Welcome to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s kickoff of our new Monday feature: Doris Day(s)! The mission is simple: to poke fun at every episode of the apparently forgotten The Doris Day Show, a sitcom ratings winner for the CBS Television Network from 1968 to 1973.
I say “apparently forgotten” because after its network run, the series wasn’t syndicated much. There’s no doubt a reason for this: personally, it hasn’t held up well at all, with a blandness that rivals our previous blog project, Mayberry R.F.D. (Let me put it this way—compared to the Day show, R.F.D. is vanilla pudding with a dash of
Tabasco.) As of this writing, I’m a handful of episodes
away from completing the second season of the show and while there were a few
moments that made me smile, overall the program does Dodo a disservice—there
are only occasional flashes of the wit that made her one of the premiere movie
stars of the 1950s and 1960s. (And while
I don’t want to keep comparing it to R.F.D., unlike that series there is
not a laugh-out-loud moment in every episode.)
So before we start this week’s visit…how about we introduce the dramatis personae?
Doris needs little introduction—the popular film star and singer began making movies in 1948 (with Romance on the High Seas) but twenty years later learned that her particular kind of filmmaking was out of vogue. So she cast her lot in television (the story goes that her bidness manager hubby, Marty Melcher, contracted her to do the show and that she only learned about it after he snuffed it), playing the role of Doris Martin—a widow who returns to her father’s ranch to live with her two sons in bucolic bliss.
The role of
Fran Ryan is Aggie Thompson, who is employed as a housekeeper at Rancho Webb. Ryan, who would win a Marjorie Main look-a-like contest in a walk, was just starting to appear on TV (she had a few movie and boob tube credits on her C.V.) at this time…but for reasons that are unknown to me, she was only in the first ten episodes of The Doris Day Show before her character vanished, never to be heard from again. (Police say it’s a cold case.) Wikipedia has explained her absence by mentioning that she was replacing Barbara Pepper as Doris Ziffel on Green Acres…but that didn’t happen until the fall of 1969, so I’m not sure I buy that. (Actress Naomi Stevens will pinch-hit for Fran in the remaining Day Show segments as “Juanita.”) Fran later played Miss Hannah on Gunsmoke (she took over the
Familiar TV face James Hampton plays Leroy B.
The final member of the Martin-Webb household—yes, the damn dog actually gets a credit—is Nelson…or “Lord Nelson,” to use his full stage name. I know
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
Yes, the song that Dodo introduced in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) has been refashioned as her TV theme song…with a chorus of kids singing along after
Doris’ first few bars. (I guess they thought people would think it
was her kids on the show…but believe me, those little mooks get an opportunity
to warble later on and they are not good.) You can watch the first season opening via
YouTube; I believe it was my friend Matt Hinrichs who once described it as
resembling a feminine hygiene commercial:
TOBY: What did you wish?
LEROY: Well, she can’t tell you that, Toby…if she does, her wish won’t come true…
TOBY: They never come true anyway…
Buck tells Leroy to go fetch the presents, and while he does that young Billy and Toby ask their mother if she was really surprised. “I really was,” she replies, giving her youngest a hug. Leroy then brings several gifties, and
Doris opens the first one—a token
of Leroy’s esteem.
BILLY: What is it?
LEROY: No, it’s a rock…
AGGIE: Well, what’s it for?
LEROY: To keep paper from blowin’ off the desk…
LEROY: Well…I guess you could call it that…
Young Billy also has an important announcement regarding his mother’s natal anniversary…though it might have been a good idea to wipe the frosting off his mouth first.
BILLY: We’re gonna take you out to a big fancy dinner in a nightclub!
TOBY: Saturday night!
TOBY: And we’re gonna pay for it with our own money!
TOBY: You said it, boy!
BILLY: Toby and me been workin’ three weeks to save up!
“Double shifts at the fertilizer factory!”
Doris is overwhelmed by
this gesture, and of course cannot agree to not go. So a dissolve brings us to Saturday night, as
Doris is preparing for her “big date.”
Doris’ dear departed
husband. As the old joke goes—he’s not
dead; he just departed. All seriousness
aside, the explanation for why Steve is no longer among the living goes unexamined
on the show…let’s just take the initiative and fill in a little of the
backstory by saying he was killed in a fertilizer factory explosion.
Buck makes Doris promise to tell him all about the occasion by assuring her that he’ll wait up for her…so while she gets herself assembled, she asks him to shut her bedroom door behind him while she hies herself to the bathroom. Inside the bathroom,
can be heard singing Que Sera, Sera
as her two sons sneak into her room.
Those little minxes remove her wallet from her purse, setting up the
eventual plot conflict of this episode.
BILLY: Of course not…we’re not taking a wallet, we’re just moving it…and you know if Mom had any money, she’d want to pay for everything…right?
