval of the bluenose wife (Beulah Bondi) of fire-and-brimstone preacher Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston), who uses his considerable political muscle on the island’s guv’nor to threaten Sadie’s deportation.  Sadie seeks salvation and redemption from the right Reverend Alfred…but is it all a con on her part?

Based on the famous W. Somerset Maugham story, Rain did dismal box office but is kind of a cult favorite today, thanks to Crawford’s performance (one of my favorites of La Joan) and director Lewis Milestone’s splendiferous visual style (which the instructor in my film class took special pains to note).  I still think the 1928 version (Sadie Thompson) is a better movie (despite its being incomplete), but the 1932 version is fun to watch—plus you get the added benefits of character greats like Guy Kibbee, William Gargan and Walter Catlett.

The Wet Parade (1932) – This one aired on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ right after Rain (part of a Walter Huston tribute), but what made this doubly humorous was that outside it was, in fact, a real toad-strangler (thanks, Toby) in Athens while the two films aired.  The best way I can describe Parade is that it’s an elongated Crime Does Not Pay short subject; the effects of Prohibition are demonstrated on two families, one headed up by Southerner Lewis Stone—Stone commits suicide when he finds himself unable to resist the power of demon rum, and we follow his two children (Dorothy Jordan, Neil Hamilton) up North where a similar situation befalls Huston (he’s unable to get booze once Prohibition kicks in, and he’s forced to drink paint thinner before killing his wife in a rage).  Huston’s son, played by Robert Young, turns Elliot Ness and becomes a T-Man to atone for his father’s dipsomaniac misdeeds.

The movie was adapted by John Lee Mahin from Upton Sinclair’s novel…and while I’ve not read Sinclair’s book, I may have to because I was really entertained by Parade despite its heavy-handed moralizing.  The person who cast Jimmy Durante as Young’s fellow Fed gets major props (though they missed an opportunity to have Durante say during his death scene: “I’m SUR-rounded by assassins!”), and though I only caught a glimpse of him from the side I picked out Max Davidson as the store owner (other thesps I noticed with amusement include Heinie Conklin and Clarence Wilson).  Huston’s blustery father didn’t quite work for me, but I thought everyone else did fine.  Oh, and Myrna Loy plays a blonde floozy who takes a powder on Neil “Commissioner Gordon” Hamilton after Hamilton downs some bad liquor that renders him sightless.  (Thanks a lot, Miss Perfect Wife.)

Sweepstakes Winner (1939) – Jerry Colonna demonstrates how to steal a movie despite having no material to work with; he’s the most memorable part of Sweepstakes Winner, a programmer that I admittedly watched for him, Allen Jenkins and a young Marie Wilson—a few years from her radio fame on My Friend Irma.  Wilson is a naïve ditz who inherits a grand from her deceased grandpap and keeps getting richer and richer despite the constant efforts of Jenkins and Charley Foy to separate her from her winnings.  (Colonna plays a chef in a greasy spoon Marie finds work in as a waitress, where she meets her paramour in Johnnie “Scat” Davis.)

I was a little disappointed that the interactions between Wilson and Jenkins weren’t sharper (the best exchange is when Allen tells her “You need a keeper!” and she innocently responds “Oh…how much would one cost?”) but this didn’t keep me from loving Wilson in this movie…and let’s be honest, it’s less than an hour long—it’s not like it’s going to take a huge chunk out of your life or anything.  Added bonus: Jimmy Cagney impersonator Frankie Burke shows up as a jockey, and his character’s name—Chalky Williams—is also the name of an actor who plays a bit part in Cagney’s A Lion is in the Streets (1953) (see separate entry).

Granny Get Your Gun (1940) – My Facebook compadre Hal Erickson writes about this movie at Allmovie.com: “Earl [sic] Stanley Gardner claimed to have wept openly when he saw what Granny Get Your Gun had done to his original Perry Mason yarn; some viewers may be inclined to do the same.”  I won’t begrudge Gardner getting upset…but I thought Granny was a real pip; May Robson plays a feisty senior citizen whose granddaughter (Margot Stevenson) refuses to take her advice in her divorce proceedings with wanker Hardie Albright.  Albright later turns up dead in a trailer court bungalow, and May confesses to the crime to keep Stevenson out of the pokey (she’s got a young daughter).

