Monday, July 26, 2010

Mayberry Mondays #11: “Emmett’s 50th Birthday” (12/16/68, prod. no. 0113)

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you…


Yes, R.F.D. fans—this week’s installment of Mayberry Mondays will celebrate the golden natal anniversary of that town’s resident fix-it savant, Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman)…who’s so excited about marking the upcoming event that he’s actually working on fixing something in his shop as opposed to what he usually does around Mayberry: sitting on bus benches and panhandling. Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka), the chief pastry girl at Boysinger’s Bakery, stops by Emmett’s establishment just in time to see county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) and gas pump jockey Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) play a cutthroat game of checkers…

MILLIE: …I’ve got problems with my hair dryer…
EMMETT: What’s the trouble with it?
MILLIE: Well, it won’t dry…it just gave up...
EMMETT (as he pulls off a part from the dryer): Oh, it’s probably the switch
HOWARD: The same thing happened with mine


I think I’m going to regret seeing where this is going…

MILLIE: You’ve got a hair dryer, Howard?
HOWARD: Yeah…oh, I don’t use it for that…Mother left it when she moved to Mt. Pilot…I’ve been doing my own personal laundry, and I dry about half a dozen pairs of socks under it…
MILLIE: Oh! That’s a wonderful idea…
GOOBER: You gonna finish this game or not, Howard?
HOWARD (annoyed): In a minute…
EMMETT: Give me a couple of days on this, Millie…
MILLIE: Okay… (She waves to them all as she heads out the door) Bye!
(The men ad-lib various goodbyes “So long, Mill,” etc. Howard sits back down to where he and Goober are playing checkers…)
GOOBER (after a pause): I dry my socks in the oven
HOWARD: Hmm…well, to each his own…


It’s amazing that no eligible, single women have lassoed those two crazy bachelors and marched them down the aisle by now. But the comedy shenanigans will continue, because looking out of the window of the fix-it shop we see dedicated, up-at-the-butt-crack-of-dawn postal employee Mr. Felton (Norman Leavitt) entering the joint. He hands Emmett a fistful of mail and remarks to him, “Well, they’re startin’ to come in, Emmett…”

HOWARD: Whaddya got there, bills?
FELTON: No…birthday cards!
HOWARD: Oh…
GOOBER: Your birthday, Emmett?
EMMETT: Yeah…
FELTON (indicating Emmett): The old man still has a lot of friends
HOWARD: It’s always nice to be remembered…
FELTON: Looks like you got three sentimentals and one humorous…and that’s about how it goes… (Looking at Howard and Goober) You get more sentimentals as the years go by…


Emmett’s received a card from Andy, who’s “still in Raleigh,” which means the former star of The Andy Griffith Show doesn’t need to worry about punching the time clock this week. When quizzed as to how old he’s going to be, Emmett replies that he’ll be fifty—prompting a series of wisecracks from his yokel friends on how he’s getting up in years. Just when you’re convinced that your sides can take no more of this gay frivolity, city council head and dirt farmer Sam Jones (Ken Berry) enters the picture…

HOWARD: Hey, Sam—have you heard the big news?
SAM: What?
HOWARD: Emmett’s going to be fifty on Thursday… (He gives Sam a wink)
SAM: No kiddin’? Well, congratulations…
GOOBER: You better hold off, Sam…he ain’t made it yet…
(They all laugh…)
HOWARD (slapping Emmett on the back): Yeah, you better stay off your feet, Emmett…save your strength for the big day
SAM: Come on, now…Emmett may be over the hill, but he can still do a lot of coasting
EMMETT: One thing I never worried about was my age…
HOWARD: Well, that’s the spirit, Emmett…no sense worrying about taxes, either…
(More laughter)
EMMETT: You fellas are in rare form today…