A dissolve finds Leroy pulling up to the house in a station wagon; he enters the house and yells up at
he’s brought the car around. He passes
by Aggie, who is carrying a girdle with her—she heads up the stairs and into Doris’
room at the same time the Martin boys emerge from their room dressed to the
nines (or as well-dressed as kids can be, I suppose).
BILLY: We already counted it fifty times!
TOBY: Can we just look at it again?
BILLY: Boy, are you a pest…
Billy shows his brother a change purse stuffed with funds, and that seems to pacify the little scamp. Then
Doris appears on the stairs…
BILLY: You sure look pretty, Mom!
BILLY: We can’t tell you!
TOBY: It’s a secret!
DORIS: Oh…well…that does present a problem, fellas…because since I’m doing the driving, and you’re the only ones who know where we’re going—we may never get there…have you thought about that?
So Billy pulls a piece of paper out of his suit pocket and hands it to his mother. She doesn’t recognize the restaurant and so she asks him where he found the place—he responds: “It’s real fancy…had a neat ad in the phone book!” The three of them are then off for an evening of fine dining, as Aggie watches from the top of the stairs and Buck & Leroy look on from the kitchen.
Presenting the fancy nightclub! La Ptomaine!
Yes, Doris’ boys have brought her to a road house that is painted in three broad strokes: a waiter maliciously snuffs out the life of a fly with a swatter; a man in close-up loads his food with catsup; and another patron gobbles down a pickled egg while licking his fingers.
BILLY: We were sure lucky to find this place…huh, Tobe?
Lucky to get to it before the Board of Health, anyway. A man who I could facetiously describe as the maitre d’ approaches Doris and asks if he can help her—the boys respond by telling him they have a “reservation.” So the man takes them over to a table where a man is asleep with his head on the table; the maitre d’ pulls him away from the table, then straightens it and invites the Martin family to be seated.
The actor playing their gracious host is character veteran Norman Alden, who despite his lengthy resume of film and TV roles is perhaps best remembered for playing a mechanic named Lou in a series of popular AC Delco commercials. He did quite a bit of voice work—he was Aquaman on the Super Friends series—and had regular gigs on a variety of TV series including Not for Hire, Hennesey, Rango, My Three Sons and Fay. Personally, I remember Norm for two roles—he was the guy (Coach Fedders) who drowned in a bowl of chicken soup prepared by Mary Hartman Mary Hartman…and he was Frank Heflin, the Alexander Waverly-ish advisor to Electro Woman and Dyna Girl.
MANAGER: Well, lady…you want a cocktail or beer or somethin’ before you order your dinner?
TOBY: That’s a good idea!
BILLY: We’ll have two Hopalong Cassidys…
(The manager stares at
MANAGER: You…you want a…
MANAGER: On the rocks…
The manager gets the attention of a waiter—who is also a familiar face to TV brethren and sistren. Leonard Stone’s best-known role is undoubtedly that of Sam Beauregard, the used car salesman whose daughter Violet (Denise Nickerson) is magically transformed into a blueberry in the 1971 cult kids’ classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He turns up in a lot of the 1967-70 Dragnet episodes (though not as many as I previously thought) and played Doc Joslyn on the 1965-66 summer camp sitcom
WAITER: Do you wanna order now?
BILLY: Can we have the menus?
WAITER: Don’t need no menu…all we got are steaks…
BILLY: Well, we’ll have three of those…
or filet? New York
WAITER: Yeah, what?
BILLY: Dummy…you’re supposed to pick one…
TOBY: I don’t even know what he’s talking about!
BILLY (to the waiter): What’s the best, sir?
WAITER: The filet!
BILLY: Okay…we’ll have three of those, please…
(The waiter looks at
So the waiter writes down “3 filets” on his pad…which comes to a total of fifteen dollars. (You yourself may want to write that down…there may be a test on this material later.)
WAITER: Lady…would you like the little fellow up a little higher at the table?
WAITER: Lamond! Bring me a couple of six packs!
So the helpful Lamond brings over the proper amount of canned brew in order for young Master Toby to be at the right height.
TOBY: Yeah…I guess so…
BILLY: Ain’t that cold?
TOBY: Yeah, it’s crazy!
I can dig it.
BILLY: Heck—we’re loaded, Mom!
And so is everyone else in that joint. But I digress.
TOBY: Heck yeah!
BILLY: We have $7.36!
Back from the Ralston-Purina break—and just so you know, the episodes from these MPI sets appear to either have been edited or time compressed (or perhaps both) because this one clocks in at twenty-four minutes, which is about two minutes less than it should be—Doris is starting to get a little panicky because her big-spending sons aren’t going to be able to cover the check. Toby and Billy are devouring their meal with relish (hey—you can’t tell me that didn’t come with the steaks) while
Doris attempts to keep her portion down. She spies a gentleman who’s just finished
using the pay phone, and decides a phone call to the House of Webb is in order.
