Monday, May 31, 2010

Mayberry Mondays #3: “The Race Horse” (10/07/68, prod. no. 0110)


In keeping with the equestrian theme of this episode, Sam Jones (Ken Berry) and his son Mike (Buddy Foster) are “strapping on the old feedbag,” finishing yet another delicious dinner prepared by their housekeeper, Beatrice “Aunt Bee” Taylor (Francis Bavier). (It’s a gourmet dish that Aunt Bee has difficulty pronouncing and I wasn’t even about to tackle spelling…so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it’s funny.) Dinner is interrupted by the ringing of the telephone, and upon answering it Sam learns that it’s his cousin Vince (OTR vet Jack Grimes) on the line, who announces his intention to pay them a visit since he’s passing through.
SAM: Oh…you know, I didn’t tell him how to get here…I’ll bet he’s forgotten after all these years…
AUNT BEE: Well, he just has to ask somebody
SAM: Yeah… (With a chuckle) Hunh…
MIKE: Have I ever met your cousin Vince, Pa?
SAM: Well, yeah—just once, when you were about…oh, two years old…he put you up on a horse with him…he rode you all around the track…
MIKE: I don’t remember…what track?
SAM: A racetrack…this one was up in Maryland
So Vincent is a racetrack tout? He hardly seems a proper role model for the impressionable young Mike. No, I’m kidding about that—Sam tells Mike that Vince is a former jockey, prompting Aunt Bee to remark: “You know, it always amazes me how those little men manage to steer those great big horses.” Sam patiently explains to her that horses are reigned, not steered—and besides, Vince is now a horse trainer. Aunt Bee then announces that she’ll have to get the guest room ready, and asks Mike if he’ll donate a picture of horses romping in the meadow that’s in his room to make Vince feel more at home. (Hell, why not just make him sleep in the barn?)

Cousin Vince drives up to Rancho Jones in a station wagon with a horse trailer in tow, as Mike excitedly announces to his father and Aunt Bee of Vince’s cargo. After the perfunctory meet-and-greet (Vince observes that Mike is “almost as tall as I am”), Sam’s relative asks if his passenger—who’s named Gingersnap—can get out and “stretch his legs a bit.” Sam, acting the proper country squire, assigns this task to a hired hand who answers to “Hank”—giving the audience the much-needed information that his farm is being looked after when he’s in town, mucking around Emmett Clark’s fix-it shop. (Unfortunately, Hank doesn’t get a screen credit…despite the fact that he has three lines. I wonder if SAG came down on the show like a ton of bricks.)

Sam is treating Vince to a cup of coffee when his cuz fills him in on the reason for his visit—he’s on his way to Baltimore, where a friend of his owns a restaurant that he wants Vince to partner in. As for the horse, Vince obtained the yearling when his former boss was unable to pay his back wages. He explains to Sam and Aunt Bee that Gingersnap isn’t a bad horse—he’s just never won a race, despite being the scion of Fairmont the Second (a horse that nearly won the Triple Crown) and Princess Wassein, an imported brood mare. (“Oooh…Gingersnap’s practically royalty,” coos Aunt Bee. “Yeah—almost calls for a curtsey,” returns Sam.) Vince asks Sam if he’ll keep the steed and if he’ll ask around to see if anyone needs a good saddle horse—the asking price being 300 clams. “Well,” observes Aunt Bee, sounding somewhat distraught, “a mother who’s a princess and a father who almost won the crown…and soon to be a saddle horse. Doesn’t seem fair.”
Well, we’re six minutes into this thing and Sam hasn’t been seen neglecting his orchards by jawing with Emmett (Paul Hartman), so the scene shifts to Mr. Clark’s bidness—where Mayberry’s fix-it savant is making a key and informing Sam that he may have located a buyer for the horse:
EMMETT: You know that fella that runs the stable over at that fancy girls’ boarding school in Walnut Hills?
SAM: Yeah…?
EMMETT: Well, he was in here this morning…he said he might be interested…
SAM: Oh, gee…that’s…that’s great, Emmett—I was beginning to give up hope of selling him…thanks, I appreciate it...
EMMETT: Oh, I always figure one hand washes the other… (Pointing to a repaired radio) If you happen to know anybody that’s interested in a Stromberg-Carlson radio…perfect condition…send ‘em around…
For those of you not up on your Mayberry arcana, “Walnut Hills” is the tonier section of television’s most famous small town—so why this guy is hanging out at Emmett’s is a question left unanswered. Fortunately for Sam, Emmett got the guy’s phone number and the gentleman—known as Mr. Bowers (Byron Morrow)—goes out to Sam’s farm to give the horse the once-over. Aunt Bee, it would seem, has other plans:
SAM: Uh, as I was saying, Mr. Bowers, he’s got a nice easy walk—and I know that’s very important with a saddle horse…especially at a girls’ school…nice, easy walk…
AUNT BEE: And he runs a lot, too…
(Sam looks surprised at this remark)
BOWERS: You did say he was gentle
SAM: Gentle? Oh, gosh yes…why he…I’ve seen a lot of horses in my day, Mr. Bowers, but…this animal is without a doubt the gentlest horse I’ve ever seen…
AUNT BEE: Except when he gets charged up…
(Sam stares at Aunt Bee a second time)
BOWERS: When, uh…he gets charged up?
AUNT BEE: Oh, yes—he’s a very spirited animal…and when the mood strikes him, he likes to kick up his heels and buck and paw…
SAM (interrupting): Aunt Bee…
AUNT BEE: You know, those horses at the rodeo…
BOWERS: Yeah…yeah…Mr. Jones, I tell you what—I’d better sleep on this a couple of days…
SAM: Oh, now look, Mr. Bowers…
BOWERS (getting into his car): I’ll see you…
SAM: Yeah…well…he’s…really…