What makes Granny such a pleasurable romp is the first-rate chemistry between Robson and her questionably competent lawyer, TDOY fave Harry Davenport—Harry’s character has a fondness for the good stuff and he’s constantly misplacing shot glasses filled with whiskey he’s put down to look respectable (“How did that get there?”).  May and Harry are worth the price of admission, and Clem Bevans steals a few scenes as Davenport’s “assistant” (the bit where he held his hand out for Harry’s shot glass made me guffaw heartily).  Pity someone didn’t think about instituting a series based on this short-and-sweet mystery-comedy.

Black Gold (1947) – Anthony Quinn is TCM’s Star of the Month for April, and seeing that Phil Karlson directed this programmer was all the initiative I needed to sit down for a watch.  Quinn is Charley Eagle, a Native American rancher who has dreams of entering a horse in the Kentucky Derby.  He may get his wish in the titular equine, a colt he obtained by mating the horse’s ma with a champion owned by a Colonel Caldwell (Thurston Hall).

Filling in the background on this story is an orphan named Davey (‘Ducky’ Louie), whose father was killed by coyotes (not the animal kind) smuggling him and his pop over the Mexican border; Davey is later adopted by Charley and his wife Sarah (Katherine DeMille), who become fabulously wealthy when oil is discovered on their property.  (Black Gold also features a message about racial tolerance.)  The movie is a surprisingly engaging B-pic, though Louie’s histrionics will get on your nerves after a fashion.  Raymond Hatton, Kane Richmond, Moroni Olsen, Jonathan Hale and Elyse Knox round out a splendid cast…but DeMille, as Quinn’s stoic spouse (which she was in real life as well), is the best thing in the movie.

A Lion is in the Streets (1953) – This one has been on my “must-see” radar for a long while now…but to my disappointment, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped.  James Cagney plays Hank Martin, a traveling peddler in a small Southern town who proves quite effective at stirring up resentment among the sharecroppers toward the local cotton gin owner (played by Larry Keating…This is Your FBI!).  Hank uses the trial of a friend (John McIntire) accused of murder (for killing one of Keating’s goons) to start building a political base for a gubernatorial run; he ends up having to compromise his principles with a power broker (Onslow Stevens) to secure the vote…and like Willie Stark, this leads to his eventual downfall.

This sort of explains the problem I had with Lion; it’s a little too much like All the King’s Men (Streets was adapted from the novel by Adria Locke Langley), which I think is a superior film (its casting faults not withstanding).  Cagney’s character is described as “charismatic” but I didn’t kind him particularly captivating—I kept thinking “All Jimmy needs are a few teachers to yell at and he’d be Chris Christie with a Southern drawl.”  I also had difficulty believing why Barbara Hale—who plays Hank’s wife Verity (her nickname is “Sweet Face,” which reminded me of Wallace Wimple’s rarely-seen wife Sweetyface on Fibber McGee & Molly)—continued to stay with Cagney’s Martin when it’s become pretty evident he’s a dick (and an unfaithful one at that; he diddles around with Anne Francis on the side).  Jeanne Cagney plays John McIntire’s wife, which I thought was nice since Jeanne’s film career was kind of brief; A Lion is in the Streets was really a family affair—Jimmy and Jeanne’s brother William was producer of the last film to bear the “William Cagney Productions” banner.  (It was also the last movie Jimmy made with character great Frank McHugh.)

The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958) – The producers of this movie took a bath at the box office; the second feature based on the 1949-57 TV series (and classic radio program as well) wasn’t as well-received as the 1956 Lone Ranger—I suppose folks decided to wait for 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger.  It matters not one whit to me, however; Lost City of Gold was a lot of fun for both myself and my mother (she loves that masked man so) as it tells the tale of five silver medallions which, when assembled properly, will reveal the location of the titular burg.  The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore—and no one else, podnuh) and Tonto (Jay Silverheels) attempt to reveal the mystery villain who’s killing off the medallion owners (and they also get in a racial tolerance lesson as well).  Lone Ranger fans will love it.

