Monday, July 5, 2010

Mayberry Mondays #8: “The Church Play” (11/18/68, prod. no. 0109)

After last week’s controversial Mayberry Mondays installment—in which a trio of troubled elementary school teens were in danger of being bored to death by Mayberry’s town fathers, including head city councilman Sam Jones (Ken Berry) and county clerk (Howard Sprague)—it’s nice to be able to return to a kindler, gentler episode more suitable for family members of all ages. As with most Mayberry R.F.D.’s, things kick off with an important committee meeting—this time, a powwow over budgetary matters concerning Mayberry’s only church. (I’m assuming the town has only one church, since the only clergyman who’s ever on the show is played by William Keene. Let’s be honest…I’ve yet to see a rabbi in this burg, unless there’s a lost Andy Griffith Show episode entitled “Ernest T.’s Bris.”)

HOWARD: As new chairman of the Charity Fund Committee, I’d…like to bring you all up-to-date on the latest facts and figures…
REVEREND: Yes, I’ve been wondering about that…how is our financial picture?
HOWARD: Grim…unless our fundraising drive is more successful than it was last year, the church is going to be faced with deficit spending
GOOBER: That’s bad, ain’t it?
HOWARD (as if he were talking to a child): Yes, Goober…that’s bad


You can’t see it in this photo (courtesy of the final Andy Griffith Show episode, “Mayberry R.F.D.,” which was the pilot for the new series) but that population figure on the sign near Andy’s cranium reads five-thousand sixty people*. Now, in a town that size…surely there must be some other individual they could appoint to these committees than Goober “Pull my finger” Pyle (George Lindsey). I’m just sayin’…

HOWARD: Last year, the white elephant sale netted $176.33…which is up twelve percent over the year before…now, although we had approximately the same amount of merchandise, the prices seem to be going up on useless things… (He grins widely)

Speaking of which…I wonder if they’ve considered donating Goober’s body to the University of North Carolina’s Science Department?

HOWARD: Now income from the gourmet box supper was $206.25, which is up eighteen percent over the year before…
GOOBER: Well, I figured that’d be up…that was some real gourmet, too, them enchiladas and everything…
SAM: Howard…I don’t understand…our income seems to be up…twelve percent, eighteen percent…why are we in trouble?


It should be pretty obvious, Sammy. Howard’s cooking the books. You don’t get to be county clerk in that town without knowing a few short cuts.

HOWARD: Well, right here it is…income from the Sunday school play…$62.80…that’s down, forty percent from the year before…even though production costs were approximately the same

I think I’ve made my point. Howard’s going to the Big House…and I have a feeling he’s going to be very popular with the population there.

REVEREND: You know, the play used to be our greatest single source of revenue
HOWARD: Gentleman…I think the problem lies with our producer…Miss Clara Edwards…


Yes, Mayberry’s resident dehydrated old spinster (Hope Summers), it would appear, is a bit behind the show bidness times. She’s been putting together the productions for the last seventeen years—“but let’s face it,” Howard points out, “her efforts just aren’t paying off at the box office.” (In Mayberry, you’re only as good as your last hit.)

REVEREND: I wonder if the plays she’s been putting on aren’t…uh…you know, too much the same
HOWARD: Well, it’s more than that, Reverend…it’s the type of play…you know, show business has progressed and she’s still doing those same old symbolic-type things…like last year… (Disdainfully) ”Mr. Good Deeds Battles Mr. Indifference and Miss Selfishness.”


Yeah…I heard the DVD sales on that one alone tanked. Well, the Reverend is sold—apparently Mayberry needs some new show bidness blood, so the four white guys argue amongst themselves as to who’ll be the unfortunate essobee to break the news to Clara. As if it were scripted, Clara makes her entrance (she’s running a tad tardy) and announces to those assembled that this year’s play is going to be a “rilly big shew…”

CLARA: Now…I’ve come very well prepared…I feel that this play this year is going to be the finest one I’ve ever produced…
HOWARD (clearing his throat): Ahemm…uh…ah…Clara…the…w-w-would you like to take it, Sam?
SAM: Uh…no…not particularly…
REVEREND (clearing his throat): Um…Miss Edwards, the committee has been talking things over…and we’re all concerned about the constant drop in revenue each year…uh…particularly last year
CLARA: If you’ll remember…it was a very chilly night…and besides, we were bucking a French movie at the Bijou…
SAM: Uh…I…think the problem goes a little deeper than that, Miss Edwards…we were…we were all wondering if…uh…if it wasn’t time to try something different
HOWARD: Yes, Clara…you see, you’ve shouldered this burden for seventeen years now and…
GOOBER: …and we figured we’d get somebody else to put on the play…


He may be an imbecile…but occasionally he comes in handy, particularly when bad news has to be delivered. I’d like to be able to say that Clara takes this like a real show business trouper…but this is a sitcom, after all, and if that were the case we’d have no plot this week. “Well, if you feel there is this profusion of theatrical talent in Mayberry, then by all means make a change,” she sniffs haughtily, beating a hasty retreat in the process. The remaining committee members look at each other helplessly, and since no one can think of a suitable replacement with an extensive theatre background, the meeting is adjourned.

