In the end…it comes to us all.
back in May 2010 after being inspired by a post at Cultureshark by my good friend Rick Brooks. I know some of you are probably thinking: why did it take you so long to finish only seventy-eight episodes? Well, from December 2010 to February 2012, I took an extended sabbatical (partly because I was burned out—and partly because I misplaced the disc that had “Goober and the Telephone Girl” and I didn’t want to skip over it) but from that point on I did continue the rest of the series when weather (and free time) permitted.
If I may be reflective for just a moment—it hasn’t always been easy. I don’t think Mayberry R.F.D. is a good show…but I don’t think it’s terrible, either. It’s just…well, at the risk of wearing out a cliché, “it is what it is”: a bland, boring, and relatively inoffensive (well, through 70s eyes, anyway) program that Nielsen audiences apparently clutched to their bosoms because American Idol had yet to be invented. Keep in mind, also, that the copies from my collection were bootlegged from TVLand (and in abysmal quality, too)—which means in many instances there’s about three minutes missing from each show (to accommodate extra commercials)…and I’m sure that robbed us all of some grade-A USDA choice comedy, he said, attempting to maintain a straight face. These episodes were apparently taped during some sort of TVLand “Fandemonium” weekend, which meant having to hear Harry Shearer attempt to do funny voiceovers at the end of each set of episode credits…that’s given me a new reason to hate him. (Sorry, Shearer fans.)
This week’s episode, “Emmett’s Invention,” isn’t going to be particularly revelatory in the way that we’ve come to expect from series finales—the reason for this I’ll get to at the end of the write-up—but in all honesty, it’s actually fairly representative of your typical R.F.D. outing. (It just isn’t very good, and in fact makes my Top Ten list of “Episodes to Avoid” at the end of this essay.) The proceedings begin with an establishing shot of the Mayberry City Council office for the last time, and inside, poor-but-honest-dirt-farmer-turned-town-council-head Sam Jones (Ken Berry) reads a letter while pedantic county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) and fix-it savant Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman) look on in astonishment. (Well, you know what I mean.)
HOWARD: Emmett—do you mean to tell us that someone’s actually interested in purchasing an invention of yours?
“Why, you can barely walk erect!”
EMMETT: Big companies like Amalgamated Dynamics don’t send registered letters just to say “hello”…read it to him, Sam!
HOWARD: A patent?
HOWARD: Well! That is news!
EMMETT: Hey…that’s the day after tomorrow!
HOWARD: Gee whiz, Emmett! I’m impressed!
And well you should be! Both Howard and Sam are amazed that Emmett could even fill out a patent form, and he explains that he’s filed for multiple ones over the years due to his invention hobby. “Us inventors have got to protect ourselves, you know,” he beams.
EMMETT: Oh! That could be my gum-free theater seat…
HOWARD: Gum free?
EMMETT: Yeah…special theater seat I invented…I coated the underside of it so that anyone who stuck a wad of chewing gum on a seat—
BOOM! Dropped right off…
HOWARD: Well…that would mean that it would fall on the floor…what then?
EMMETT: That ain’t my problem…
EMMETT: Maybe it was my magnetic napkin…oh! No—it could be my automatic goldfish feeder!
HOWARD: That must have been a fertile period…
EMMETT: Oh, I was very hot in the early thirties…
And now that we’ve all put away our lunches because nausea has overtaken us, the conversation continues with Sam’s observation that Emmett should know which invention the company wants to discuss. “If I had brains enough to invent it, I have brains enough to remember where I put it after I invented it,” Emmett assures him. (There are no words, friends and neighbors.)
MILLIE: Hi, Emmett!
EMMETT: Oh…how are ya, Millie?
MILLIE: Oh, fine…uh…except for my hair dryer—it won’t work…all it does is blow out cold air, and instead of drying my hair it freezes my head… (She giggles)
You and I and the rest of the people reading this know that Emmett became a cast member on The Andy Griffith Show in its last season, where he became—as commenter rockfish so memorably described him—“the anti-Floyd.” Yet this R.F.D. scenario seems to suggest that he was around in Mayberry as far back as 1932, and we simply know this not to be so. At the most, he’s been around four years—so if he got that much junk stored away in that amount of time he might want to contact the Hoarders TV show.
The object Emmett pulled out of the box is actually a salt shaker—or he describes it, “The Sure Shake.” On paper, it’s supposed to measure out precisely the necessary amount of salt one needs to flavor one’s food…on sitcom, Emmett fails miserably to get it to work. So he tells Millie that her hair dryer will be ready in a day or two, and she thanks him saying: “I hope you find whatever it is that’s going to make you famous.”