My Blood Runs Cold (1965) – I’ve only seen two of William Conrad’s three theatrical features released in 1965 (this one and Brainstorm), but why I like about the oeuvre of The Man of a Thousand Voice is that he cast those pictures with many old-time radio pros; Brainstorm features the likes of Harry Bartell and Stacy Harris, while Two on a Guillotine (the one I haven’t seen) boasts veterans Parley Baer and Virginia Gregg in its cast.  My Blood Runs Cold spotlights TDOY fave Jeanette Nolan, who models this funky bit of millinery:


Plus you’ll see Howard McNear and Shirley Mitchell in smaller parts.  Blood stars Joey Heatherton as a spoiled socialite who can’t shake the attentions of a drifter (Troy Donahue) she nearly ran down with her automobile; he confides in her that he believes himself to be the reincarnation of a man who was mahdly in love with Joey’s great-great grandmamma.  It won’t take long for the viewer to suspect that something is rotten in Denmark (though the movie takes too much time for the big reveal, which is why I nicknamed this one “My Foot Falls Asleep”).  I bow to no one in my respect for Conrad’s incredible talent, but film directing is something he should have stayed away from (he seemed to do okay on the small screen, though).  Donahue and Heatherton make a most unappealing couple, and Barry Sullivan plays—here’s a stunner—a complete asshole.  (Conrad himself does the Fugitive-like narration at the beginning, and can be heard on a police radio as a deputy sheriff.)

The Whales of August (1987) – Another “cinematic vegetable” that I have been avoiding for too long (if I stopped to think about it, I could have rented this during my brief time with Ballbuster Blockbuster Video).  David Berry adapted his successful stage play about two elderly sisters spending the summer in their Maine cottage—which they’ve owned for half a century; sister Libby (Bette Davis) is blind with cataracts and prickly as only Bette can play her…while sister Sarah (Lillian Gish) continues to abide like little children, while expressing an interest in a Russian aristocrat (Vincent Price) vacationing in the area.  Sarah should do the sane thing and find Libby alternative living arrangements—but the occasion of her forty-sixth wedding anniversary reminds Sarah that Libby was there for her when Sarah’s husband died…and Sarah will reciprocate for Libby despite their advancing years.

The high-wattage acting of Gish, Davis, Price (I just loved him in this) and Ann Sothern (as the sisters’ best friend is reason enough to cozy up to this one; plus the fact Sothern garnered an Oscar nom for her performance) makes this a must-see for classic movie fans.  (This inspiring quartet is joined by Harry Carey, Jr. as a cantankerous handyman.)  Mesmerizingly directed by Lindsay Anderson (Mike Fash’s lush cinematography makes me want to go rent a cottage on my own), August also features Sothern’s daughter Tisha Sterling playing the younger version of her character in a flashback, with Margaret Ladd as the young Libby and Mary Steenburgen as Sarah.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Doris Day(s) #36: “Doris Strikes Out” (11/24/69, prod. no #0403)




I’m just as surprised as you are that I was able to get this week’s Doris Day(s) up on the blog today after kind being kept occupied yesterday—I only hope you’ll forgive me for the delays in the past, and keep in mind that if you send me to Blogosphere Prison there’ll be no one around to keep my parents from killing one another.


Today’s episode, as is the established pattern, opens in the offices of Today’s World (the NOW magazine)…and this amusing image of office busybody Myrna Gibbons (Rose Marie) listening in at the door of the magazine’s major domo, Michael “Nick” Nicholson (McLean Stevenson).  Amusing because as diabolical as Myrna is, I would have assumed that she had already installed a sophisticating bugging system in that joint and would not have to refer to such arcane eavesdropping measures.  Enter her pal, the Widder Martin (Doris).

DORIS: What are you doing?
MYRNA: I’m trying to hear!
DORIS: What?
MYRNA: Doris, I’m so glad you asked me to sit in for you while you went out to lunch…you’ll never guess who’s in Mr. Nicholson’s office—you’ll never guess!
DORIS: Claude LeMaire…
MYRNA: You guessed!

Okay, before you start thinking Doris is a witch and that we’re going to have to burn her, I should point out that she knows who Nick’s visitor is because she made the appointment.