The scene then shifts to the Mayberry diner, where Sam is unloading on his best gal, Millie “Check out my baked goods” Swanson (Arlene Golonka), about the removal of Clara…rationalizing that it’s all for charity and “we need the money.” Howard then makes an appearance, explaining that he had some work to finish up in the office (those Y-29-RJ forms don’t file themselves, you know) and he’s just grabbing a cuppa joe before he hits the sack (if you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee…it’s the bunk). Sam and Millie invite him to pull up a chair (apparently Millicent has no problem with her creepy ex-boyfriend hanging around) and when Howard asks “How was the movie?” Sam replies: “Oh, another one of those foreign pictures…you know, you never know it’s over till the lights go up.” (Ah, Mayberry…the Paris of the South.)

HOWARD (to Millie): Sam tell you about the meeting?
MILLIE: Mm-hmm…you know, as sort of an outsider…I think the main thing is to pick a show the kids would enjoy doing…you know, if the kids were having fun I’ll bet that the audience would, too…
SAM: What do you mean?
MILLIE: Well…why not do a real children’s play like…oh, maybe Sleeping Beauty or something like that…
HOWARD (enthusiastically): Hey! That’s a starter…why don’t we run that up the flagpole at the next committee meeting and see who salutes it?


Howard seems to have momentarily forgotten that he’s a regular on an anemic spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show and not AMC’s Mad Men. But the more Millie fleshes out the idea—“Sleeping Beauty would be no problem…one set, not too many props, simple dialogue”—the more Sam and Howard are convinced that she’s some sort of expert (I guess the people in Mayberry have never used the terms “set” and “props” and “dialogue” before). As the scriptwriter would have it, Millie did dabble a bit in show bidness in Raleigh—so Sam and Howard strong-arm her into taking over the production reins…adding the guilt-inducing element that it is for charity.

Millie holds auditions among several interested schoolchildren—among them Sam’s severely slow idiot son, Mike (Buddy Foster) and his pal, Harold (Richard S. “Fishface” Steele). “Is this going to be another one of those plays where nobody knows what we talking about?” asks Mike, in a veiled reference to the former producer. And speak of the Devil, Clara walks in unannounced...and I hope there’s a saucer of milk handy…

CLARA: I just dropped by to congratulate you on your appointment…
MILLIE: Thank you…
CLARA: I wish you every success in the world…
MILLIE: That’s very sweet of you…
CLARA: I understand you have a measure of theatrical background? (Laughs) Well, that should give us a great deal in common…
MILLIE: Yes, I guess it would…
CLARA: I understand you received your training in…Raleigh…
MILLIE: That’s right…
CLARA: Well, personally…I’ve found that the formal discipline I’ve had in oral interpretation and elocution at Miss Baker’s finishing school invaluable…and that later on, of course, I had personalized coaching with Mr. Danforth Meriwether-Brown…one of the last of our great Shakespearians…


…and now currently the men’s room attendant at Mayberry’s Greyhound depot. Clara presses Millie for information on her theatrical background, and Millie merely replies that she just picked up a few things “from practical experience.” “Well…it should be a very interesting production,” hisses Clara, as she rides off on her broom. (One of you kids might want to open a window.)

At Goober’s filling station, Sam is gassing up the truck as Goober asks him how his tomato crop is doing. “One thing you can say about gasoline, the price pretty much stays the same…’cept when we have a gas war,” Goober points out cheerfully. (I’ll wait for the laughter in the blogosphere to subside.) Mike rides up on his bicycle and asks his father for a lift home, so Sam loads up Mike’s bike in the back as Mike talks about his landing the role of Prince Charming in Millie’s production. “It’s Sue Ann Loudermilk,” he explains to the man whom his mother told him was his father. “I’m supposed to give her a kiss that wakes her up after a hundred years.” But Mike is requesting a change in casting, because the young ingénue giggles when Mike plants one on her. “She supposed to be sound asleep…and every time I bend over to kiss her, she giggles…”

“Maybe your mustache tickles her,” Goober replies stupidly, with a laugh to match.

