Monday, September 24, 2012

Mayberry Mondays #59: “Millie, the Best-Dressed Woman” (10/26/70, prod. no. 0311)

For the past couple of weeks, I have been making a concerted effort to get TDOY’s Mayberry Mondays done by Sunday afternoon/evenings (and then schedule it for an early posting the following day)…a discipline I’ve been practicing in order to free up Mondays to work on my weekly excursions into the Whistler movies for the Radio Spirits blog.  It’s not easy for a professional procrastinator like myself to get into this habit, but it’s been helped by the fact that the last two or three R.F.D. episodes haven’t been as bad as some in the past.

But getting this week’s assignment done on time was a real chore…because it’s really a terrible episode.  The good news is that it starts out with a nice contribution from one of TV’s most beloved character actors…


…Ivor Francis, whom most people might know as the father of Genie Francis, aka “Laura Spencer” on the long-running daytime drama General Hospital (and recently a regular on The Young and the Restless…or Y&R, as it’s known to hip soap fans).  Francis (Ivor, not Genie) made the rounds on many classic TV series, usually as a stuffy professorial type—The Defenders, The Flying Nun, Bonanza, Night Gallery, etc.—and is probably best known as the fussy English department head on Room 222, Kenneth Dragen.  (He also co-starred on Sherwood Schwartz’s Gilligan’s-Island-out-west, Dusty’s Trail—the less said about that the better.)  I didn’t know until I did a little research on Ivor that he also did quite a bit of radio, appearing on such programs as Studio One, The Ford Theatre, Best Plays, The Search That Never Ends, X-Minus One, Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Francis was also celebrated for his acting instruction; as founders of the Ivor Francis Actors Workshop his pupils included such thespians as Linda Haynes (Coffy, Rolling Thunder) and Ben Murphy (Alias Smith and Jones).

In this episode, “Millie, the Best-Dressed Woman,” Ivor plays Carl Brady, the editor of The Mount Pilot Clarion…but before we get to his participation, the episode starts with an establishing shot of the outside building plate…


…and then seconds later, a black resident walks by…


A distant relation to the since departed Ralph Barton (Charles Lampkin), no doubt. 

(Totally unrelated topic: I had the privilege of talking to my BBFF Stacia via telephone several weeks back and in doing so I muted the sound on my TV, where a rerun of The Partridge Family was in progress.  It’s the episode that has Richard Pryor on it—Richard Freaking Pryor!—in which he and Louis Gossett, Jr. are trying to turn an old firehouse into a swinging nightclub and a scheduling mix-up books America’s favorite singing family into the joint.  I’ve seen the episode before, but I completely forgot that Lampkin plays the mobster who’s hoping the club fails so he can take over the property.  I swear I’m not making this up.) 

Okay, I’ve put off writing about this episode long enough—Francis’ Brady is interrupted by the boundless enthusiasm of pedantic county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), who writes a weekly column (“Mayberry Happenings”) for Brady’s paper, and is there to present the finished assignment in person.  (Ivor is hysterical as Brady, by the way; his reaction to Howard’s arrival in his office is not dissimilar to that of a person awaiting a proctology exam.)

HOWARD: I think my lead story’s going to be of considerable interest when it hits the street…Madelyn Brinkerhoff, one of our youthful Mayberryites, was the victim of a daylight robbery
BRADY: Is that so?  Well…um…I’ll…uh…get right to that after lunch…
HOWARD (sitting on Brady’s desk): “While shopping with her mother in Siler City, Madelyn’s 64 bass accordion was stolen from the family car…pending the outcome of a police investigation, Miss Brinkerhoff’s performance of the Peer Gynt Suite with the Mayberry High School Orchestra next Wednesday…will be postponed…”
BRADY (staring at him): Uh huh…
HOWARD: Unless one of your other reporters scooped me with the yarn…?
BRADY: No, I…guess they all missed it, Howard…
HOWARD: Oh…well…

Brady interrupts Howard’s page-turning newspaper scoop to give him a bit of news, which he locates after turning over a few piles on his desk and a file cabinet in his office:

BRADY: Now, Mayberry came on pretty strong in our fashion column
HOWARD: Is that a fact?
BRADY: That’s right…Pamela Bennington, the…Mount Pilot fashion editor, just picked her list of the five best-dressed women in the county…and a Mayberry woman is number one…
HOWARD: Oh?
BRADY: Yeah…that’s right…do you know Millie Swanson?

“You bet I do!  And in the biblical sense even!”

HOWARD: Millie Swanson?!!  Of course I know her!  You mean…she was picked as the best-dressed woman in the county?
BRADY: That’s right!  Now, why don’t you just take that along... (He starts to escort Howard out of his office)
HOWARD: Oh, well, thank you…oh, this is great!  You know, I believe this is the first time a Mayberry woman ever made the top of the list!