MYRNA: Oh, Doris—he’s adorable…he is so adorable!  And his voice…that voice…when he said (mimicking French accent) “Is Mr. Nicholson in?”  I tell you, I was paralyzed…I just stood there with my mouth open and my pulse racing…
DORIS: Myrna, you’re acting like a silly schoolgirl…he’s just another movie star

Ohhhh…so that’s what Claude does when he’s not tending bar.  Truth be told, I’m not surprised Doris is a bit jaded by the whole “movie star” thing—after all, once you’ve pretended to sleep with Rock Hudson in three feature films it’s all downhill from there.  Doris’ intercom buzzes, and it’s Nicholson—asking her to bring in a release form for LeMaire to sign.  Myrna begs Dor to let her do it, but it looks like Doris is going to tackle this secretarial task by her lonesome.  “Will you control yourself?” Doris asks her pal.  “You’re losing your cool, girl…” Myrna does make Doris promise to leave Nick’s office door open a crack so she can continue to snoop.

Well, let’s meet this week’s special guest—shall we?


In the role of “Claude LeMaire” is actor Jacques Bergerac, a Frenchman who broke into the motion picture bidness by capitalizing on rather cozy connections: namely, he met Ginger Rogers in France when he was only 26 (Ging was 42), and he left behind a possible career in law to appear with her in 1954’s Twist of Fate.  (Jacques divorced Ginger three years later, and wound up marrying Dorothy Malone.)  Bergerac appeared in two major MGM musicals, Les Girls (1957) and Gigi (1958)—which kind of makes sense, what with the French background and all—but a lot of people probably remember him from the 1960 cult horror classic The Hypnotic Eye.  His TV resume is tres impressive (hey!  I speak French!): The Millionaire, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Perry Mason, Get Smart and The Lucy Show, to name a few.  But his appearance in this Doris Day episode would be his show biz swan song, according to both the (always reliable) IMDb and a Variety obituary marking his passing in June of 2014.

LeMaire has turned up in the offices of the NOW magazine because Nick’s arranged a big publicity foofrah for the actor’s newest movie.  Doris, who chided Myrna for being so starry-eyed about Claude earlier, has apparently fallen for LeMaire’s charms because she’s using that soft breathy voice of hers whenever she meets a dude she likes.  Plus LeMaire goes into the whole “Enchanté” routine, including this:


Yes, we’ve got ourselves a hand-kisser.  I will not penalize anyone with demerits if you wish to sneak out of the blog at this time.

NICK: Doris…why don’t you show Mr. LeMaire where to sign?
DORIS: Oh…yes, sir… (Handing him the form) Right there, Monsieur…
CLAUDE: Thank you…
(Pregnant pause)
NICK: Doris…the pen?
DORIS: Oh!  Mr. Nicholson—do you have one?

And it pretty much goes like that from there—while Nick and Claude attempt to work out the details of the publicity junket, Doris stumbles and bumbles around like Lucy Carmichael on meth.  Two things did make me snicker, though: she hands the coffee pot to Nick, who registers a hilarious expression of pain when he takes it in his hands, and then there’s bit:


She collects LeMaire’s still-lit cigar, and then seconds later he looks around the table for the stogie.  That’s when she realizes she removed it prematurely, and when she fishes it out of the container she trills “Oh!  It didn’t go out!”

Finally, Nick yells out “Thank you, Doris!” in the same tone as someone might utter “Nothing to see here—move along, folks!”  Doris Lucys her way out of Nick’s office, unaware her awkwardness has attracted the attention of Monsieur LeMaire:

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
CLAUDE: She’s very charming…
NICK: Yes…well, now—I’ll get in touch with your publicity agent the minute he gets to town and we’ll schedule some…
CLAUDE: Excuse me—is she married?
NICK: Who?
CLAUDE: Your secretary…
NICK: No…no…she’s a widow…

“But if you wait around a couple more seasons, she’ll be on the market!”  After a dissolve, we find Nick escorting LeMaire out of his office, promising to call him at his hotel.  Claude takes a moment to stop at Doris’ desk, for he has—how you say—a proposal:

CLAUDE: Madame…may I thank you again for all your kindness…
DORIS: Oh, it was my pleasure…
CLAUDE: Au revoir…
DORIS: Au revoir…
(Claude walks toward the door, then stops and walks back)
CLAUDE: Madame…tomorrow night they are having the premiere of my…uh…latest picture…
DORIS: Yes…I know…
CLAUDE: I…uh…I know so very few people here in your city, and…I was…uh…wondering if maybe you would do me the honor of…uh…permitting me to escort you…
DORIS: Escort me?
CLAUDE: Yes…to…to my premiere…
DORIS: To your premiere?

