Monday, December 1, 2008

McNamara’s band

This past weekend most of my recreational television viewing was kept to a minimum: in addition to the previously-mentioned The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Reefer Madness described below, I think the only other movie that got the TDOY workout was The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), the noir classic starring John Garfield and Lana Turner. (Again, in the category of “I’ve-seen-this-movie-many-times-before-but-this-is-the-first-time-I-noticed-that” I stifled a guffaw when I saw that Turner’s husband—played by Cecil Kellaway—was taken to Blair General Hospital for the injuries sustained in the first attempt by Lana and Julie to snuff him out. I didn’t see Dr. Gillespie, but as loud as Lionel Barrymore gets you’d think I would have heard him.) Most of the time was spent getting eBay packages ready to shift and running a few errands to the post office, Office Depot and such.

I did manage to take a peek at another one of the many public domain television show DVDs I’ve collected over the years: a second volume of Private Secretary episodes (I reviewed the first volume here) starring former MGM glamour gal Ann “Maisie” Sothern as Susan Camille McNamara, assistant to New York mega-agent Peter Sands (Don Porter). Secretary had a successful TV run from 1953-57, particularly since it alternated weekly with The Jack Benny Program, and had even been scheduled for a fifth season until Sothern got into a major salary dispute with the show’s producer, Jack Chertok. The available public domain episodes of Secretary all have the opening credits of the syndicated version, which was renamed Susie.

In my earlier look on the series I commented that I wasn’t too impressed with the show but this second batch of episodes has caused me to re-evaluate the series a tad. It still won’t win any recognition for breaking any new comedy ground, but Sothern’s charm is hard to resist, and Porter comes off a little better the second go-round. Of the four episodes in this collection, only one of them is really an out-and-out stinker:

“Oh Brother!” (03/04/56) – This one gets a boost from guest star Hal “Gildersleeve” Peary, who plays Franklin Harper, the sponsor of a “This-is-Your-Life” TV show entitled Surprise! Surprise! Susie learns that the building’s night watchman (Ernest Sarracino) has a brother in Italy that he hasn’t seen in many years, and so she talks Gildy…er, Peary into featuring him on the program. She learns—much to her dismay—that the reason the watchman has had no contact with his brother is that they both can’t stand one another:

SUSIE: Gee…what do you think Mr. Harper will say when he finds out?
PETER: We’ll probably lose the account…but what I’m worried about right now is what will the newspapers are going to say when they find out…
SUSIE: Oh, it’s all my fault…
PETER: That is true…you never said a truer word…three thousand dollars a week, down the drain…
SUSIE: Well, you can take a little out of my salary every week…
PETER (dejected): Miss McNamara…what are your plans tonight?
SUSIE (forlorn): I expect to kill myself…
PETER: Postpone it…we’ll go out and have champagne…buckets of it…
SUSIE: I’ll kill myself tomorrow…

Experienced sitcom observers will naturally figure out where this storyline is headed after the first five minutes of the show, but I reiterate that the presence of Peary gives it a little bit of extra heft.

“The Little Caesar of Bleeker Street” (04/01/56) – And…here’s the stinker. Susie, Peter and Vi (Ann Tyrrell, the poor man’s ZaSu Pitts) match wits with a pint-sized con man that may or may not have swiped Susie’s diamond ring. You might be a bit more charitable towards this episode than I (anything involving child actors has a tendency to give me a rash), particularly since the kid later grew up to be Harry Shearer—but to be honest, Har…you were an ugly kid.

“Passing the Buck” (04/29/56) – Probably the best episode in the group; Green Acres’ Frank Cady plays a barber who asks Sands to read a play he’s written. Peter fobs it off on Susie, who gives it to Vi...who gives it to office boy Scotty…who gives to his girlfriend…who gives it to her boss…who gives it back to Peter. Then and only then does Peter realize what a sensational play it is—but he has no idea it’s the one the barber asked him to read. Again, there’s no twist ending or anything but it’s extremely well-played farce.

“The Sow’s Ear” (10/14/56) – This episode features Jesse White, who had a recurring role on Secretary as a rival talent agent named “Cagey” Calhoun—a real conniver whose run-ins with Susie always left him the worse for wear (his pet nickname for her was “Foxy”). When it came to devious, underhanded heels on television, no one could touch White—he even parlayed his work on Secretary into another recurring role on Sothern’s sitcom follow-up (The Ann Sothern Show) as Oscar Pudney. (Of course, Sothern recruited Porter to play her boss when Ernest Truex left the new show…and Tyrrell came along to play her best friend as well.) Anyway, Calhoun gets Susie to give him lessons on being a proper gentleman…which he uses to snatch new client Lady Standish (Barbara Morrison) from Sands. The interaction between Sothern and White is simply delightful.

Somewhere, in the dusty TDOY archives, I have a few discs containing episodes of The Ann Sothern Show—one notable installment is the first show of the second season entitled “The Lucy Story,” which features guest star Lucille Ball in her Lucy Ricardo persona. I’m going to have to dig that one out one of these days and give it a look-see, particularly since I’ve already seen the teaming of Ball and Southern (as Lucy Ricardo and Susie McNamara, respectfully) in the premiere episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.

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