Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I think I’ll just stay here and drink

I don’t know how this escaped my attention previously, but in watching these great old black-and-white Gunsmoke episodes on Encore Westerns I find myself fascinated by actor Milburn Stone—the man who played Doc Galen Adams on the venerable television oater for its entire twenty-year-run—and a particular physical tic he employed in playing the part of Dodge City’s cantankerous medico.

He has a tendency to wipe his face. Not in an Edgar Kennedy slow burn fashion, but just a sort of peculiar quirk he brought to the character—at least, I’m assuming it’s just part of the character; I’ve seen Stone in other roles (serials and the like) and he’s never done it to the degree where it’s become as distracting. But if you’re watching Gunsmoke, and if it’s an episode with a concentrated Doc content—he’ll wipe away for the better part of fifty minutes.

Case in point: an episode I caught the other evening entitled “South Wind” (11/27/65). Bruce Dern’s the big name in this one; he plays a particularly unpleasant individual named Judd Print who’s traveling west to Colorado with his two sons, Coy (Michael Davis) and Verlyn (Robert Random). While trekking to their destination, Print and Sons have hooked up with another family headed up by Wade Bonney (Ryan Hayes), whose wife has caught fever and is not long for this world. Mrs. B (we never see her) draws her rations, and the elder Print tries to make a deal with Bonney to sell him the cow he’s going to end up abandoning. When Bonney refuses, Judd gives him a bullet for his trouble.

Bonney’s twelve-year-old son Homer (Pat Cardi) witnesses his father’s murder and runs off scared (hey—it’s Bruce F**king Dern…I’d be crapping in my pants, too, if I were his age), managing to elude capture by Judd and his boys. The Prints pretty much loot the Bonney’s wagon, taking anything that isn’t nailed down, and head off in the direction of Colorado…and Homer finally emerges from his hiding place, naturally upset at this turn of events. Armed with a pistol that was hidden in the wagon, he takes off after the murderous Print with revenge in his heart—but since he’s on foot, his chances of catching up with his father’s killer are remote until Doc picks him up by the side of the road.

Doc tends to the boy, who’s suffering from malnutrition and scratches on his legs—and he has one of the funniest exchanges with Festus (Ken Curtis) in any episode:

FESTUS (observing the gun the boy was carrying): It’s dang near as big as he is, isn’t it?
DOC: Almost blew my head off with it…
FESTUS: I b’lieve you’re makin’ that up…he looks like a pore lil’ ol angel to me…
DOC: Well, that pore lil’ ol’ angel’s got teeth… (He shows Festus his arm) Looky there...
FESTUS: Musta smarted, didn’t it?
DOC: Didn’t feel very good, I’ll tell you that…
FESTUS: How old do you reckon he is?
DOC: Oh, I don’t know…about ten, I think…
FESTUS: Tried to shoot you in the head, huh?
DOC: He didn’t miss me over a foot!
FESTUS: I’ll tell ya this…any young’un who’d try to do that…can’t be too bad…


Later in the episode, Doc takes Homer to Delmonico’s to get some food in him, and since the boy hasn’t eaten in several days, he’s putting it away like it was going to be the last time he’ll ever see a meal—something that doesn’t escape Festus’ notice. When Doc asks Homer if he wants another slice of pie and the kid refuses, Festus remarks: “Go ahead on, Homer…he’s rich, he can afford it…if you don’t want it I’ll eat it myself…”

As I was watching this episode, I got to thinking—this would make one hell of a drinking game. Every time Doc wipes his face, you down a shot or chug a beer. See if you don’t agree with me that engaging in this sort of frivolity would almost guarantee you’d be schnockered before the episode was over…

One…

Two…

Three… (I know this looks the same as two, but they’re completely different face wipes, just shot from the same angle)

Four…

Five… (Kind of hard to see this one, since he has his back to the camera)

Six… (Ditto)

Seven…

Eight…

Nine…

Ten…

Eleven…

Honest to my grandma, if you’re still able to stand after all this, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Now, Stone’s a tricky essobee—there’s a variation of this tic which is more of an ear scratch, and I for one feel that shouldn’t count…



And here’s another one he does to fake viewers out—the face scratch…

He also does a few nose wipes…which I guess you could technically count as facial wipes, especially if the episode you’re watching only features Doc incidentally. In “South Wind,” of course, nose wipes would matter precious little in the big picture. (The last one here isn’t particularly good because there was a quick cut to Stone just as he was completing the nasal wipe.)



Belly up to the bar, gang…I’m buyin’…

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5 comments:

Amanda said...

Yikes! What is with this guy? Someone get him something for his ticks

Scott C. said...

Good grief, Doc, it's 200 years after van Leeuwenhoek -- it's at least 20 years after Pasteur -- you've got your hands in open wounds, you're dealing with whooping cough, cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis -- and you can't stop rubbin' your face and wiping your nose?

It's a wonder Dodge City wasn't a ghost town.

Camping Clint said...

I love those old Gunsmoke reruns. I'll never watch another one though without counting Doc's "signature" move. I never noticed it before, but now I won't be able to not notice it.

Stacia said...

They always say that the hardest thing for an actor to do is figure out what to do with his hands...

OK, by "they" I mean Bette Davis, and by "his" I mean hers, but I stand by what I said.

Jimbo said...

I learned that Gunsmoke's Milburn Stone suffered short term memory loss in the 1960's and could not remember his lines. The actor had to write prompts on the cuffs of his sleeves and catch a glimpse during a quick face-wipe maneuver.

Most people never noticed until one summertime, suspicion grew as Doc, wearing short sleeves on the set, kept wiping his chin in his armpits.