Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yuletide on the YouTube

Because I rose and shone a bit early this morning than is my usual, I spent some time catching up on reading some of favorite blogs—and in glancing over the list, came across this Christmas episode of My World and Welcome to It (“Rally Round the Flag”; 12/15/69) over at Kliph Nesteroff’s Classic Television Showbiz. Now, I need to stress here that if I took the time to watch everything at CTS my own blog would be a blank page—but because of my fondness for this wonderful situation comedy (which, sadly, lasted only a single season despite winning an Emmy as Best Comedy Series) I stopped whatever it was I was doing and gave it a look-see. (My blogging colleague and fellow Jaw-jan Linda at Yet Another Journal is also a fan of the show, to the point of having a webpage saluting it.)

The plot of “Flag” finds our hapless hero, writer John Monroe (William Windom) engaged in yet another disagreement with his wife Ellen (Joan Hotchkis) as to why he won’t go out and purchase “with his own bare hands” the Christmas gift he plans to give his daughter Lydia (Lisa Gerritsen). The tradition in the Monroe household, according to John, has always been for Ellen to buy Lydia’s gift—but after discussing the matter with his fellow scribe Philip Jensen (Henry Morgan), John decides to venture out into the wild, wonderful world of last-minute Christmas shopping to get Lydia’s present. When his attempt to secure the last “Feverish Phyllis” doll goes south (a bigger and brawnier customer takes it away from him), John decides to get Lydia a honkin’ big American flag—and needless to say, the child is underwhelmed. (I must confess that I was always fond of Gerritsen—perhaps best known for her appearances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Bess Lindstrom, daughter of Phyllis [Cloris Leachman]—she was a first-rate child actress who managed to be endearing rather than cloying.) After putting the flag up, John runs into a new set of troubles when his neighbors become convinced he’s some sort of kook to hang a flag that large outside his house, to the point of threatening his editor (Harold J. Stone) with canceling their subscriptions to the newspaper if the publication continues to employ Monroe.

My World and Welcome to It was loosely based on the works and writings of the great James Thurber, and the series has a decidedly offbeat, surrealistic bent that incorporated many of Thurber’s cartoons and short stories into its episodes. According to, the series’ cancellation was the result of it being an innocent bystander at NBC when the network acquired the services of comedian Red Skelton after Skelton was purged from the prime-time schedule at rival CBS. NBC had to make room for Skelton’s new series (which would be Red’s last season on the air) and My World was the series chosen as the sacrificial lamb. There was a good deal of outrage among viewers over the network’s decision, and an equal amount of discussion as to whether to bring the series back—but the cost of My World’s production would have proven expensive and so the idea was dropped. In the summer of 1972, the series returned briefly in reruns (curiously, on CBS) which is when I became acquainted with the show—and a telling sign of how much I revered the series was that when my mother started nagging for me to come into the house on those summer nights I gave her absolutely no argument if I knew the show was on.

Kliph has a few other interesting Christmas tidbits up—“Will the Real Santa Claus Please Come Down the Chimney?” a Many Loves of Dobie Gillis telecast from December 19, 1962; and a real curio from December 23, 1954: “Christmas Story,” an outing from The Ray Milland Show (formerly known as Meet Mr. McNutley). This was the first time I’d ever watched an episode of Milland’s sitcom (which ran for two seasons on CBS from 1953 to 1955), though I have listened to a handful of the shows from the radio version. Milland and TV wife Phyllis Avery play temporary adoptive parents to a little girl named Susie (Beverly Washburn) at the request of the head of the orphanage she’s stashed in because the little monster tried to wreck the orphanage’s Christmas party the year before. Susie is a holy terror who lashes out with bad behavior in order to get attention; she schemes to play the part of the “good girl” so that she may attend the party with the other orphans…and when the time is right, she’ll rip off the whiskers of the individual hired to play Santa Claus and expose him to the world! (Why does she want to do this? I have no earthly clue, other than she’s evil…EVIL!!!) When the festivities start, Susie inches closer and closer to jolly Old St. Nick to carry out her nefarious scheme but is gobsmacked when old man Kringle bestows upon her a wrapped present that contains her beloved rag doll, restored to its original pristine glory. Filled with Christmas cheer, it’s only then that Ray and Phyllis learn that the man they hired to impersonate Santa—Dean Davenport (Lloyd Corrigan) of Comstock College, where Ray gets a paycheck—has just arrived at the party, having lost his whiskers on the drive over with wife Madge Blake. Well…then who…wha…how did…BOING! (You get the idea.) I actually enjoyed this more than I thought and even though it’s a bit white bread bland (the series was created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher of Leave It to Beaver fame) there was one particularly falling-down funny moment when Ray is admonished by a child as he waits in line to see Santa (he’s planning to ask the actor if he can appear at the Christmas party). “Aren’t you a little too old to be in this line,” the precocious little moppet asks. “I wasn’t this old when I got in this line,” cracks Ray.

There are also a couple of Yuletide-themed installments from a short-lived 70s sitcom entitled Arnie which I remember my parents being fond of when I was a kid. It starred character great Herschel Bernardi as Arnie Nuvo, a loading dock foreman who found himself promoted to an executive position (head of the Product Improvement Division) at the company where he worked, the Continental Flange Company, and the difficult adjustments he had to make in his new white-collar existence. Sue Ane Langdon played his wife Lillian (this must have been one of the earliest examples of the “schlubby husband/hot wife” sitcom…well, this and Hazel) and Roger Bowen (Col. Henry Blake in MASH [1970]) was his clueless boss, Hamilton Majors, Jr. In “The Gift of the Majors” (12/18/71), Arnie is counting on his Christmas bonus to help develop a recreation room at a youth center run by guest star Allan Melvin—but boss Majors ends up buying him an exotic parrot instead. It’s amusing, but I liked “Let Them Eat Cookies” (12/12/70) a lot better: Arnie is pressured into buying Majors an expensive gift even though the Nuvo family tradition is to present friends and co-workers with Christmas cookies. I’m a big fan of Bernardi’s, who’s probably best-known as Lt. Jacoby on Peter Gunn (and the voice of Charlie the Tuna in the Star-Kist commercials) as well as roles in films like Irma la Douce (1963), Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) and The Front (1976), but I can certainly understand why Arnie lasted only two seasons—he doesn’t seem to be the leading man type. If you’re interested in some Christmas TV fun, why not head on over to Mr. Nesteroff’s and spend an hour or two in front of the Internet console? (I will warn you, though—some of the items already posted may disappear without a moment’s notice.)

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Bill Crider said...

I really liked MY WORLD. . . and was sorry that it was canceled. Red Skelton? Yikes.

Linda said...

OMG, Ivan! Thanks for the Christmas gift! I now have two more episodes of MWAWTI in my collection: the Christmas ep, and also "The War Between Men and Women," which is also on YouTube. Will need to check out the others, including ARNIE. I always liked that show.

Linda said...

BTW, did you see my paean to fried rice the other night? :-)