Last year, I made the decision that as soon as I finished with the blogging project of examining every episode of Mayberry R.F.D. (a.k.a. Mayberry Mondays) in a no-holds-barred snarky manner, I would move on and examine the 1968-73 sitcom The Doris Day Show—in a feature to be called Doris Day(s). There has been a tiny bit of concern from Mayberry Mondays fans, however, as to whether they’ll want to stick around for these shenanigans…and I promised to have something up on the blog this week to plead my case.
The history of The Doris Day Show has been told as follows: Martin Melcher,
Doris’ husband and business
manager, allegedly committed her to do a sitcom with the CBS Television Network…and
from numerous accounts, neglected to pass this information along to Dodo. Melcher drew his rations on April 20, 1968,
not only leaving his better half holding the bag as far as the boob tube went
(Doris wasn’t wild about doing weekly TV, but figured that since she had a
contract to do so there would be no more argument about it) but also a
penniless widow in that he and his business partner—attorney Jerome B.
Rosenthal, who had represented her when she divorced her second husband in 1949—ran
through Doris’ money like a box of Kleenex.
( Doris later took Rosenthal to court and won a
judgment of $20 million from a civil suit in the state of California.)
There are elements of this official account that have never seemed kosher to me. Actor James Hampton, who played handyman Leroy B.
Semple Simpson on the show in the
first two seasons, relates that Martin Melcher was still alive and kicking during
the early groundwork for the show (when Hampton was hired) and then passed away—which would sort of
cast a little doubt on the official story that Doris found out about her
five-year sitcom sentence as a surprise.
Then, too—it’s possible Hampton’s
memory might be failing him or is a little cloudy on the finer details. But in many of the first season episodes of
the show, Martin Melcher gets a credit as executive producer (eventually
replaced by Doris’ son Terry)—I’m not sure I follow why
a dead guy is entitled to recognition of that sort.
Another thing that has always puzzled me is that if Day wasn’t wild about doing a TV show why didn’t she pursue legal action in the same manner as she did against that crook Rosenthal? It’s been explained that she did the sitcom to pay her debts (of which there were many) but it seems to me she could have made a pretty strong case that her commitment to any TV show was predicated upon an agreement with her now-departed husband…and if CBS wanted a sitcom so bad, they could dig up that sonofabitch and let people watch him for a half-hour weekly. It’s possible the advice Day got was just not to fight City Hall (CBS certainly had more money than she did at the time and might have crushed her, legalwise), but I don’t know for sure.
Truth be told, The Doris Day Show was the best thing to happen to the star’s career at that point in time. Day’s stock in the motion picture industry had taken a bit of a hit—the type of frothy, fun “sex comedies” that had made her the #1 box office attraction from 1962-64 were starting to go out of fashion as the movies began pursuing more mature themes (Day started appearing in some real duds like Do Not Disturb, Caprice and Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?). Day herself had been approached to play the role ultimately essayed by Anne Bancroft in 1967’s The Graduate, but she took a pass, citing moral objections. Day’s cinematic swan song, With Six You Get Eggroll, did do very well at the time of its release…but since it was released about a month before the sitcom got underway it’s difficult to tell whether the star was just in a temporary slump. (I’ve seen Eggroll, however…and I think Dodo made the right choice.)
The format of The Doris Day Show was that
character of Doris Martin was a widow who had decided to take her two kids,
Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke), out of the city and back to the
ranch of her father Buckley “Buck” Webb (Denver Pyle) just outside of San
Francisco in a fictional town called Cotina. (Since Doris gets a
job in Frisco in the second season and must commute, I’m assuming Cotina isn’t
too far away.) Buck’s ranch employs a
handyman named Leroy ( Hampton) and
a housekeeper named Aggie Thompson (Fran Ryan)…who disappears after ten
episodes and is never heard from again, replaced by another hausfrau named Juanita (Naomi
Stevens). (The Wikipedia entry for The
Doris Day Show says Ryan left the series to replace Barbara Pepper as
Doris Ziffel on Green Acres—and while Ryan did eventually play Mrs. Z that didn’t
happen until Acres’ final season, which was about two years down the road
from her Day Show departure. So
Wikipedia is dead wrong on that score, and the reason for Ryan’s vanishing act
remains unknown (maybe she was stealing from her employer)—though it will not
be the last time it happens, he said in a bit of foreshadowing.)
It has been speculated that the show’s first season was designed as such to fit Doris’ squeaky-clean, down-home persona; the series was created by Jim Fritzell, who with partner Everett Greenbaum wrote several episodes of The Real McCoys and The Andy Griffith Show, two popular rural comedies of their day. One could speculate Fritzell borrowed the rural setting for Day’s sitcom—but seeing as how the show was also sponsored by Ralston-Purina in its first season that might also lend a little credence to the network’s enthusiasm for a show set on a ranch/farm. And yet—by the end of Season 1, Doris thought the farm setting a bit too limiting (this might be because, unlike R.F.D., the characters on The Doris Day Show actually appear to be running a farm) and decided to revamp the show in its sophomore year with Doris getting a job in San Francisco (something that is hinted at in a first season outing entitled (what else) “The Job”).