Howard, you’re forgetting Clara Edwards…in 1692.  (I don’t care if Clara’s no longer on the show…I have to use up these witch jokes.)  “Wait’ll Millie hears about it!”  As could be predicted, given Millie’s (Arlene Golonka) shallowness, she is thrilled at the news.

MILLIE: Howard…I-I-I just don’t believe it!
HOWARD (handing her the paper): Well, there are the five names…with Millie Swanson at the top of the list…


Here’s something interesting for you sociologists in the audience…notice the two cakes side-by-side in front of Millie in the above screen capture.  Nah, no sexual symbolism there.  A stunned Millie then shows the report to her boyfriend, poor-but-honest-dirt-farmer-turned-town-council-head Sam Jones (Ken Berry), who reads it aloud for our benefit:

SAM: Uh…”Best Dressed Women of Mount Pilot and Surrounding Cities”…hey!  “Notable contributors to the local fashion scene”…uh…”based on editor’s observations at various social events and gatherings in the county over the past year”…wow!
MILLIE: I know that…that Miss Bennington goes to a lot of banquets and big affairs in this area…but…well…I-I-I never dreamed she was even considering me!  Oh…I don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes…

Oh, Millicent…you have to be pulling down at least, what, $3.500 a year in 1970 dollars?  Ann Marie on That Girl doesn’t make nearly that much and she has a wardrobe that’s simply faboo!

HOWARD: Ah—listen to this!  “Miss Swanson was chosen—not for her lavish wardrobe—but for a natural and instinctive clothes sense, coupled with instinctive simplicity and taste in everything she wears…”
SAM: Hey… (Laughing) Ah, congratulations, Mill…that’s a real honor!
HOWARD: Oh, yeah—this is really going to focus the attention on Mayberry, fashion wise!  Oh, and on Millie, too…
SAM: Oh, yeah…
MILLIE (giggling): Oh, golly!
(Millie picks up the “breast cakes” and carries them over to another counter)
HOWARD: You know, as number one on the list…the other women are going to be keeping an eagle eye on everything you wear, Millie…you’re going to be more or less a style setter from now on!

And having applied an incredible amount of pressure on our heroine, knowing that what she decides to pull out of the closet could have serious ramifications on the rest of Mayberry’s womenfolk, the scene dissolves to a shot of Sam as he stands on the sidewalk of one of Mayberry’s many thoroughfares.  (Yeah, like you people were expecting him to be plowing a field or something.)  Millie pulls up in her car, and explains to her boyfriend that it was her day off so she went into Mount Pilot to do some shopping.  “Sam,” she tells him excitedly as she gets out of the car, “I want you to be the first to see it.”  (Please let it be a tattoo…)



It’s…a dress.  (I can’t ever catch a break with these things.)  Here’s Sam’s reaction:

MILLIE: Well?  Do you like it?
SAM: Oh, yeah…well, sure…i-i-it’ll be fine when you get it shortened to fit you and everything…
MILLIE: It does fit me…this is the new midi length…it’s the latest thing in the fashion world…
SAM: But you look…well, it’s so long, Mill…

“So long, Sam.”

MILLIE: Well, Sam…you might as well get used to it—this is what they’ll all be wearing soon…
SAM: Well, couldn’t you have waited until a few other women…I mean…

“Sam—if a person’s on the best dressed list, she wants to be a leader…not a follower,” Millie explains to Sam, who’s having trouble hiding his disappointment that his girlfriend isn’t showing a little more leg, I guess.  So Millie is doing a little more shopping downtown, and as she passes a storefront we find Martha Clark (Mary Lansing)—the long suffering spouse of fix-it savant Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman)—exiting the building, where she sees Millie.

MARTHA: Millie!
MILLIE: Oh…hi, Martha!
MARTHA: Millie, you did it!
MILLIE: Yeah…I…uh…took the plunge, as you might say…
MARTHA: Oh, it just looks wonderful!  I guess we thought about it…we all do…but…you actually did it!

Am I missing something here?  It’s a freaking dress, ferchrissake—it’s not like she split the atom… Then again…this is Mayberry we’re visiting.