What are you, a f**king parrot?  Claude explains that he’s asking Doris for a date, and because it’s been so long—well, two episodes back—she says yes…or “Oui,” in French-talk (though Dor says it as if she’s just got off the Tilt-a-Whirl: “Whee!”).

CLAUDE: I’ll pick you up at seven, huh?  What is your address?
DORIS: Well, I live in Mill Valley…uh, 32 Mill Valley Road…you cross the Golden Gate Bridge…and when you get to the other side, there’s a sign…uh…that says to Mill Valley…it veers to the right…and you go to the right, and you stay on that road…and then you come to a fork in the road…

“Then make a right turn at a big rock that looks like a bear, then make a left turn at a big bear that looks like a rock…if you see a Tastee Freeze on the right—you’ve gone too far!”  Doris decides that since LeMaire is just a-visitin’, perhaps it would be easier if she met him in town, and he is relieved by that suggestion.

"He asked me!"
MYRNA: I don’t believe it!
DORIS: It’s true!  He asked me to go to his premiere!
MYRNA: Oh, why couldn’t it happen to me?!!  Why does my fairy godmother always let me down?!!
DORIS: I still can’t get over it, Myrn—the whole thing is just wild!
MYRNA: Come on, girl…you’re losing your cool!

The celebration comes to a screeching halt, however, when sudden realization kicks in—Doris has nothing to wear.  “Oh, come on, Doris—you’ve got beautiful clothes!” Myrna reminds her chum, which did made me giggle because I have a tendency to question how Doris retains her sartorial flair with two kids to support in a dead-end secretarial job.  Dor’s got a black cocktail dress, but Myrna says that won’t do; she’s also got a beige chiffon with a jeweled top, “it just needs shortening.”  (Break out the Crisco!)  But then Dodo realizes that won’t work, because she lacks the proper accessories.  So it’s settled—she and Myrna will get the necessities tomorrow (bag, gloves, shoes, etc.) because ladies love to shop, amirite?

A dissolve finds Doris pulling into Rancho Webb, which as I have pointed out previously is slightly different from the house featured in the first season…and yet still retains the same basic floor plan inside.  Her father, Laird Buckley Webb (Denver Pyle), is lifting heavy sacks into a pickup truck while her idiot sons Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke) cut firewood with a sharp, pointy saw.  (What could possibly go wrong with this scenario?)

DORIS: Hey, are those really my kids helping with the chores like that?

Kee-rist, it’s worse than I thought—she’s not supposed to forget she has children until Season Four!

BUCK: Oh, yeah…volunteered right after they got home from school…
DORIS: Volunteered?
BUCK: Uh-huh…
DORIS: My kids?
BUCK: Yep…
DORIS: How much you paying them?
BUCK: Nothing…
DORIS: They’re not my kids…

We may have to call CPS before this dialogue exchange is through.  Buck then explains to his daughter that because he’s umpiring their little league game tomorrow that might have something to do with their desire to sweat and toil.  “They think I’ll throw a few decisions their way,” he chuckles.

“Yep…they’re my kids, all right,” Doris replies.  Crisis averted, everyone!

DORIS (to Billy): Hey—how’s your pitching arm?
BILLY: Okay…
DORIS: Ready for the big game tomorrow?
BILLY: I sure am!
TOBY: I’m ready, too, Mom!
BILLY: You’re only the bat boy
TOBY: Well, I’m ready

Toby is going to turn out like Larry Flynt’s brother Jimmy in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), always living in his brother’s shadow.  Sad.  So very sad.  So let’s lighten the mood a bit and saddle the old man with a back injury, eh?