If this were real life, Sam would be having Aunt Bee committed right now. But because this is a wacky situation comedy, Sam resists the urge to give his housekeeper a necklace of fingers—in fact, he hands her the sports page of the paper later that evening when she asks to see it…because she wants to race Gingersnap at Morgan Downs, the local racetrack. (Maybe he should have her committed.) Sam tries to dissuade Aunt Bee by telling her of the prohibitive expense (it’s going to run her anywhere from fifty to a hundred simolians, and she is on a fixed income) but she dismisses this as a mere bag of shells and the next day, she and bakery doyenne Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka) show up at the racing commissioner’s (Judson Pratt) office:
AUNT BEE: Yes, I have a very nice horse…and I’m wondering if you have any other horses he could run against…
BRICE: You have a horse?
MILLIE: Oh yes—four legs and everything
AUNT BEE: Would Saturday be convenient? I imagine there’d be quite a crowd who’d like to come from Mayberry to see Gingersnap run…don’t you think so, Millie?
MILLIE: I do…
AUNT BEE: Hmm…Saturday, then…how much do I owe you?
BRICE: Well, just a minute, ma’am—are you the registered owner of the horse?
AUNT BEE: No…but Sam’s cousin is—Vincent Jones…and Sam said you might want to look over these papers…
(An incredulous Brice takes a sheath of papers offered to him by Aunt Bee and gives them a quick glance…)
BRICE: Gingersnap…two-year-old…well…everything’s in order here…now just what kind of a race did you want him to run in?
AUNT BEE: Well, I’m not particular…uh…maybe one of those seven furloughs you mentioned?
BRICE: No, that’s just for four-year-olds and up…
AUNT BEE: Oh…well, don’t you have something for horses around Gingersnap’s age on Saturday?
BRICE: Uh… (He looks over a piece of paper on his desk) Well, uh…how about the Blue Ridge Stakes for two-year-olds? Third race…
AUNT BEE: What time is that?
BRICE (after giving her another puzzled look): Three o’clock?
AUNT BEE: Oh, that will work out wonderfully…we’re going to have turkey for dinner…we can put the turkey in just before we leave and when we come back it’ll be all ready… (To Millie) I hope you’ll join us, Millie…
MILLIE: I’d love to…
AUNT BEE: Got to have a victory dinner, you know…
Aunt Bee coughs up the thirty-five dollars for the entry fee and Brice, though still unconvinced that Bee hasn’t escaped from the state cracker factory, agrees to find her a suitable jockey—“I think the smaller the better,” adds Millie helpfully. Brice also asks Aunt Bee about the name of the stable and the racing colors (for the program); she in turn informs him that she will call him later on with this information because she’s going to convene a meeting of the Mayberry think tank. (Well, that’s not precisely what she tells him—I embellished a tad.)

Wired on punch and cookies, Mayberry’s best and brightest are all in attendance at Sam’s home that evening…and they even allowed Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) in, too—who asks “Isn’t Andy coming to the meeting?” Rather than tell his pump jockey friend that Andy doesn’t live there anymore and he’s left everyone to fend for themselves on this sorry show, Sam makes up some fable about him being at a sheriff’s convention in Raleigh. (And the idiot buys it. Oddly enough, Howard Sprague is missing from this episode as well—which means he’s smarter than I previously gave him credit.) When the discussion turns to what name should be assigned to the “stables,” it’s out of the mouths of babes—young Mike suggests “Mayberry Stables,” and the adult react as if the little mook just split the atom. (That kid should already be in bed.) But what colors should be assigned to the horse?