MILLIE (as she twirls around, modeling): Yes, I guess I did!  (She laughs)
MARTHA: Have you bought any others?
MILLIE: No, not yet…but I intend to…

As Martha and Millie continue to discuss the wonder that is Millie’s dress purchase, another woman comes up to both of them.  The character is identified as “Emily,” and though her face may not be all that familiar her voice certainly is—she’s actress Joan Tompkins, the star of the long-running radio soap This is Nora Drake.  Tompkins, who also emoted on such shows as David Harum and Young Widder Brown, also appeared on stage, in movies (Popi, Zigzag) and TV—her best known gig was as Trudy Wagner, the secretary on NBC’s legal drama Sam Benedict (1962-63), which starred “the sweatiest man in noir,” Edmond O’Brien.  Joan Tompkins’ legal name was Joan Tompkins Swenson, since she was married to OTR legend Karl Swenson, whom she met while working in radio (she was wife #2; Karl divorced first wife Virginia Hanscom).  Like Ivor Francis, she also taught acting—both she and her husband started a school in Beverly Hills shortly after they tied the knot—but when Karl passed away in 1978, she branched out into writing, starting a group and publishing several books as a novelist.


EMILY: Millie Swanson!
MILLIE: Hi, Emily!
EMILY: Turn around!  Who would ever thought right here in Mayberry…oh, Millie—it’s spectacular!

This little hen party is joined by yet another woman positively stupefied that Millie has been able to find a clothing boutique beyond Weaver’s Department Store—her character is identified as “Debbie” and is played by actress Toni Moss, whose film credits include Five the Hard Way and The Wild McCullouchs…but is probably best remembered as Rosemary La Bianca in the two-part TV presentation of Helter Skelter in 1976.  Debbie follows Martha and Emily’s lead in praising Millie’s daring fashion sense to the skies, which prompts our favorite counter girl to remark: “Oh, gee—I didn’t expect to get such a big reaction!”  (Oh, I’m sure you didn’t…)

“As far as I’m concerned,” Millie explains to her acolytes, “the midi length is here to stay.”  And since she’s been declared the best-dressed woman in a backwoods North Carolina town, it must be so.  But when Millie takes a stroll around Mayberry, the new epicenter of fashion, several members of the male fraternity (and since they’re composed of lechers, I’m guessing it’s I Felta Thigh) express disappointment: Howard, Emmett, and drugstore proprietor Elmo Halpert (Vince Barnett).

MILLIE (as she sashays by): Hi, fellas!  How are you today?
(She continues to walk past)
HOWARD (sadly): Hi, Millie…
ELMO: Yeah…
EMMETT: Oh, brother…
HOWARD: Well, boys…it looks like the latest fashion trend has hit Mayberry


I wanted to present this close-up of Elmo because…well, there’s a little more here than meets the eye.  Here’s a snap of him from another episode, “Emmett Takes a Fall.”


He’s pretty spruced up there…whereas in this installment, he’s a little on the seedy side.  I’m thinking actor Barnett did this on purpose, because in his next line of dialogue we learn that our beloved Elmo is actually a dirty old lech:

ELMO: They can’t do this to me!  I’ve waited a lifetime to see the mini skirt get up to where it is today…and now this!  I know we all have to go sometime, but…I was kinda figurin’ on goin’ with a smile

You’re a sad, strange little man, Elmo.  And you have my pity.

EMMETT: Ah…I don’t understand all this fuss about women’s fashions anyway…
HOWARD: Women’s changing fashions have played an important part in the history of civilization, Emmett…
ELMO: Is that a fact, Howard?

You kind of have to listen to the way Barnett delivers that line.  There’s just a soupçon of sarcasm that…kee-rist, now I’m starting to sound like Howard.

HOWARD: Why…if Helen of Troy hadn’t been wearing something fetching when she met her husband’s friend Paris there might never have been a Trojan War… (He sits down on the bench)
EMMETT: I’ll betcha wars have been started when the husband got the bill for his wife’s dresses, I can tell you that!
(Emmett walks back into his shop to break something as Elmo sinks sadly in the chair next to Howard)
ELMO: A lifetime of waiting down the drain… (He sighs)

The implications of this conversation are disturbing.  All that time those people spend sitting on benches and neglecting their work has apparently been channeled into ogling women.  (They should all get construction jobs.)  I wouldn’t be surprised if Emmett didn’t send away for a pair of “X-Ray Specs,” which he cut out from the back of one of the comic books belonging to village idiot Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), who’s MIA from the proceedings this week.

So in the next scene, the Lord and Master of Castle Clark hath returned home…missing by mere seconds the encyclopedia salesman who hightailed it out the back entrance.

MARTHA: Is that you, dear?
EMMETT (slamming the door and going through the mail): Yeah, it’s me, Martha…
MARTHA: I’m up here in the bedroom…

This will work out nice for our fix-it man, for the sight of Millie in her new dress plus the lusty conversation he had with “the boys” has produced stirrings in the little Emmett.  Unfortunately, this will not work out nice for us…because we’ll all be struck with hysterical blindness once things get underway.  As he makes his way upstairs, Emmett jokes that he saw Millie Swanson today, “walkin’ around in some kind of a shroud.”