DORIS (as she massages his back): I told you not to keep lifting those heavy sacks, Buck!
BUCK: Right there…ooh…
DORIS: That better?
BUCK: That’s it…

Hey, didn’t you people used to have a hand…er, forget I mentioned that.  Buck asks Doris if anything exciting happened to her at the old salt lick, and she tries to remain nonchalant.  “Just another day, you know…dictation and typing…and phone calls…and I met the French movie star, Claude LeMaire…and he asked me to go to the premiere of his movie tomorrow night…not too much.”

“You’re goin’ out with Claude LeMaire…I’m goin’ out with Brigitte Bardot—hey, how’d you like to make a double date?” Buck jokes.  But Doris crosses her heart and swears this is no bullsh*t—she’s really going to the premiere with Monsieur Montage, and Buck is tickled pink.

BUCK: You’re gonna have to get all gussied up, huh?
DORIS: Yeah, I’m all set…Myrna’s going to help me…she’s going to meet me in town tomorrow…
BUCK: Oh, that’s great!
DORIS: Isn’t that groovy?

Far out.  “Well, he’s got good taste,” beams Buck, and we dissolve to a montage of Doris and Myrna shopping for pretty things…which I’m going to skip over for the most part (I wonder if they went back into Frisco for this stuff or did they load up at the Cotina Bon Ton?—I don’t even think Doris refers to it as “Cotina” anymore, she’s always calling it “Mill Valley”) except for this next screen cap.  You may have noticed that Doris is back to her old hair (probably because these filmed shows aired out of sequence), but I got a snicker out of her trying on this dark wig at the hairdresser’s:

"I am...how you say in your language...le strumpet!"
Arriving back in Cotina Mill Valley, Doris sees a gentleman she identifies as “Dr. Parker” coming out of the house…


…Parker is played by a journeyman actor named James Chandler, who played a lot of medicos and sheriffs in his lengthy show bidness career. His main claim to fame was emoting as Lt. Gerard (no relation to the guy what chased after Dr. Kimble on The Fugitive all those years) on Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60), a short-lived ABC crime drama that tried to capitalize on the network’s successful 77 Sunset Strip formula, except it was set in N’awlins.  After Bourbon Street was cancelled, star Richard Long (as Rex Randolph) eventually relocated to 77 Sunset Strip, while another character played by Van Williams (Kenny Madison) made his way to Miami and became a private eye on Surfside 6.

PARKER: Your dad just strained his back…
DORIS: Oh…no kidding…oh, he complained about it yesterday…
PARKER: I told him he’d have to stay in bed at least a day or so…
DORIS: Great…he’ll love that…
PARKER: Well, if you have to, strap him in…and I left some pills…

“Oh, and I prescribed some medication for his back, too.”  Doris goes inside in time to hear her bedridden father pissing and moaning about being bedridden.

DORIS: What’s this about you?
BUCK: Oh, that old quack…all I got’s a little crick in my back and he’s makin’ a big deal out of it…I’m as SPRYYYY


Doris sits down on the bed, producing a back spasm in Buck and the capitalization of that last word in his dialogue.  Doris will brook no disagreement, though—he’s going to stay in that bed, and that’s non-negotiable…but she wonders if she should cancel her date that evening, since she wouldn’t feel right about leaving her father alone with her two idiot sons.  “I’ll call Mrs. Turpin,” brightens Doris…but her father says no way José: “That biddy?  I don’t know what clacks faster, her mouth or her knitting needles! I don’t want her in my house!”

I’m starting to understand why Doris is constantly looking for excuses to stay in town…hell, I’m even beginning to see why she’s going to cut the old man loose come next season.  But one problem remains: Buck’s got that Little League game obligation, and so Doris is going to have to extricate him from that.  Doris…these two young boys are your children:

DORIS: I want you to be quiet…because Grandpa is trying to rest…
TOBY: Yeah…he hurt his back…
DORIS: Oh—you know about it, then?
BILLY: Yeah…
DORIS: Gee, I’m sorry…it really throws you a curve today, doesn’t it?

Little baseball joke for those of you still with us.

DORIS: Because Grandpa won’t be able to umpire today, honey…not the game this afternoon…
BILLY: That’s all right…we already told our manager we got someone to take his place…
DORIS: Oh, did you?  Oh, that’s good…who’d you get?
BILLY: You!