Sam and Howard then walk in—because neither of them apparently works for a living. Emmett continues to rummage through his crap, and Sam suggests contacting the Patent Office to find out which invention it was. But there’ll be no need for such correspondence—Emmett finally locates it and brings it out to the counter with a flourish!
EMMETT: Yeah… (He sets it down)
HOWARD: Yeah, but you didn’t invent the phonograph—that was Thomas Alva Edison!
EMMETT: I know who invented the photograph! I sure fixed enough of these babies…people were always winding them up too tight!
HOWARD: Yeah…that’s the trouble with those spring-driven motors…
EMMETT: You see, there’s a long screw that goes into a doohickey in here…I-I took it out and…I got mad and whacked it with a hammer and a chisel…
EMMETT: …sliced all the threads off one side of the screw…when I put it back, you just couldn’t crank up the spring too tight…
I could make an observation about the correlation between Emmett and the phonograph being wound too tight…but people will start thinking I have a reputation for meanness. Howard helpfully points out that many revolutionary ideas have come about by accident—like penicillin and shatterproof glass—and Emmett rhapsodizes how he thought the invention would put him on easy street. As sitcom luck would have it, he finds the drawing for his invention concealed in a cabinet in the phonograph.
EMMETT: It’s my application—with the drawing and everything! Let’s see…hey! See the file number? (He shows it to Sam and Howard) Same as the letter from Amalgamated…
HOWARD: Hey, did you draw this yourself, Emmett?
EMMETT: Oh, no…no…I paid Old Man Talbot ten bucks to do it…he used to teach mechanical drawing at the high school in them days, and he drew it up for me…stuck in a few fancy words…
HOWARD (reading): “Lathe-cut cylindrical screw utilizing a demi-helix as an impediment…hmm!
EMMETT: Pretty fancy, huh?
What navigated Emmett away from the avenue of dream fulfillment was the fact that before his patent came back from the office,
had become infatuated with the electric phonograph. If it were anybody else but Emmett…this might
be a sad story.
HOWARD: And now after all these years…Amalgamated Dynamics has recognized your vision and wants to buy the rights! Heh…
EMMETT: Yeah…and if the price suits me, I just might sell…I ain’t gonna jump at the first offer—I’ve been waitin’ since 1932…I guess I can wait a while longer…
Emmett cranks up the phonograph and drops the needle, prompting a recording of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” to play. When Howard expresses amazement in that the phonograph still works, Emmett indignantly shouts: “When Emmett Clark fixes something, it stays fixed!” (If that were the case, Emmett would have closed up shop years ago.)
The scene shifts to Casa del Clark, where the Laird and Master has returned home and is being helped off with his coat by his long-suffering wife Martha (Mary Lansing). I’ve mentioned here in the past that Martha is one of my favorite characters (some of the lines she’s delivered in episodes past literally had me on the floor) and I always thought it was a shame she was so under utilized. (I also feel sorry for her because of my long-held theory that she was a battered wife.)
EMMETT: Is that all you gotta say? One of the biggest days of my life and you’re takin’ it as calmly as all I told you is that I made fifty cents fixin’ a toaster…
MARTHA: Now, Emmett…
EMMETT: A big company is after one of my inventions! I’m finally gettin’ a little recognition! How many other women do you know that can say their husbands have been contacted…registered mail by Amalgamated Dynamics!
MARTHA: I’m proud of you, dear…
There is then a syndication-mandated edit (though to be honest, I think they just removed the part where Martha runs to the safe room to escape her husband’s wrath) to the council office, where Emmett is helping himself to some taxpayer-funded Sanka. He proudly boasts to Sam that he’s thinking about setting up a scholarship fund that will inspire other impressionable Mayberry youth to “follow in my footsteps”—i.e., park his butt on a bus bench for the better part of a day. Howard enters the office, and mentions to Emmett that he was looking for him over at the shop…and Emmett has a line that made me laugh: “Aw, I was in no mood for petty tinkering.”
HOWARD: Right! Yeah…and in doing some research on the yarn, I did a little checking up on Amalgamated Dynamics…
EMMETT: They ain’t bankrupt or nothin’…?
HOWARD: No! Far from it! It developed that Amalgamated Dynamics is very big in the space program!
EMMETT: Space? You mean goin’ to the Moon and Mars and all that?
HOWARD: That’s exactly what I mean!
EMMETT (over his shoulder): You hear that, Sam? Somethin’ I invented all those years back is gonna help man conquer space…
Well…it was revealed that Goober (George Lindsey) had an older brother who was an astronautics engineering genius. I suppose lightning could strike twice. Howard tells Emmett that his editor thinks this story is so important he’s to “give this story all the coverage it deserves—even if it runs over into the recipe page.”