EMMETT (entering the bedroom): She was wearin’ this silly lookin’ long dress…heh…it came way down here below her knees…it… (He stops, because he’s just noticed that Martha has been removing random dresses from their closet and packing them in a cardboard box) Gosh…Martha…do you have to send all them dresses to the dry cleaners?  That’s gonna cost a fortune!
MARTHA: Oh, these aren’t for the dry cleaners, dear…they’re for the Salvation Army…
EMMETT: What?!!
MARTHA: Well, I can’t use all that closet space for a lot of out-of-date clothes
EMMETT: Whaddya mean, out-of-date?  I see dresses here that ain’t more than two or three years old!
MARTHA: These are all short skirts, dear…
EMMETT: Wait a minute…has Millie Swanson got somethin’ to do with this?

“Damn that midi-wearing harlot!”

MARTHA: Well, she’s the best-dressed woman in Mayberry…and she’s wearing the new length…
EMMETT: Well, that don’t mean you gotta do it!
MARTHA: Oh, Emmett darling…
EMMETT (grabbing a dress from her and putting it back in the closet) Just forget the “Emmett darling” stuff for now…
MARTHA: Look…you have to face facts…women’s styles change
EMMETT: Yeah, but…
MARTHA: I should think you’d take pride in what I wear!  Do you want to be seen with an out-of-date wife who looks like last year’s model?
EMMETT: For a man that drives a 1956 DeSoto, I think I can live with it!

Something tells me that Martha is going to wind up in that crawlspace underneath the house (and only Emmett has the key) again.

EMMETT (pulling one of the dresses out of the box): Look!  That’s a perfectly good dress!
MARTHA: Unfortunately you can’t lengthen these short dresses…
EMMETT: Well…maybe on important occasions you can slouch a little… (He throws the dress defiantly back into the box) Anyway, I’m tellin’ you, Martha Delaney Clark—I ain’t buyin’ you no new wardrobe!
MARTHA: Now Emmett, look…

Here’s the reason why Emmett won’t be renovating Martha’s duds—it’s a keeper.

EMMETT: I work hard for my money!  Eight hours a day, I concentrate on mechanical problems of a highly technical nature!  And if you think I’m gonna subject my brain to that kind of punishment just so you can go out and blow the profits on some silly new fad, you’re mistaken!

Every episode…one laugh-out-loud moment.  (A cynical laugh, but a laugh all the same.)

MARTHA: It’s not a new fad!  It’s a definite style trend!
EMMETT: Well, so was the snood!
MARTHA: The snood?
EMMETT: Yeah!  In 1944!  And how many women do you see wearin’ ‘em today?  So you just put them clothes right back in the closet and that’s final!

Emmett storms out of the bedroom…but Martha’s parting shot is a dandy: “If I had a decent dress, I’d go home to my mother in Akron!”

The scene shifts back to Emmett’s fix-it shop…only this time it’s the interior.  From the looks of the individuals who have gathered around, there is apparently a discussion going on…and I would be right—it’s the bi-weekly meeting of Mayberry’s Married Lechers Club.  (Okay, I did make that up.)  Most of these people, save for Elmo and Emmett, you probably won’t ever see again…but there is one who’s identified as “Clarence Demarest,” who makes an additional appearance in a later episode, “Goober, the Elder.”  The actor playing him is Ken Sansom, and though most of his c.v. is filled with bit parts in TV shows and movies (he also appears in a third R.F.D. episode, only as a different character) he’s primarily known as a vocal artist, providing the voice of Rabbit in Disney’s various Winnie the Pooh incarnations (The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, My Friends Tigger & Pooh, etc.) and also working on animated shows like The Chipmunks, The Littles and The Transformers.  The purpose of the MMLC is to allow the Men of Mayberry to bitch about how Millie’s daring fashion choice threatens the carefully maintained fictional peace of their own households, so we’re going to skip ahead to where Sam comes in.

SAM: Say…this is quite a meeting…what’s going on, Emmett?
EMMETT: Well, Sam…this is really a married man’s problem…I asked you to drop by because…I thought you might help out a little…
ELMO: It’s about them long dresses, uh, Millie’s wearin’…
CLARENCE: Yeah, she really started something with the other girls…
EMMETT: Uh. Sam…um…I was wonderin’ if…uh…you think there’s any chance of gettin’ Millie to go back to the short dresses?
ELMO: It’d take a lot of heat off us…
SAM: Oh ho…now look, guys—I don’t have the right to tell Millie what to wear…

“You don’t?  Then why did we vote your punk ass to city council in the first place?!!”

EMMETT: Well, Sam…we didn’t want ya to get into a knock-down-drag-out fight…heh heh…I just thought…maybe you’d drop a couple of hints or somethin’…
SAM: Well…no…Millie was elected the best-dressed woman!  Now how am I going to tell her what to wear?

“Your problem is that you don’t have a crawlspace out at your place, Sam.  That’s what your problem is.”