That was sort of my reaction, too. In fact, Goober really has to double down on the idiocy in this week’s episode because Mayberry’s resident fix-it savant, Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman), is sitting this one out.

Back on the streets of Mayberry, a gentleman (Jay Lawrence) in an open-air convertible drives up and just happens to meet up with Clara. He asks the prune-like busybody where he can locate Millie, claiming to be an old acquaintance from Raleigh, and Clara stops washing herself with her tongue long enough to offer to take him to the auditorium. We then cut to the auditorium, where Millie is complimenting the girls in the play on their fine work…

…and that little moppet in the blue dress is, of course, future Oscar-winning actress Alicia C. “Jodie” Foster…though she’s billed in the closing credits as “Jody.” Millie stops Miss Loudermilk (Loretta Logue) to admonish her about her giggle fits during her love scenes with her Prince Charming, aka Mike the Idiot Boy:

MILLIE: Sue Ann…Sue Ann, honey…you’ve just got to stop giggling when Mike kisses you…
SUE ANN (giggling): But I can’t help it…
MILLIE: Well…if you try to think of something serious, when he comes to plant the kiss you won’t giggle…you should be able to think of something serious…
SUE ANN: My father’s uncle just died


Why not threaten to shoot the girl’s dog? (It worked for Jackie Cooper.) Anyhoo, Sue Ann’s aware of her problem and she promises to work on subduing her mirth…and by this time, Clara and the gentleman looking for Millie have arrived. Millie, seeing the man, greets him warmly and addresses him as “Nick”…

It was bugging the heck out of me, trying to remember where I’d seen this guy (he looks a little like Larry Storch’s brother…and I was floored to learn that he actually is) until it finally dawned on me that Lawrence is also the POW in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953) who does the impressions of Clark Gable, James Cagney, Cary Grant, etc. (And believe me—I’ve watched this enough on TCM on Demand in the past few weeks to know for certain.) Nick is an old boss of Millie’s—it would appear that our Millicent once worked on stage as a (gasp!) chorus girl—and he wants her to return to Raleigh to be the head chorine in his new show. But Millie is determined to stay in Mayberry because she likes it there—she doesn’t elaborate, just stating she plans to stay for “several reasons.” (I’ll bet one of them is a certain head of city council what has a nine-year-old doofus for a son.)

…yeah, you clearly saw this coming. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before snoopy Clara assembles the Charity Fund committee to drop this little bombshell:

CLARA: I regret the need for calling this emergency meeting but we do face a crisis
REVEREND: Miss Edwards…if you’d just get right to the point…
CLARA: Well, it’s come to my attention that Millie has been offered a job in a show in Raleigh…to return to her former profession…a chorus girl
SAM: A chorus girl? Millie?
GOOBER: You mean Millie’s been one of them honest-to-goodness chorus girls? One of them girls who wears them spangly things?
REVEREND (slapping Goober on the arm): Goober…
CLARA: She was even to be the lead chorine, as I gather…
GOOBER: Right smack dab in the middle, huh?
REVEREND: Lead chorine is usually on the far right (he gestures to his right) and the others line up… (He stops short, since Sam, Howard and Clara are staring at him) Little piece of information I picked up in my college days


Hey…whatever opens your hymnal, Rev. Clara goes on further to illuminate her audience as to some of the productions Millie’s headlined (“Beauties and the Beast,” “High Kickers”)…and Sam stops her short by asking: “What are you suggesting, Miss Edwards?”

CLARA: I’m…not suggesting anything…but under the circumstances, a church play…well, I felt I ought to alert the committee to the facts about their new director…
REVEREND: We appreciate your…dedication, Miss Edwards…
CLARA: …and like the proverbial fire horse, I shall always be ready when duty calls…


The horse analogy is very apt, because I couldn’t help but think what a nag this old biddy has become. Since her broom is double-parked, Clara disappears…and since Sam’s the one who backed Millie from the get-go, Reverend Stage-Door Johnny suggests he may have screwed up big time. But Sam is insistent on supporting Millie, so the Reverend reluctantly agrees to stay the course despite possible parental objections. “But please…just make sure nothing goes wrong,” he advises our hero. “I don’t sleep too well at night as it is.” (Considering this guy’s obsession with chorus gals, maybe I don’t want to know just what he means by that cryptic statement.)