EMMETT: Emmett Clark…space pioneer…
HOWARD: This town’s going to discover it’s got a very important man in its midst!
EMMETT: That’s me—another Thomas Albert Edison!
Ah, nothing beats Emmett when he’s a regular balloon of pomposity. He’s floating around the fix-it shop, setting up a display of all the inventions from his past like an inventor’s museum…and in walks the pin prick that’s going to deflate him.
The character answers to “T.J. Fowler”…but couch potatoes know him as Bill Quinn, character actor extraordinaire. This is Bill’s second visit to Mayberry; he earlier played a judge in the episode “Sam Gets a Ticket.” (Scroll down to the end of that post to read one of the funniest show business anecdotes involving Quinn…who was also Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.) Quinn is pitch-perfect for this part: Emmett starts in bragging and boasting about his various invention accomplishments and Quinn’s killer deadpan response…
…indicates that he could care less what Emmett did with his spare time. So he gets right to the point:
EMMETT: Of course, I’m very honored to think that one of my inventions…a dream that was born here right in this very shop…
Was that when it was still a barber shop?
EMMETT: …is gonna help Man reach the stars…
FOWLER: I beg your pardon?
EMMETT: You know…penetrate the mysteries of outer space?
FOWLER: (sighing) Mr. Clark…perhaps I should have explained…we will not actually be using your concept…
EMMETT (after a pause): You won’t be using it?
FOWLER: No…we’ll be using a device created by our own engineers…
EMMETT: Well…I don’t get it…why did you write to me? Uh…what are you doing here now…?
FOWLER: Well, let me put it this way…there is a…distant family resemblance between your drawing—submitted in 1932—and a much more sophisticated device, patented by Amalgamated…now in order to avoid the…possibility of future litigation…we’re prepared to purchase the world wide rights to your…um… (Looking at paper) Lathe-cut cylindrical et cetera et cetera…for four hundred dollars…
For those of you who nodded off during the exchange of dialogue between Fowler and Emmett, Fowler is a company shark sent out to neutralize potential nuisance lawsuits. And I don’t think I’m too far out of line here to suggest that Emmett fits “nuisance” to a “T”. “Four hundred dollars isn’t too bad for signing your names in two places,” Fowler tells Emmett quietly.
EMMETT: You do a lot of this? Payin’ off professional inventors? So they won’t be a bother to the company later on?
FOWLER: Well, it’s…it’s an important part of my job to make what we refer to as these…nuisance settlements…actually, we feel that everybody gains…Amalgamated is secure from courtroom skirmishing, and…you’re four hundred dollars richer…
For the record, $400 back in 1971 would be about $2237 today. As Emmett starts to sign the contract, he says to Fowler: “I was wonderin’ if I should sign this ‘Emmett Clark—$400 nuisance’.” (“No, ‘Emmett Nuisance’ is fine.”)
Back from commercial break, a forlorn Emmett is “petty tinkering” in his shop, with Sam and Howard in attendance. Both men are anxious to hear the skinny on Emmett’s windfall—Howard, as is his comic wont, is carrying a camera around his neck.
EMMETT: Oh…ho ho…nothin’ to it…I just signed on the dotted line and Fowler handed over the check…
HOWARD: Boy, I sure would have liked to have a picture of that exchange!
EMMETT: I don’t think Fowler woulda gone for that…
HOWARD: Well, I can still get a picture of you holding the check…
EMMETT (irritated): Like I said, I’m very busy…I got a rush order on this hair dryer—I gotta fix it…
HOWARD: Well, how can a man be thinking of a hair dryer on a historic occasion such as this? (Gesticulating wildly) Mayberry Man’s Invention Speeds Mankind Into Outer Space! (To Sam) That’s my headline…
EMMETT: Howard…you’re makin’ me sound too important…
HOWARD: Nonsense! (To Sam) Success sometimes reveals a hitherto hidden humility in a man, huh, Sam?
Howard starts goading Emmett into having his picture taken holding up the check…and Emmett, not wanting to reveal to all and sundry that his revolutionary ideas are only worth four hundred smackers, turns the check around so that only he can see the amount. When Howard protests, Sam points out that no one will be able to tell what the amount is from the newspaper photo anyway.
Emmett poses for a couple of snaps and then insists he has to get back to work. When Howard presses him for the amount of the settlement, Emmett is reluctant to provide the information—and Sam, sensing that something is not quite kosher in Mayberry, suggests that Howard back off a little since he’s putting Emmett “on the spot.” Howard reasons that if they do disclose the actual amount, it might set a precedent for future dealings with companies…so he’ll just write “a substantial sum.”