EMMETT: In other words, you’re turnin’ your back on us…
SAM: Oh, Emmett…look…
EMMETT (pointing his finger at him): That’s the trouble with people today!  Nobody wants to get involved!

Why don’t you guys just chip in and get Millie a burqa?

SAM: Oh…no…look, guys…I’m not turning my back on you…it’s just that I don’t feel that I have the right to tell Millie what and what not to wear, that’s all…
(The men ad-lib “Uh-huh” and other sarcastic expressions of understanding as Sam continues to stammer and sputter out an explanation)
ELMO: You were saying as how we should stand up to our wives, Emmett…
EMMETT: I think we can best continue this discussion after Benedict Arnold leaves…

"Benedict Arnold."  The Godwin’s Law of television sitcom arguments.  Since Sam isn’t having much luck articulating his arguments (“Now look, Emmett…I…uh…”) and the rest of the group is giving him the cold shoulder, what say we sell some Jell-O and Sanka?

Back from the commercial break, Millie is in Sam’s office, modeling yet another dress—for someone who makes a living powdering donuts, she’s sure amped up the clothes budget a lot.  I think this little newspaper announcement has kind of gone to her head; I wouldn’t be surprised to see her walking around Mayberry with an entourage soon.

SAM: I guess you know you’ve got things pretty well shook up in town…
MILLIE: You mean with all the other women?
SAM: Well, the husbands are scared stiff
MILLIE: Well, if this is going to be the new style the women of Mayberry have as much right as anybody else to be up to date…
SAM: Uh-huh…and you know something?  That’s the same thing they said back in 1935…
MILLIE: Oh?
SAM: …and I wouldn’t be surprised if they said it about that same dress

Fashion humor.  So tricky to pull off.  Well, over at the Mount Pilot Clarion (“Wrapped around 1,000 fish weekly!”), editor Carl Brady hands a “Best Dressed Woman” plaque to Howard to give to Millie, which will save the paper a little on postage.  Brady will soon learn not to do stupid things like this, because it just ends up giving Howard ideas (as witnessed by his trademarked furrowed brow):

HOWARD: …if you’ll bear with me for just a minute, this…this plaque has started the ol’ gears grinding
BRADY (with a tinge of regret): Is that so?
HOWARD: You know, I think I just had a brainstorm…you might even put it in the category of creative journalism
BRADY: Oh?
HOWARD: Instead of my just giving this to Millie Swanson…what if it were presented to her at some sort of affair in Mayberry…by none other than the Mount Pilot Clarion fashion editor, Miss Pamela Bennington herself!  Hah?

You know how much I love Howard when he’s in supervillain mode.

BRADY: Well, Howard…I…
HOWARD: The Mayberry Women’s Club dance is coming up, and I’m sure they’d be glad to hold it in honor of Miss Bennington…and her best-dressed choice, Millie Swanson…
BRADY: Well, sure, Howard…if you think they’ll go for it I’m sure Miss Bennington will cooperate…
HOWARD: And it’ll give us an extra chance to get some extra mileage out of a good gimmick…perhaps some glamour shots for the women’s page…you know—do a follow-up story…
BRADY: Well…all right, Howard…uh…you arrange with the Women’s Club and I’ll see that Miss Bennington is your guest of honor…

“Now please leave my office.  Please.  Don’t make me beg.  Or call security.”  Howard, positively giddy with his own brilliance, breaks the news to Sam in the county clerk’s office:

SAM: Yeah…that’s sounds great, Howard…the ladies ought to get a big kick out of meeting that fashion editor gal…

Nice, Samuel!  In fact, you should just introduce her to everybody as “Fashion Editor Gal” instead of learning her freaking name.

HOWARD: Yeah!  And I think the publicity the affair gets oughta really enhance the image of Mayberry!  You know, as a now place where things are really happening…

“Make the Mayberry scene, baby!”  Sam has to get back to his alleged job, so as he makes his way out the office door he runs into both Emmett and Elmo, who have business before the county clerk.  (Oyez, oyez…)

HOWARD: Well, gentlemen…what can I do for you?
EMMETT: Don’t give us that county clerk smile of yours, Howard—you’ve done enough for us already!
HOWARD: Well, what do you mean by that?
ELMO: We mean that we just heard about you bringing that…fashion editor from Mount Pilot to the Women’s Club dance Saturday!
HOWARD: What’s wrong with that?
EMMETT: Look—if this fashion expert shows up and puts her seal of approval on this long dress thing, there’ll be no stoppin’ the women!  We’ll all be broke!
HOWARD: Emmett, you can’t stem the tide of fashion!  Why, back in Ancient Rome
EMMETT: Nuts to Ancient Rome!  This is Modern Mayberry, and we ain’t gonna stand for it!