Yeah, if you close your eyes you can almost hear Robert Benchley ask Dorothy Parker for the butter at the Algonquin Round Table…Sam has to leave (I guess he’s planning on getting some work accomplished) and Goober announces he’ll go with him—then asks Howard if he wants to call the checkers game a draw. Emmett tells his departing friends he’ll see them later…whereupon Goober says somberly: “Oh, I hope so.” Howard jokingly wishes Emmett a happy sixtieth on the way out, leaving Emmett behind to fiddle with a typewriter and muttering, “Jokers…”

(At the time this episode originally aired, actor Paul Hartman was sixty-four years old. So perhaps our contingent of Mayberry wits isn’t “jokers” after all.) The proof is in the screen cap:

The lord and master of the House of Emmett arrives home from a hard day’s…well, whatever it is he does in that shop…and greets his wife Martha (Mary Lansing), who asks him how his day went. “Oh, same old sixes and sevens,” is Emmett’s reply—which reveals why everybody in town hangs out there…they got a crap game going on in the back. Mr. Clark nestles down in his easy chair and, removing the rubber band from the evening paper, puts it in the end table drawer beside him. I can’t help but wonder 1) how many rubber bands are in that drawer, because from the looks of things it’s a force of habit for him, and 2) how much real news happens in Mayberry to warrant a daily paper.

MARTHA: Emmett…
EMMETT: Yeah?
MARTHA: I was thinking it would be nice to have a birthday party for you this year…
EMMETT: Oh, no…I don’t think so…
MARTHA: Oh, why not? It’d be fun
EMMETT: Oh, why go to all that trouble?
MARTHA: It’s no trouble…I’d love to do it…


The Clarks are interrupted by the front door buzzer, and upon opening the door Martha finds Sam outside—he’s come by to borrow a power drill he’d asked Emmett about at the shop earlier.

SAM: Hey, I’m not interrupting your dinner, am I?
MARTHA: Oh, no…we were just planning a birthday party for Emmett…
SAM: Oh…
EMMETT: We were not…we decided not to have it…
MARTHA: Oh, Emmett—now you know you’d have a good time…wouldn’t he, Sam…?
SAM: Well, yeah…I suppose…mm-hmm…
EMMETT: Why would I have a good time? Give me one good reason…
SAM: Well, uh…I’m not sure…uh…
MARTHA: You know as well as I do he’d have a good time…
SAM: Well, yeah…mm-hmm…
EMMETT: Why would you say a thing like that? I’d only be staying up to all hours and have to drag myself to work the next day…
SAM: Look…if I could just get the drill…
EMMETT (poking Sam in the chest with his finger): The trouble is that birthday parties are just for kids
MARTHA (to Emmett): I’m beginning to think the trouble is with you…all you want to do is read your paper…it’s the same thing, every day…you come in here, you give me a peck and then you flop in your chair…you’re acting like an old man!


Martha, old girl…he’s sixty-four years old. That’s what sixty-four-year-old men do. Sam is clearly uncomfortable about being in the middle of this argument…and he definitely doesn’t want to be around when the discussion turns to why Martha no longer gets any nocturnal visits from the little Emmett...if you know what I mean, and I think you do. So upon getting the power drill he beats a hasty retreat from Chez Clark. “The truth is: a man’s only as old as he acts, right?” asserts Emmett, as Sam hauls ass and elbows toward his parked car.

Goober and Howard pull up in Goober’s pickup truck out at Jones Farm as Sam works on his gate with Emmett’s power drill. “Wait till you see what we got,” Howard tells Sam excitedly. The two men unload a rocking chair that they purchased at a junk shop from the back of the pickup, and Goober announces that they’re going to give it to Emmett as a gag gift. But Sam isn’t so sure that’s a good idea, and he dissuades these two idiots from carrying out their prank (he’s like that—he never wants to go cow tipping, either). “At seventy, you’re braggin’ about it,” Sam explains, “but at fifty, I guess you’re still fooling yourself…”

“Maybe he’s got a point, huh?” Howard asks Goober. “Maybe we just…better forget about the rocker.” “I never realized there was such a generation gap between me and Emmett,” responds Goober forlornly.