“I got an idea,” Goober pipes up. “Red, yellow, pink, purple, orange and blue—them’s my favorites.” Realizing that the town should have put Goober to sleep a long time ago, Emmett counters: “You’ll never get all those colors on one jockey.” But when Millie lets slip that the Pom-Pom Girls from Mayberry High are coming along on the bus to watch the race (yowsah!), Aunt Bee suggests that the stallion be cloaked in red and green…and it’s passed with unanimous consent. “Hey, how ‘bout makin’ up a special victory cheer like…uh…clippety clop/clippety clop/don’t you stop/Gingersnop,” suggests Goober. (I wonder if that hot Dorothy girl he dated from last week’s episode has dumped him yet.)
It’s Race Day at Morgan Downs, and our Mayberry contingent is seated in the stands (I found it hard to stifle a chuckle when I saw Emmett chatting up a couple of the Pom-Pom Girls—he’s such a hound…). Goober spots Aunt Bee with Sam’s binoculars; she is giving Gingersnap’s jockey (Lou Wagner) a last minute set of instructions. When the jockey asks Bee how she wants him to ride the horse she replies: “Well, anyway you’re comfortable—just as long as you don’t fall off.” But she imparts to the confused jockey two specific requests: he is not to use “the whip” during the race (even if the horse has fallen behind) and he needs to give Gingersnap a lump of sugar just before the start (provided by Aunt Bee).

Back in the stands, Emmett reads in his program that the winner of the race will receive a $3000 purse—“That horse could be worth more than you and me put together,” he informs Goober. (Brother…you don’t know the half of it.) And…they’re off! Gingersnap is slow getting out of the gate, and Sam is certain that the horse is going to end up dead last. But Aunt Bee’s faith in the horse never falters, and as the race continues Gingersnap begins to pick up speed and catch up to his equine brethren and sistren. (There’s a nice bit of physical comedy as Goober grabs for Sam’s binoculars…and Sam ends up being pulled toward the Goob, since the binocs are around his neck. It made me misty for the bygone days of F Troop.) I don’t have to tell you experienced sitcom students that Gingersnap emerges victorious, and when Sam phones Vince to let him know he’s richer by three large (well, before the entry, barn and jockey fees) he decides that the restaurant business isn’t for him.
In the coda to this episode, Aunt Bee is approached by a neighbor—a Mr. Stebbins, another poor schmoe who doesn’t rate a mention during the closing credits—who wants to know if she can do the same thing for his horse, Smokey Dan, that she did for Gingersnap. Bee gives the filly the once-over and sadly tells Stebbins that the horse was bred for farming. “Better listen,” imparts Sam sagely. “She knows horse flesh.”

“The Race Horse” is an excellent example of the kind of Mayberry R.F.D. episode that has given the series the bland reputation it maintains to this day—or to use an observation by someone at the TV Party website: “If Mayberry R.F.D. was anything, it was evocative and insular. Even if there was no whip behind the cream, before you realized it, you were soaking in it.” Most of the Aunt Bee-centered episodes rightly deserve that description, but fortunately by this time actress Frances Bavier (sixty-five years old at R.F.D.’s start) had expressed an interest in working less, not more. According to the IMDb, Bavier only appears in twenty-five R.F.D. episodes…but because the information there is notoriously unreliable, I have decided to keep a running tally of Aunt Bee appearances with the state-of-the-art technology that I’d like to call the “Bee-O-Meter.” (Okay, smarty pants—you try inventing something with the math and science background I had.) With “Horse” and “Andy and Helen Get Married,” that adds up to two—which will henceforth be designated with the photo on the left.


Bookmark and Share

3 comments:

Stacia said...

Ratatouille? Coq au vin?

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Ratatouille? Coq au vin?

I only took a couple of semesters of French in high school--and the only thing I can really say is "cherchez la femme" but it sounds like Bee is calling the dish "mignonette de boeuf a la Marcineau." If I need a correction on the spelling or pronunciation, don't hesitate to help me out.

Stacia said...

Now I feel silly suggesting possibilities. I took no French ever (Spanish was my game), but I do cook French dishes on occasion. I think you're right about the name. There are a ton of types of mignonette of beef, although I have never heard a variety called "a la Marcineau"; it's possible they just made up a French name.