Damn!  These guys are in pitchfork-and-torches mode!  (I hope Clara Edwards has double locked the doors…)

HOWARD: Well, nevertheless I don’t see what you expect me to do about it…
ELMO: We’ll lay it on the line real good for you, Howard…don’t bring that woman to the dance

“And I’d be particularly careful the next time you take out that stamp collection of yours…”

HOWARD: Don’t bring her?
EMMETT: That’s right…here… (He picks up a telephone and throws it down on the counter at Howard) Get on the telephone and call that Mount Pilot newspaper and tell ‘em it’s a crummy ideer!  Tell ‘em you won’t do itTell ‘em anything!
HOWARD: Why, I’m aghast at what your proposing!
EMMETT (raising his voice): We don’t care how aghast you are… (He shakes the receiver at Howard) Just get on that phone and call off that dame!
HOWARD (shouting): I’ll do no such thing!  Do you think that I…an active member of the fourth estate can be intimidated?!!

Howard…you’re not Woodward, and you’re sure as hell not Bernstein.  You’re a government drone who occasionally fills up space in a small town newspaper with a boring column no one reads.

ELMO (angry): Look, Howard…
HOWARD: Do you realize you’re trying to trample on the free and impartial operation of the news media?
EMMETT: Listen, Howard…all we…
HOWARD (interrupting him): I may only write a humble Mayberry column for the Mount Pilot Clarion, Emmett…but I’m a journalist!  And I’ll uphold the integrity of that fine profession till the very end!
ELMO: Well…couldn’t you just…forget to pick her up?
HOWARD: I’m very sorry, Elmo…but to even consider doing such a thing would be a violation of trust…and…and…and a rebuke to such men as Horace Greeley and Joseph Pulitzer and Walter Cronkite!

Having been crushed by Howard’s pompous invective (kind of an “Inherit the Long-Winded”), Emmett and Elmo sadly file out of the clerk’s office in defeat.  But just before he closes the door behind him, Emmett yells at Howard: “I’ll never read your column again as long as I live!”  (A year at the most.  Tops.)


Well, Mayberryians are getting down with their bad selves to the singular sounds of Carl Benton’s Wildcats…I’m not sure if this is the same lady that was wailing on the sax in “All for Charity”



…but they sure look the same.  To demonstrate how bored I became with this episode, I actually found myself counting the number of African-American couples at the dance.  Elmo makes his way through the throng with several cups of punch, which he hands out to an unhappy Emmett and Clarence.

ELMO: …and the women can’t wait to meet Pamela Bennington…
CLARENCE: Yeah…when she walks in here with one of those long flower sacks we’re finished
(Martha walks over to the men, carrying a stack of plates)
MARTHA: Emmett…I’ll take these to Emily and then we can dance, okay?
EMMETT: Gee, Martha…I don’t know whether I can dance tonight…you know, I think my back’s kinda gone out on me…
MARTHA: Hmm!  It’s funny how it always goes out on you whenever there’s a dance…

It’s a safe bet that Martha will be getting acquainted later on with her little battery-powered friend, I suspect.  Martha arrives at the refreshment table…

MARTHA: Here they are, Emily…
EMILY: Oh, good…we need those… (She sets them down on the table)
SAM: The punch is very good, Martha…
MARTHA: Oh, thank you, Sam…where’s Millie?
SAM: Oh, she went out to the kitchen to get something…oh—here she is now…
(Millie walks past the dancing couples and arrives at the refreshment table)
MARTHA: Oh…I like it!  Oh, it’s attractive—isn’t it, Emily?
EMILY: Spectacular!  It’s just spectacular!

Okay—confession time…I have no fashion sense whatsoever…even a finely calibrated Fashion-o-Meter™ couldn’t measure it.  But that dress on Millie is horrible.  It’s just horrible.

MILLIE (giggling): Thank you!  I thought maybe some of you would take the plunge…

What is this, an iced tea commercial?

MARTHA: Oh, we’re just champing at the bit, Millie!

There’s an image I did not need burned onto my retinas.

DEBBIE: So far, I’m not as courageous as you, Millie…

Yeah…it takes a special breed of woman to be able to zip a garment up the back.

DEBBIE: …but I’m looking forward to getting Pamela Bennington’s opinion…


“Because I clearly am incapable of independent thought and making my own choices…”  Sam offers to pour both Millie and Emily some punch and then observes: “I don’t suppose anything will really get rolling until the guest of honor arrives…”  (I don’t know if you can tell from the screen cap, but Millie starts waving and swaying to someone off-camera, almost as if she’s just waiting for the opportune moment to ditch Sam and then head out to the parking lot to neck in someone’s GTO.)