Downtown, Emmett has to sidestep an automobile that narrowly misses hitting him and as such, dashing the hopes of the audience to see this truly annoying individual cut down in the prime of life. A man on a motorcycle then pulls up to Emmett, asking for directions to Siler City. Emmett points the way, and the grateful man gives many thanks by saying, “Thanks, Gramps! Hang in there!” “Smart aleck!” Emmett calls out after him—and if he weren’t on a downtown street in Mayberry, he would probably have told the guy to stay off his lawn*.

What happens next is one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever witnessed on an episode of Mayberry R.F.D.—let alone The Andy Griffith Show. Emmett steps on a set of scales and drops a coin in the slot, expecting to get both his weight and fortune. But the card that pops out is completely blank—leaving Emmett to remark: “No future at all.” (My God, that is pathetic.) Faced with the prospect that the sand in the hourglass that is his life is slowly running out, Emmett takes his familiar seated position on the bus depot bench, whereupon Sam wanders by and sits down beside him…

SAM: Beautiful day…
EMMETT: Yeah…I suppose so…time sure flies…it seems like just yesterday that there was a bean field right where that ol’ drugstore is…


Well, considering the character of Emmett wasn’t introduced to Mayberry until the last season of Andy Griffith, it isn’t really as long ago as he pretends it to be…

SAM: Aw, Emmett…everything changes…and the thing to do is accept it, and move right along with it…
EMMETT: Yeah, I know that…well…see ya later, Sam…


And with that, Emmett rises from the bench…and walks into the path of an arriving bus. No, I’m just kidding (we could never be that lucky)—he heads back to the fix-it shop, and after a scene dissolve discover him diligently working on Millie’s hair dryer. But he’s distracted by the clock on the wall, and he turns to the instrument muttering: “Tick tock tick tock…won’t you ever stop?” (Ask not for whom the bell tolls, my friend…it tolls for thee.) Millie enters the shop to inquire on the health of her dryer, and Emmett tells her it will take a minute if she wants to wait. So Mill sits down to eat her lunch and fingers through the magazines Emmett has lying around on a nearby table. “The comic books are Goober’s,” he informs our bakery babe. “Don’t work the puzzles or dog-ear the pages; he gets mad.”

Millie takes solace in a movie magazine, which has a feature on her favorite actor: Cary Grant. She bubbles with delight at that Bristol boy: “He can carry me off into the sunset anytime.”

MILLIE: Isn’t he something!
EMMETT: Mmm…well…
MILLIE: I just love his tan…it makes him look so young
EMMETT: Yeah, I guess so…he’s a good actor…
MILLIE: Oh, yeah…oh, he’s so funny sometimes…did you remember him in that picture, where he was in that walking race… (Giddy as a schoolgirl) Oh, heel…toe…heel…toe…heel…toe…


The movie Millie is referring to is, of course, Walk Don’t Run (1966)—Grant’s final feature film and, though I know I’m in the minority on this, a fine example of an actor going out on a high note. Millie’s happiness dissipates upon turning the page of the magazine, however, because there are pictures of Grant kissing Sophia Loren, Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn. Emmett philosophically muses that Grant should “make hay while the sun shines” because he’s not getting any younger—and that’s when Millie informs him that Cary is in his sixties. Emmett stops to ponder this. “He’s at least ten years older than I am.” This puts a noticeable spring in the fix-it man’s step—knowing that he’s younger than Cary Grant.

(For the record, Hartman was less than two months younger—Grant was born on January 18, 1904 and Hartman on the first of March. But if I may paraphrase a noted gentleman who spent a Christmas vacation wheelchair-bound—Cary Grant could eat a box of candy every day of his life and live to be 102…and when he’d been dead three days, he’d still look better than Paul Hartman.)