The scene shifts back to the diner, where Sam and Millie are having a nosh—and because Sam’s still wearing the same outfit he had on in the meeting, I’m guessing this is some time later…except that Millie’s working a glass of o.j. and what appears to be a hearty Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity-type breakfast. She lavishes praise on Mike, calling him “the perfect Prince Charming” and informs Sam that the Loudermilk gal has finally stopped with the giggling during the kissing portion of the play. Finally, Sam gets up the nerve to ask the $64 question {“Are you now or have you ever been a chorus girl?”) but Millie is only too eager to supply the vital statistics on her career—she wanted to be a ballerina, but drifted into the chorus to make some money…and then found she could make more moolah behind the bakery counter.

Sam’s a little worried, however, when Millie informs him that the innocent production known as Sleeping Beauty has been “updated” a little—but she remains mum on the changes. (I guess he’s concerned that she’s going to borrow a page from Oh! Calcutta!) Personally, the sight of naked kids is a bit unsettling…but I wouldn’t mind seeing a little bit of this crumpet, if you know what I mean…

It’s opening night, and as the audience drifts into the auditorium, the Reverend remarks: “Looks like we’re going to have a full house.” “Yes…people seem very curious to see anything connected with sensationalism,” purrs Clara. Howard and Goober file in shortly after, with Howard remarking that the crowd is “SRO”…and then having to explain to his pal that SRO stands for standing room only. (Ferchrissake, Howard—when are you going to learn that Goober is a chimpanzee in coveralls?)

Backstage, Millie gets the kids ready to lineup for the festivities…and then Sam comes out to make a few introductory remarks (hey—it’s The Ken Berry Wow Show!). I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of the play simply because it involves bad kid actors reciting lines in a horrible fashion…but among the highlights:

King Fishface the First…

A kid (Michele Tobin) who really overacts as the Wicked Witch…

…and Jodie Foster emoting as the fairy who neutralizes the Witch’s spell. (“Can you still hear the lambs screaming, Clarice?”)

When it comes time for Prince Charming to awaken Sleeping Beauty with a buss, Mike grabs a microphone and proceeds to mangle A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody as the rest of the fairies perform a chorus line number that causes the audience’s mouths to collectively hit the auditorium floor at first…not because it’s shocking, but because it’s so bad. As an added bonus, Jodie Foster gets to shake her moneymaker…


Sam stares at Millie, who sheepishly admits: “I needed a finish.” And as every dog within a twenty-mile radius of Mayberry howls along with Mike “I’m here all week—try the veal!” Jones, we ring down the curtain on this sorry excuse for a Sunday school play as the Irving Berlin standard is transformed into a caterwauling earwig I just can’t seem to shake.

By the time of the coda, everything is sweetness and light in Mayberry again—Clara was very impressed with Millie’s production, recognizing “showmanship” when she sees it, and the Millster has agreed to let Clara assist with next year’s play:

MILLIE; Well, she’s even got an idea for it already…Little Red Riding Hood…
SAM: Sounds like another winner…
MILLIE: …and at the very end, she wants a line of wolves to come out and do “the rock and roll”…
SAM: Crazy, man…crazy


Oh, Samuel. You are truly ten pounds of hip in a five-pound bag.

Beatrice “Aunt Bee” Taylor’s (Francis Bavier) appearances remain stalled at four this week, as measured by Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s patented Mayberry R.F.D. Bee-o-Meter™. I have to admit, it’s a little unsettling to see Clara in action when Aunt Bee’s not around because I’ve always thought Bee sort of kept Clara’s excesses in check. Actually, I haven’t been able to see the Clara character in the same light since the time I saw actress Hope Summers in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)—she plays Mrs. Gilmore, one of the Satanists at the end of the picture who greets the introduction of “Adrian” Woodhouse with “Hail Satan!” (Scared the living sh*t out of me as a youngster, and from that point on I kept a close eye on Clara afterward…though I assure you the “witch” jokes I made in this post were non pun intended.) The always reliable IMDb (snicker) credits Summers with five appearances on R.F.D. and to be honest, that seems a little stingy…but we don’t have any more cash in the kitty for a Clara-o-Meter, so I guess we’ll get by on the database’s say-so. Next week: Andy Griffith fulfills his quota of appearances in R.F.D.’s first season in an Opie-lite episode entitled “Mike’s Losing Streak.”

*My hometown of Ravenswood, WV had a population of 4,031 according to the 2000 census...and during the time I lived there it was roughly 4,500. This means that I lived in a town smaller than Mayberry.

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1 comment:

lashel said...

Oh, Samuel. You are truly ten pounds of hip in a five-pound bag.

LOL! Ivan, you are hilarious sometimes, unlike a single episode of Mayberry RFD. ;)

Larry S.