Cue the arrival of the guest of honor!  (Emmett: “Aw, big deal…”) Yes, Howard Sprague—crusading journalist—has once again performed above and beyond the call of decency and honor by bringing fashion maven Pamela Bennington to the swankiest soiree of the year.  Now, I’m going to use a screen cap from a later scene…


…because this gives you a better look at actress Judith McConnell.  A former Miss Pennsylvania (1965), McConnell started to land guest roles shortly after in TV series like Judd for the Defense, Star Trek and The Wild Wild West—she went by “Judy McConnell” back then.  She also appeared in a four-episode arc on The Beverly Hillbillies before landing the part of Darlene Wheeler, girlfriend to farmhand Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) on TDOY sitcom fave Green Acres.

As Judith McConnell, she’s probably more recognizable by soap opera fans for her daytime drama work, most notably as “Sophia Capwell” on Santa Barbara but she’s also worked such shows as As the World Turns, Another World, One Life to Live and Passions.  Her film appearances include The Brotherhood of Satan, The Doll Squad and The Thirsty Dead.  For the record, this is the first of two appearances for Judith on R.F.D.: she’ll reprise the “Pamela Bennington” role in the later “Howard, the Swinger.”

HOWARD: Hello, everybody!  Uh…look, you’ll all get a chance to, uh, talk to our guest of honor later…right now instead of making a lot of introductions…folks—this is our guest of honor…Pamela Bennington…fashion editor of the Mount Pilot Clarion


As you can see, everyone (well, almost everyone) is very excited about Pamela’s agreeing to appear at this dreary little affair.  Howard offers to help with her coat, and…wait for it


Honest to my grandma, the cameraman on this episode zoomed right in to her gams with Superman-like speed.  Let’s get a reaction from the crowd:


Elmo, you are a lech, my friend.  (It’s always the person you never suspect.)   The Wildcats strike up another number, and as Howard escorts Pamela through the crowd…

EMILY: Can you imagine her wearing a mini?
MARTHA: And to think I nearly threw out half my clothes!

Over at the refreshment table, Emmett, Clarence and Elmo are all gathered around Pamela like the slobbering reprobates they are.  Howard makes the introductions (this is where we learn Elmo’s actual last name), and while Emmett asks Pamela if she’d like a sandwich, both Clarence and Elmo are at the punch bowl getting the guest of honor something to wet her fashion whistle.  (Elmo, seeing that Clarence got to the ladle first, hilariously dips the cup into the punch…which helps him catch up with Clarence and the two of them rush back over with the refreshments.)  Pamela is not here to nosh, however—she wants to dance…and suddenly, Emmett’s back is feeling much better as he grabs her and they take a turn out on the dance floor (another chuckle moment has Emmett shoving the sandwich tray at Howard as he grabs Pamela and starts to dance).  “I thought you said your husband had a sore back, Mrs. Clark,” purrs Debbie at Martha.

“He’s just found a new miracle drug,” fumes Martha as she crosses her arms and wonders if there’s a bus leaving later for Akron.  There is a time shift, and after Emily asks the best-dressed woman in Mayberry if she’s certain the midi-length dress is the latest style, Millie decides to have a conference with Pamela the fashion guru, who has just finished a furious frug with Elmo, mopping his brow and praising her dancing prowess.

MILLIE: Miss Bennington?
PAMELA: Hi, Millie!
MILLIE: I hope you’re enjoying yourself…
PAMELA: Oh, I’m having a wonderful time!
MILLIE: Oh…uh…when we met before, I didn’t have a chance to mention it…well, I…more or less expected you to be wearing the midi-length…

“And cover up these gorgeous gams?  Honey, if I did that I wouldn’t get a dance all evening…of course, most of the men I have been dancing with are old enough to be my father, but…I like ‘em old!”

PAMELA: Oh, really?
MILLIE: Uh-huh!  I-I thought you’d consider it a must
PAMELA: Oh, not at all!  You know, most designers are offering both styles and making it strictly a matter of choice…and I agree…
MILLIE: Oh…y-y-you do?
PAMELA: Well, sure!  When a woman doesn’t feel at home in what she’s wearing—she really can’t enjoy herself…
MILLIE: Oh…I-I-I see…
PAMELA (laughing): So that’s…the long and the short of it

More of that wacky fashion humor.  “As for me,” Pamela explains, “personally I think I feel I have more success with this length.”  And to help her prove her point, Howard interrupts the conversation between the two women to suggest that he and Pam “have a little whirl” out on the dance floor.  With another time shift, Millie is talking with Martha and Emily…

MARTHA: You know, Millie…I don’t think I’ve seen you dance with Sam all evening…
MILLIE: Oh…well…he’s been pretty busy, helping out with the punch bowl and all…and…and everything…besides, they haven’t played “Moon River” yet…when they do, he’ll be right here…that’s our song…
MARTHA: Oh, isn’t that romantic…

As if it were a sitcom, the Wildcats strike up “Moon River,” and Emily wins the Name That Tune round because she hears it first and points it out to Millie.  “Oh!” squeals Millie.  “And here comes Sam!”