Sad trombone, line two!  Doris vehemently protests—she can’t umpire no stinking baseball game!  She must prepare herself for that hot date with Monsieur Mise en Scène!  Doris asks why none of the other parents are available for this task, and her son explains to her that they’ve all had their turn—which is why Buck was up in the rotation.  “With Grandpa out, you’re the only parent we’ve got left,” Billy whines as sad music plays in the background.  (This kid is good—he must be taking guilt lessons from my mother!)

As Act Two of “Doris Strikes Out” gets underway, Doris has agreed to call the game because both Billy and Toby have assured her it’ll be over in plenty of time for her to get ready and attend the premiere.  While getting ready for the game, Doris attends to her incapacitated father, who’s crabbing about why it’s taking so long for her to bring him his soup.  She brings a tray into his bedroom.

BUCK: I don’t like being a grouch, but I’m not used to just layin’ around
DORIS: Well, a little laying around is going to do you a lot of good… (She starts to unfold his napkin)
BUCK: I’m used to takin’ care of myself!  Now I can do this…I don’t want to be a bother…
DORIS (mockingly): That’s all right, Grandpa—I don’t mind…

For someone who doesn’t want to be a bother, he does ask Doris if she’ll go back downstairs and get the latest issue of the Farm Journal.  (Check out that centerfold—yowsah!)  Oh, and she’s brought him the plain crackers…he likes the salted kind.


The screen cap shows that Buck is holding a Town House cracker, which had salt on them the last time I ate a whole box.  I think he’s bitching just to bitch.  So Doris gets the journal and the crackers, and it’s off to the old ball park we go.  (She tells Buck she’ll have plenty of time to get ready for her date.)


The look on Doris’ face here suggests that they may have told a teensy fib…


…and the scoreboard also suggests the crowd’s going to have to settle in, ‘cause it’s gonna be a long one.  (The concession stand people are probably high-fiving the crap out of one another…until they run out of Slim Jims, that is.)  Most of what happens here is some admittedly funny visual comedy, so naturally it’s not going to transition to the blog too well (Doris keeps impatiently telling the kids at the plate to get a move on after they’re walked by the pitcher)—but the highlight is Billy’s getting a hit and Doris calling him out at first…only to see the opposite team player drop the ball, so she has to reverse the call.  She and Billy keep this up all around the bases, it’s pretty hilarious stuff.  We do get the opportunity to introduce the real star of this week’s show…


…none other than character great Gordon Jump, in what is the first of five appearances he’ll make on The Doris Day Show.  I was not aware that Jump was a Kansas State University alumnus (go Wildcats!), by the way; of course, I don’t have to tell you the actor’s TV immortality was cemented playing befuddled station manager Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson on both WKRP in Cincinnati (the good sitcom) and The New WKRP in Cincinnati (the bad sitcom).  (The fact that Gordon was a native of Dayton, Ohio explains a lot of the “Dayton” jokes on those shows.)  But he also had regular roles on such series as That’s My Mama, Lou Grant, Soap and Growing Pains.  (Honest to my grandma—the first show I ever saw Jump in was a horrible Saturday morning offering called McDuff, the Talking Dog.)  Oh, and he took over as the lonely washer-dryer repairman in the Maytag commercials after the death of Jesse White.

Jump plays the manager of the opposing team, and the kid he’s currently got on the mound is so bad Doris dusts off the plate at one point and snidely asks the boy “Can you see it now?”  So Gordon takes some time out to calm his pitcher down with words of managerly advice: “Now just settle down, Joey…just…settle down…”

DORIS: Hey—aren’t you going to take him out?
GORDON: Well, what for?
DORIS: What for?  He can’t get the ball over the plate!
GORDON: This kid just happens to be one of the best natural pitchers you’ll ever find…
DORIS: Oh, yeah?
GORDON: He’s got everything!  Speed, curves, change-ups…heh…fire ‘em in there, Joey!
JOEY: Okay, Dad…

Yeah, an obvious joke—but a funny one.  Finally, Doris has to take the bull by the horns.  She gives Joey a rather liberal “strike zone” and starts calling strikes that aren’t even in the vicinity of the plate.  (Gordon: “That’s gettin’ ‘em over, Joey!”)  When her son Billy protests, she smacks him down with “You’re ahead 62 to 14—what do you want, Billy?”  It doesn’t take too long after Doris makes some questionable calls that her son and his team go after her with some handy bats (“I call ‘em like I see ‘em!” yells Doris).  This game must have been played in the good ol’ days when they allowed kids’ athletic spirits to be crushed by letting a superior team run up the scoreboard to their hearts’ content.


