Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Babbling Brooks

Monday, the postal person brought me the latest public domain release, Essential Family Television: 150 Episodes, from the good people at Mill Creek Entertainment—a company dedicated to making vintage television collections both collectable and affordable. If you’ve been buying Mill Creek’s products for quite a while, you’ll no doubt know that some of their box sets have a tendency to double-dip from previous releases; for example, Essential has episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Jack Benny Program and The Lucy Show that can easily be found on The Essential Ozzie & Harriet (both price-wise and content-wise, one of the best TV-on-DVD collections ever released), The Best of Jack Benny: 40 Episodes and The Best of Lucy and Friends. But the price on Essential is so sweet ($15.36 at DVD Pacific) that it’s worth picking up for the programs that haven’t already been released by Mill Creek.

There are half-a-dozen episodes of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, the post-Mister Peepers sitcom starring the immortal Wally Cox (and somebody out there must be interested in this show because I get keyword hits for it all the time), Episodes of The Buster Keaton Show, The Dennis Day Show, The Dennis O’Keefe Show (previously released by Alpha, I know), The Ed Wynn Show, The Eddie Fisher Show (aka Coke Time), The Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show (a 1950 Thanksgiving special that served as a pilot for a potential series), The Jim Backus Show (aka Hot Off the Wire) and The Liberace Show (“I wish my brother George was here”). There are a couple of Make Room for Daddy episodes that I don’t recall seeing being available on anything currently not discontinued, and of course, the Phil Silvers-Jack Benny special (written by Nat Hiken) entitled “The Slowest Gun in the West.”

I’m going to try for the next several days to watch some of these entries and give you my honest opinion on them, so if your eyes are starting to glaze over…well, I’ll try to include a “comic strip of the day” so things don’t get too deadly dull. One of my biggest delights with this Mill Creek set, however, was finding a previously unwatched P.D. Our Miss Brooks installment, “Here is Your Past” (05/13/55).

Previously, I thought the only episodes of one of my favorite TV (and of course, radio) sitcoms that had public domain status are “The Big Jump” (05/27/55) and “Home Cooked Meal” (06/03/55); but I’ve since learned that both “Past” and a Christmas episode from 1952 are apparently P.D. as well. “Jump” is also included on the Essential set (I talked about it in a previous Salon post here)—a very funny Brooks outing in which Madison High’s conniving principal Osgood Conklin (wonderfully played by Gale Gordon) bullies Connie (Eve Arden) into taking a dive off the roof of the school building as part of a civil defense exercise.

But back to “Past”: Connie starts out having the worst day—she gets into an argument with the local grocer (played by announcer and future film director Hy Averback) over an unpaid meat bill, and then is mysteriously shadowed by a stranger (played by Three Stooges villain Philip Van Zandt). The stranger swipes an article Walter Denton (Richard Crenna) has written for Madison’s school newspaper, and then makes off with the diary of “bashful biologist” Philip Boynton (Robert Rockwell) after Boynton and Connie have this exchange:

BOYNTON (petting a puppy on his desk): I heartily agree, Miss Brooks…Walter had no right to accuse you…but, then…you have been known to steal…
CONNIE: I have? What have I ever stolen?
BOYNTON: I was thinking of last New Year’s Eve when we were parked up on Outpost Road, Miss Brooks…you stole a kiss…
BROOKS: Oh, that wasn’t stealing, Mr. Boynton…that was petting larceny… (She laughs)
BOYNTON: Petting larceny?
BROOKS: It’ll come to you when you’re older… (Referring to the puppy) Well, how ‘bout Hash?
BOYNTON: Well, I’ll admit he’s a darn cute puppy…but I feel a dog should have plenty of room in which to run around…as you know, I live in a bachelor apartment…
BROOKS: No one knows better…yeah, but the last…
BOYNTON (interrupting): Also, there’s the matter of who would take care of him while I’m in school…
BROOKS (taking the dog from Boynton): Well, I guess your hash is cooked, Hash…however, I might try my luck with our beloved principal…
BOYNTON: You might…although I’d like to warn you, Mr. Conklin hasn’t been feeling so well lately…I think it’s a cold…a couple of days ago he sneezed so violently he sprained two of his ribs…
BROOKS: Yes, I know…
BOYNTON: His chest is all taped up; I understand…I wonder what made him sneeze like that?
BROOKS: I accidentally shut the door on him while he was inspecting the cafeteria’s walk-in refrigerator…he walked in all right—but we had to chip him out…that’s when he sneezed…
BOYNTON: Well, good luck, anyway…now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better cart these new fish tanks into my supply closet and put some water in them…
BROOKS: Oh…here, I’ll help you…
(As Connie starts picking up the tanks, she notices a book on Boynton’s desk—which she also picks up, but Boynton stops her short…)
BOYNTON: Oh, please! (Snatching it away from her) That’s my diary, Miss Brooks…
BROOKS: Your diary? Am I mentioned in it?
BOYNTON: I consider its contents highly personal if you don’t mind… (Carrying the fish tanks, the two of them walk over to a closet) Say, wait a minute! Stealing a kiss is petting larceny… (He laughs hysterically) That isn’t bad!
BROOKS (enthusiastically) That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!

Naturally, it wouldn’t be an episode of Our Miss Brooks if Connie didn’t eventually stop by Mr. Conklin’s office to offer him the puppy she’s trying to get rid of…only to learn, of course, that his encounter in the refrigerator hasn’t produced a cold but aggravated his allergy…to pet dander. What “Past” finally works up to is that Connie is spirited away to a TV studio where a Ralph Edwards-like host (John Hiestand) interviews her on a This is Your Life-type program…and when Denton, Boynton and Conklin show up, their “tributes” to her sour a bit. Arden is particularly funny in this sequence; the program on which she’s guesting has placed some horns and noisemakers on the couch where she’s sitting and when the host makes reference to her age or the year she was born she blows one of the horns and twirls a noisemaker to drown him out.

What I found particularly interesting in the dialogue exchange between Arden and Rockwell’s characters is that the event described (locking Mr. Conklin in the refrigerator) does occur in the episode “Home Cooked Meal”…which was telecast three weeks after “Past.” So either the continuity people were out having lunch when this issue came up…or it wasn’t the first time Connie held Conklin prisoner in the deep-freeze (and knowing the show’s premise, that’s not entirely beyond the realm of possibility).

I, of course, have made no secret in the past of my fondness for Our Miss Brooks—an enormously successful radio-to-TV transplant that, with the exception of Rockwell, came to the one-eyed glass monster with its entire radio cast intact—and at one time thought I had found a treasure trove of Brooks episodes sold at this website…until my good friend BobH (aka “Master of His [Public] Domain”) mentioned that he still believed Brooks to be under copyright at Viacom/CBS TV/Paramount/Beatrice/Archer-Midland-Daniels, etc, etc, etc. (Considering the quality of the episodes—many home-taped off local TV stations—I probably should have figured this out on my own.) So I lobby when I can for a proper DVD release of the show, even though there are probably only a few people (me and those who read this blog) who remember how wonderful it was.

3 comments:

Bill Crider said...

It was great on radio and maybe even better on TV. I was in love with Miss Brooks. Maybe that's why I became a teacher.

Bill Crider said...

Okay, now I've ordered the set. When Judy asks me about it, I'm blaming you.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

When Judy asks me about it, I'm blaming you.

I feel just like the wacky next-door neighbor on a sitcom!