Yeah!  Right over to Pamela Bennington, whom he asks to dance.  (Cue Millie’s bitchface.)


Well, apparently Sam’s period of celibacy eventually came to an end because in a dissolve, we see Millie walking the streets of Mayberry (stop it) in a mini skirt, right past Martha and Emily.  “Emily…will you look at Miss Best Dressed now,” observes Martha.  “Isn’t that something,” Emily concurs.

Then Millie walks past Howard, Emmett, Elmo and Clarence—none of whom apparently went to their jobs today in the hopes that Millie would soon be walking by to strut her stuff.  “Now that’s what I call a spectacular change,” Emily comments after Millie walks by the dirty old men.

“As they say in the fashion world,” finishes Martha, “she’s returned to the basics.”  (I guess I just don’t get fashion humor.)

Despite the wretchedness of this episode, the coda is actually good for a chuckle as Howard peruses the Clarion in Sam’s office.


HOWARD: Well!  I see the women’s dance last week got some pretty impressive coverage in the Mount Pilot Clarion
SAM: Oh?
HOWARD: Yeah!  There’s a picture of Miss Bennington…Millie…the whole affair…
SAM: Yeah!  Hey, that really stirred up a lot of interest, didn’t it?

Probably pushed the breaking news about Farmer Trotter’s sow giving birth to that piglet litter right off the front page.

HOWARD: You know, Sam…I’ve been thinking…maybe in a couple of months…I might just…uh…conduct a little contest of my own in the column there…you know…kind of informal…take a vote among my readers on the best-dressed men in town…
SAM: That’s a thought…
HOWARD: Yeah!  I’d have to disqualify myself, of course, but…there are plenty of other men for people to vote for…
SAM: Yeah…I suppose…
HOWARD: There’s you…Clarence Demarest…there’s…uh…Cyrus… (Losing enthusiasm) Elmo and Emmett…Goober…maybe it’s not such a good idea after all…
SAM (smiling): Let’s face it, Howard…in the Mayberry’s Best-Dressed Men Contest I’m afraid it would narrow down to either Emerson Keith or Clyde Wilkins…
HOWARD: Yeah, I guess you’re right…
SAM: …and a race between a…minister and a…funeral director really doesn’t promise too much excitement, does it?

Props here for two things: this is the second week in a row that someone has mined humor with a mention of Mayberry’s undertaker (Clyde Wilkins), and also the mention of Cyrus (Tankersley), the town banker played in episodes of both R.F.D. and The Andy Griffith Show by character actor George “Officer Mooney” Cisar.

All this money spent on the new Alice-o-Meter™…and we can’t even get the needle to budge from just two appearances so far in the third season.  (Yes, I know I just painted over “Bee-o-Meter™”…does the whole blogosphere have to know?)  Next week, on Mayberry Mondays…look, I don’t like to do this—but if you want to skip next week’s episode and wait until the following week I won’t be upset.  Because our next installment of Mayberry Mondays is “Howard’s Nephew”—one of the worst, I mean the absolute worst, episodes in the R.F.D. canon.  (I shudder at the very thought of having to watch it again just so I can squeeze out a bit of snark.)  But if you’re made of sterner stuff, be with me here next Monday.  (And if not, I’ll need a doctor’s excuse.)

5 comments:

Chris Vosburg said...

“As far as I’m concerned,” Millie explains to her acolytes, “the midi length is here to stay.”

Oh boy. Two words in your future, honey:

Hot Pants.

Stacia said...

“You bet I do! And in the biblical sense even!”

And thus a thousand slashfics were launched, all with cryptic scenes involving bundt cakes.

Rather hilariously, if I remember my fashion trends correctly (probably not but let's pretend) the mini skirts really did fall out of fashion in the early 1970s. That said, Millie's dress is pretty bad, not for skirt length necessarily but that belt and the sleeves.

And I wasn't really feeling the hate for this episode until the dance, and while I know this is a sitcom, in real life I have in fact dumped men who pulled "Moon River" stunts, and without regrets. Okay, so I took one back, but a lot of groveling was involved.

Sincerely,
Movie Blogging Gal

Toby O'B said...

I think Stephen King got his inspiration for Carrie's big scene at the prom from Millie's bitchface!

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Sir Tobias:

Your Toobworld assignment is to find the connection between Elmo Halpert, Mayberry drugstore proprietor...and Jim Halpert, Scranton paper company drone.

Nostalgia Blogging Guy

gotrane said...

An all time favorite episode of that show!