You’ll notice that Doris pulls up to the house…and her kids are not in the back seat.  (Oh my stars—it’s happening again!)  A quick dissolve, and Doris is bounding out of the house and into her ensemble for the evening.  She makes it to the premiere in the nick of time to be on the arm of Monsieur Tournage as they are led to their seats in the theatre.

CLAUDE: There have been so many people around, I haven’t had a chance to tell you how lovely you look…
DORIS: Thank you very much…
CLAUDE: I hope you like the picture…
DORIS: Oh, I’m sure I will… (Stifling a yawn)
CLAUDE: Are you tired?
DORIS: Oh, no…no…I rested all day!  I’m just nervous, I guess…

The lights go down…the picture unspools…and when the lights go back up…


That is a whole lot of nervousness there.  Poor Doris did so much running around and umpiring that she was just plumb tuckered out.  She returns to stately Webb Manor, where her father continues to convalesce in his bed, and she tells him of his embarrassing faux pas.

DORIS: My big evening and I blew it!  Talk about embarrassed…
BUCK: Oh, Doris…
DORIS: Buck, I was so tired from all that happened to me today I couldn’t stay awake for anything!
BUCK: Me and the kids…we ask too much of you…
DORIS: Now don’t go blaming you and the kids…it’s nobody’s fault…it’s just circumstances, that’s all…


Well, that and the fact that you fired all the hired help that used to run the place in Season One.  (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.)  Buck tells her to just get a good night’s rest…but that won’t be happening, my friend: “I slept all evening—I’m wide awake!” she gripes.  So the two of them decide to watch the late movie (ask your parents about it, kids) and demonstrating that irony can be pretty ironic sometimes, the feature is "Strangers No More"…starring Claude LeMaire!  “You’re going to get to spend an evening with Claude LeMaire after all!” crows Buck with a mouthful of popcorn.  (No, I don’t know where he got it if he can’t get out of bed and the boys never came home.  Maybe he keeps it in one of his nightstand drawers.)

The coda finds Doris and Myrna getting ready to do lunch, and Myrna is understandably upset.  “Falling asleep on Claude LeMaire—fainting I can understand…but falling asleep?”  Doris nicely tells Myrn to put a sock in it because she’s tired of hearing about her embarrassing moments, and as the two of them head toward the door, Pepe le Pew enters.

DORIS: Mr. Nicholson isn’t in…he won’t be back until 2:00…
CLAUDE: I did not come to see Mr. Nicholson…I came to see you
DORIS: Me?  After what happened?
CLAUDE: Oh, please…forget it…you explained and I understood…I came to ask you if…if you would like to come and have lunch with me?
DORIS: Oh, I’d love to…


That’s when Myrna starts tapping Doris on the shoulder as if to say “Hey, what about me, idiot?”  So Doris introduces Myrna to Claude, and timidly asks if it would be all right if she accompanied them to lunch.  Claude is cuke as a coolcumber about it (because he’s down with the ménage a trois), and Myrna cracks: “Hey, Doris—with you around, who needs a fairy godmother?”

Next time on Doris Day(s): I have to confess, it’s been so long since I saw this one I’m not sure if it stinks or not—but the guest star is a TDOY fave best remembered as Ikky Mudd (with two k’s) on Captain Midnight, Charley Halper on Make Room for Daddy and Alf Monroe on Green Acres—so how bad can it be?  (Plus, radio veteran Alice Backes has a small part, as does character fave Michael Lerner.)  It’s reminiscent of a classic Mayberry R.F.D. episode, “Howard, the Swinger”—so join us for “Singles Only” on the next Doris Day(s)!