HOWARD: Now…uh…one more thing—I’ve indicated that your invention is going to be used in the space program…
EMMETT: Don’t quote me as saying it’s gonna be used on the space program!
HOWARD: But 95% of Amalgamated’s product is space-oriented…
EMMETT: Yeah…that’s right…it’s…it’s top secret! They don’t want to tip their hand to the competition!
HOWARD: Hey…that’s even more intriguing than specific details! I think I’m going to file this story with the
EMMETT: Howard—nobody in
is gonna be interested! Raleigh
HOWARD: Everybody’s interested in seeing talent and patience finally recognized and rewarded!
So Sam bum rushes Howard out of the fix-it shop. Howard is still perplexed at Emmett’s modesty—“The unpredictability of human nature…today of all days, you’d think that Emmett would be strutting and bragging and full of self esteem…” Sam hasn’t quite doped out why Emmett is acting in such a peculiar fashion, but he definitely knows the big lug has a sad.
MARTHA: Well…four hundred dollars—I’d call that a substantial settlement…
EMMETT: I’d call it a slap in the face…they didn’t want my invention! They just wanted to pay me off like every other crackpot who might cause trouble!
MARTHA: Now you’re not a crackpot…
EMMETT: That’s all you know about it… (Sadly) It ain’t the money that bothers me so much…it’s all the braggin’ I done…like the big story Howard’s writin’ about Mayberry’s inventor…Mayberry’s loud-mouthed nuisance…
Yeah, I’ll bet there are a passel o’people in
who’ve never heard that story before. “There’s only one thing to do, Martha,”
Emmett laments. “Close up the fix-it
shop and clear out of Mayberry lock, stock and barrel.” Yes!
This is turning out to be the best R.F.D. ever! Mt.
Oh, you know this isn’t really going to happen—though I have to admit, a spin-off entitled Emmett Clark, Public Nuisance wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever hit TV. We then get a change of scenery—Sam and Millie are at the diner, noshing on a milkshake and…well, it looks like Sam is just having ice cream (if he were drinking a milkshake, he’d need two straws). Somehow the two of them have learned of Emmett’s payoff--because it’s a small town, it’s probably a secret that didn’t stay kept too long (I’ll bet Martha told a few of her gal pals, laughing her ass off in the process).
MILLIE: Well, for Amalgamated Dynamics to treat a nice man like Emmett this way…just downright mean…
MILLIE: Well, why not?
MILLIE: Well, I’m sorry—I don’t agree with you! The corporation may be impersonal, but it’s made up of people, isn’t it?
In case you were wondering where Mitt Romney got his “corporations are people, too, my friend” nonsense…it would appear that Millie was one of his advisers. Here’s where this episode makes a left turn at
Albuquerque Fantasyland. Millie says all Sam has to do is talk with a
person at AD, and explain how hurt Emmett is, and the company will kiss it and
make it all better.
MILLIE: They have a plant in Raleigh…I mean, Sam—you think nothing of driving all the way over there to get…parts for your farm machinery…
There’s the tell right there. Everybody knows that Sam never goes to
machinery parts—he goes to Raleigh
because too many of the
cathouses know him by first name. Sam
finally acquiesces to Millie’s demands when she accuses him of thinking more
about his tractor than Emmett’s feelings.
(That’s why Millie and I are splitting up. She’s too high maintenance.) He argues that there’s no way Amalgamated
Dynamics is going to take the time to listen to him, but Millie counters:
“They’ll be so impressed that you took the time out to drive all the way over
there to talk to them that they’ll say ‘By golly, we better do something about
this!’” And they will, too—they’ll give
Sam a fifteen-second headstart before siccing the security Rottweilers on him. Siler City
The scene then shifts to Sam hauling ass and elbows toward a high security fence, with a pack of security Rottweilers nipping at his heels. No, I’m sorry—I only wish that had happened. As sitcom luck would have it, he’s been granted an audience with Mr. Fowler:
Clark file is closed…we have his signature…he has our
FOWLER: Are you a lawyer, Mr. Jones?
“Smithers! Release the hounds!” Sam is very quick to deny any ties to the legal profession…he also stays away from bringing up the farming thing, because in a fit of laughter Fowler might press the dog button by mistake.
FOWLER: Well, four hundred dollars seems like a fair settlement…
FOWLER: What else is it about?
FOWLER: He had a fix-it shop before…and now he has a fix-it shop and four hundred dollars…
FOWLER: Mr. Jones…
FOWLER: He actually believed that Amalgamated meant to use his device?