Doris gets is a busy signal…and
that’s because Aggie the housekeeper is on the line, talking to someone named
“Paul” about the finer points of Gone
with the Wind. (I swear I am not
making that up.) Doris
slams the phone down in frustration…and then discovers to even more frustration
that the phone has swallowed her nickel…the only one she was able to dig out of
MANAGER: What can I do for ya, lady?
MANAGER: Well, I’ve heard ‘em all so why don’t you try me?
MANAGER: That’s funny!
MANAGER: You have any identification?
MANAGER: What about credit cards?
I didn’t know La Ptomaine took Diners’ Club! When
Doris tells him
sadly that she has no credit cards he sarcastically returns: “They’re at home
with the joke, huh?”
MANAGER: I have a better idea—why don’t you just come up with the money before you leave?
MANAGER: No…you look, lady—I have problems here of my own…what you have is two kids who like to steal wallets…
MANAGER: Hid it…stole it…what difference does it make?
It makes a great deal of difference to Dodo, who resents the implication that her kids are petty thieves. Norm the manager offers to go over and impart to them the lesson that it is important to make certain you can pay for what you ordered but she threatens to cut his balls off if he does. Okay, I exaggerated that last bit—she appeals to his tender side, pleading with him that Billy and Toby are “ten feet tall” because they’re treating their mom to the finest cuisine in the area and she won’t have a guy who’s just “tryin’ to run a business” going over there and spoiling things. “…if I have to go over there to that table and ruin their evening,” she warns him, “then I want you to see it.”
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am right now, Dor. She pleads with the cigar-chomping Norm that she wasn’t stealing; she just wanted some change to make a phone call and to go ahead and put it on her bill. She goes back over to the pay phone and calls the house…but Aggie is into Hour 2 of her Gone with the Wind dissertation. (I’m beginning to see why Aggie only lasted ten episodes. Either that or she was stealing from her employer.) Hanging up, the one-armed bandit takes
Doris’ ill-gotten nickel, and
she punches the phone in rage.
Back at the counter:
MANAGER: Whaddya want, kid?
BILLY: I was wondering if you could do me a favor?
MANAGER: Like what?
BILLY: Well…tonight’s my Mom’s birthday…and me and my brother are taking her to dinner with our own money…
MANAGER: And you hid her wallet before you left the house…
BILLY: How did you know that?
MANAGER: Forget it, kid…what’s the favor?
BILLY: Well…I was wondering if you could bring a little birthday cake with a candle to our table and sing ‘Happy Birthday’?
MANAGER: You’re puttin’ me on…
Billy tells him they can pay, and mentions the $7.36 largesse he and Toby earned sweeping out cisterns…and the tough manager’s crusty façade starts to crack. Billy returns to the table, and while Doris tells her two boys that it’s not only the best dinner she’s ever had but the best present she’s ever received…there is a problem.
BILLY (grabbing the check): We’re paying… (He looks at it) $19.48?!!
(Both kids’ eyes get wide as saucers, then the manager arrives)
MANAGER: All right…what’s the trouble here?
BILLY: We can’t pay the check!
MANAGER: You can’t, huh…? Lemme see the check… (He takes it from Billy) Oh…this is the wrong check, stupid… (To the waiter) This is for table 12!
WAITER: Whaddya talkin’ about? You know you haven’t…
(He grunts as the manager kicks him in the shins)
MANAGER: Table 12…
WAITER: Table 12…
The manager hands Billy a tab…that totals $7.36. (He even adjusts it so the kids can leave a tip.) A grateful
thanks him, and he mutters “Well, I’m not through with you yet, lady…” He puts his fingers in his mouth to whistle
loudly, and the wait staff and “chefs” bring out an apple pie with a candle in
it to sing Happy Birthday to You.
MANAGER: Lady…uh…don’t say anything…just…do me a favor, will ya? Next year on your birthday…don’t come here…I can’t afford ya…
TOBY: And a chocolate sundae!
“Bring your brass knuckles…I’ll bring the penicillin.”
BILLY: The best part about it, Grandpa…the whole thing came to $7.36…
TOBY: With a tip!
BILLY: That’s exactly what we had!
BILLY: No…we planned it that way…
Well…it would be more accurate to say that Dick Bensfield and Perry Grant—the two men most responsible for the drek that was Mayberry R.F.D.—planned it that way, since they wrote this dumb script. There’s more gooey sentiment with
burbling about how nice the evening was, and then hugs and kisses are exchanged
as the kids are trundled off to bed.
Buck lifts up the receiver…and Aggie is on the extension, still waxing nostalgic about GWTW. She tells “Paul” about how Clark Gable fell off the jumping horse and got killed. Buck interrupts her to scold her about talking for two and a half hours…and to remind her that it was Thomas Mitchell that drew his rations. “And you’re next,”
says into the phone…which to my mind is as good as a confession any day of the