Emmett is a changed man. Sam and Howard are parked on Emmett’s official bus bench discussing their friend (“The trouble with Emmett is, when he’s up, he’s up…and when he’s down, he’s down” according to Howard) when Emmett jogs by, happy as a lark. They follow him to the fix-it shop and, peering into the front window, see Emmett tanning himself under a sun lamp…

SAM: Uh, Emmett…are you all right?
EMMETT: Well, of course I’m all right…just gettin’ a little suntan…just because I’m reachin’ the prime of life doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself… (He starts to hum a song)
HOWARD: Gee, I’m sure glad you’re feeling so chipper, Emmett…
EMMETT: Well, why shouldn’t I be? I’m not even sixty yet…


I guess denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. At the bakery, Sam pumps Millie for information on why Emmett is acting so trippy—so Millie tells him about the conversation she had with Emmett regarding Cary Grant. Sam immediately gets it—and wonders to himself why he didn’t think of coming up with the Grant comparison in the first place (“Never underestimate the power of a woman”). But Millie is still a little confused, and asks him to explain it to her as he heads out the front door. “I think you just gave the world another Cary Grant,” he tells her cheerfully and he gives her a little peck on the nose.

And speaking of pecks, Emmett arrives at his domicile and announces he’s home—but instead of the perfunctory greeting to Martha, he takes her in his arms and “dips” her, asking how her day went. “Well, it’s certainly picking up,” is her stunned response. She hands him his paper, but he waves it away—bubbling with enthusiasm, Emmett beseeches Martha to continue with the preparations for his birthday party. “Well, just don’t stand there, woman—get on the phone! Call everybody!” Martha gets on the horn with Sara, and as Emmett sits down to peruse the paper he takes the rubber band and playfully shoots Martha in the ass. (Fortunately for us, the camera is ready to move on to other things before we’re subjected to the sight of Emmett really getting frisky.)

There is a dissolve, and we see several couples milling and dancing about in the Clark’s living room—Goober sheepishly makes his way over to the punch bowl, where Martha pours him a jigger of punch. “Boy, Martha, you really went all out—just like one of them Park Avenue parties,” he says goofily. (Well, with one exception, Goob—if it were Park Avenue, you would not be invited.) The door buzzer rings, and Martha goes over to answer it—it’s Sam and Millie, which means the party can really get started.

Martha informs Emmett that Sam and Millie have arrived, and he makes his way through the crowd, dressed and looking like Hugh Hefner on a really bad day. “Hello, Sam boy,” he says enthusiastically, and he kisses Millie’s hand. Howard and Goober observe this from across the room, and Goober tells Howard: “Cary Grant…” “Oh…” is all that Howard is able to say.

“Boy, he sure is kicking up his heels tonight,” observes Howard of Emmett as he dances a jig with his date alongside Sam and Millie. In a series of scenes, we witness Emmett engaged in party activities that make him look…well, like a fifty-year-old doofus...

Yeah, beating Howard at arm-wrestling…there’s a strenuous activity. “He’s really knocking himself out,” observes Sam to Martha—who informs Sam: “He hasn’t behaved this way since the senior prom.” Emmett, having vanquished a man who couldn’t punch his way through Cool Whip, announces to those assembled: “Everybody out in the yard for the sack race!”


The morning after, Sam takes a leisurely stroll downtown…and passing by the fix-it shop, notices that Emmett hasn’t opened up yet. I don’t know why this would be of any great concern to our hero, when you consider how much time Emmett spends on that bus depot bench…but nevertheless, a concerned Sam tools on over to the Clark’s residence to inquire about Emmett’s absence from his establishment…

SAM: Hey, that was some party last night…
MARTHA: Thank you…yes, it was…
SAM (chuckling): I, uh…I just stopped by the fix-it shop and it was closed…I wondered if everything was all right…
MARTHA: Oh, yes…Emmett’s still asleep…
SAM: Oh…
MARTHA (pointing towards the couch): Right over there…


“When the last guest left, he said ‘Well, that’s it’…and it sure was,” Martha muses out loud. (I’ll bet that sort of thing never happened to Cary Grant.) Since it’s obvious that Emmett’s no longer able to run with the big dogs anymore, he and Sam must have the eventual philosophical back-and-forth on the subject of age:

EMMETT: That Cary Grant must have a thousand stunt men
SAM: Hey…you gotta expect a few aches and pains after a night like that…that was a great party, Emmett—everybody’s talking about it…
EMMETT: Laughin’ about it, you mean…I acted like an old fool…
SAM: No…no…
EMMETT: Yeah, tryin’ to be the life of the party…runnin’ around…no fooling an old fool…
SAM (after a pause): Well…yeah, there is, Emmett…a man who’s fifty and can’t make up his mind whether he’s seventy or seventeen…
EMMETT: What?
SAM: Emmett…we all…reach milestones in our lives…and we all worry about them…at twenty, you worry about gettin’ a job…at thirty you worry about supportin’ a family…at forty you worry about losing your job…and at fifty…well, I guess you just worry about bein’ a little older…but it’s…just another step in life…
EMMETT: I suppose…
SAM: I think the thing to do is just accept your life and stop worrying about it…
EMMETT: Mmmm…
SAM: Just…be what you are, Emmett…fifty…it’s a good age…


Okay, those of you who signed up for Sam’s motivational course…your refund is in the mail. In this episode’s wrap-up, Sam is gassing up at Goober’s and he happens to notice that his pal is trying to unload the rocking chair Goob and Howard originally purchased for Emmett’s birthday. Goober offers to sell it to Sam for half a sawbuck…and even comes down to four dollars, mentioning that he could put it on the front porch at the Jones Ranch. But Sam insists he’s not ready for a rocking chair, despite Howard’s observation that in seven more years he (Sam) will be forty. As Sam climbs into the cab of his pickup, he can’t help but stare at his visage in the truck’s side mirror…and contemplate that very soon he’ll be acting as ridiculous as Emmett at age forty. (Note: Ken Berry was actually thirty-five at the time this episode was first telecast.)

Beatrice “Aunt Bee” Taylor must have said something to piss Martha Clark off, because she wasn’t invited to Emmett’s celebration…and as such, does not appear in this episode. So Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s patented Bee-o-Meter™ holds at five Aunt Bee appearances so far on Mayberry R.F.D. In real life, Mary Lansing was not only an actress but an architectural designer, designing her own home in Studio City, California. I did not learn until recently that Lansing was at one time married to actor Frank Nelson, who lives on in both radio and television immortality as Jack Benny’s nemesis—Lansing made a few appearances on the Benny program, and was also heard on such radio shows as The Lux Radio Theatre, The Whistler, The Life of Riley and Gunsmoke. Lansing’s television legacy is pretty much her work on R.F.D.—the IMDb credits her with nine appearances on this series (in addition to fifteen on The Andy Griffith Show…though she only played Martha in three Griffith episodes). Other television shows that welcomed her as a guest star include The Real McCoys, Pete and Gladys, The Patty Duke Show, Gomer Pyle, USMC and Bewitched. Next week: Millie may be going out there as a lowly sales clerk in a bakery—but she’s coming back a star!

*Obligatory Bill Crider joke.

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4 comments:

Andrew Leal said...

Mary Lansing was also one of several OTR vets in the voice cast of Disney's "Bambi," along with fellow Mayberrian Will Wright, Paula Winslowe, and Fred Shields. She can be heard briefly as "Aunt Ena" (Faline's mother) and Mrs. Possum ("Good morning, young prince.")

Toby O'B said...

Wow, you sure caught Millie in a bad screen cap. LOL! It's weird to think that Hartman but especially Grant would be 106 if they were alive today.....

Brent McKee said...

One thing worth noting about Paul Hartman is that he had been a professional dancer for most of his career, partnered with his wife Grace. In 1948 Paul and Grace Hartman each won a Tony Award as Best Actor and Actress in a Musical.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

One thing worth noting about Paul Hartman is that he had been a professional dancer for most of his career, partnered with his wife Grace.

Indeed -- Hartman's terpsichorean skills get a workout in this episode, as well as the earlier "The Harvest Ball."