“What a rube!” I’m going to skip over the rest of this nonsense because I simply refuse to believe that a mega-corporate company guy like Fowler gives two shits down an outhouse hole that Emmett got butthurt. I will bring your attention to this, however:
This guy who taps at Emmett’s shop door and then shoves mail into the slot is our old friend Norman Leavitt as Mayberry’s up-at-the-butt-crack-of-dawn postman, George Felton. The last time we saw Mr. F was in the episode entitled “Millie’s Dream”—and at the time, I mentioned that it was his swan song as the town’s mail carrier. Well, I was mistaken.
You see, in the IMDb credits for “Emmett’s Invention,” Leavitt is credited as “Ollie”…and before we go blaming the IMDb, he’s legitimately billed that way in the actual episode’s credits, too. Now—why they’ve chosen to call him “Ollie” is a question that I can’t answer; in fact, I don’t why the R.F.D. people didn’t just call him “postman” and let it go at that…particularly since he’s never addressed as “Ollie.” I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it is possible he’s referred to as that in the three minutes missing from this program. But that still doesn’t make it right—he’s Postman Felton, and should be credited as such.
Okay, Felton drops a letter in the slot…Emmett, inside packing up the last vestiges of his dignity, starts going through the mail until he finds a letter that makes him grin. He runs over to the council office, where Sam, Millie and Howard stand around in various stages of not working, and after a brief exchange of pleasantries starts to read the letter out loud.
EMMETT: “Dear Mr. Clark…Amalgamated Dynamics is proud and privileged to purchase world wide rights to your…er…lathe cut…cylin…” (Handing it to Howard) Here…you read it, will ya?
HOWARD (continuing): “To your lathe cut cylindrical screw utilizing a demi-helix as an impediment…it is gratifying to be associated with such designers of dedication and integrity such as yourself…in projects so vital to all…sincerely, J. Philips Osborne…executive vice president!” Hey!
MILLIE: Oh…who’d expect a big company like Amalgamated…uh…whatchamacallit to send you something like that?
HOWARD: Yeah…but it’s no more than you deserve, Emmett!
EMMETT: Yeah…I guess you’re right…I had it comin’…I bet I’m one of the few inventors in the whole wide world who ever got a letter like this!
Oh, someone please stop this now…I think I just threw up in my mouth. Okay, here’s the coda to this one: Emmett puts the bedbug letter he got in a frame and hangs it prominently in the fix-it shop. And then it’s back to the old inventions game, as he demonstrates for Sam and Howard his latest creation.
The grapefruit shield. “You see, you stick this in the grapefruit rind…and no matter where you jab your spoon, you can’t get squirted in the eye.”
Needless to say, Sam and Howard are underwhelmed by this—but Emmett remains undaunted: “I don’t expect the world to appreciate it now—us dedicated inventors are used to being forty, fifty years ahead of the rest of the world…besides…I gotta iron out a few delicate details in the design. But when the rest of the people catch up—I’ll be ready!”
He jabs a spoon into the grapefruit, and the juice hits Howard squarely in the eye for the punchline. (It would probably have been more fitting if the damn thing had blown up and emitted sparks despite its lack of electricity.)
This goes toward proving something that I have long argued about a magazine that’s really only suitable for wrapping fish—there are relatively few people on that staff who have any television or movie knowledge before 1975. If Mr. Beard had done a little research, he would have learned that Gilligan’s Island had actually been renewed by CBS for a fourth season.
So the creative minds (stop snickering) behind Gilligan never got to do an actual final episode until the 1978 TV-movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island—because at the time of the final third season episode, everybody just assumed they’d be working again in the fall. (That’s why it feels like “any old episode,” EW critic—it was.)
“the rural purge.” Fellow bucolic sitcoms The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres were cancelled, as was the countrified version of Laugh-In, Hee Haw. (Hee Haw got the last laugh, however—it went into syndication, where it became an even bigger success.) There was an outcry over the cancellation of R.F.D. (though you have to wonder why) but CBS was not going to budge. They had seen the future in shows like Mary Tyler Moore and All in the Family, and that was the freeway they were taking. (Pat Buttram, a.k.a. Mr. Haney on Green Acres, later famously said that the network cancelled “everything with a tree in it.”)
To close this out—a brief Mayberry R.F.D. primer. These are ten episodes that I would recommend to anyone who’s never watched the series or to people who won’t watch because, color (not necessarily in the order of preference, bur rather in order of broadcast).
And the worst (same as the first):
Later this week, I’ll be laying the groundwork for our new TDOY Monday feature, Doris Day(s). I know a few of you have expressed reluctance about getting on board with this…so I will try to make a case as to why you should give it a try.