Monday, June 28, 2010

Mayberry Mondays #7: “Youth Takes Over” (11/11/68, prod. no. 0115)

I know what you’re thinking. I know because I thought the same thing when I saw the title of this episode pop up on the menu of the disc of the “rootpeg” Mayberry R.F.D. collection I bought a good while back. This episode is going to kick much butt! A title like this hints at rebellion; it suggests that the bored youth element in that sleepy little North Carolina hamlet has had enough, and they’re going on a rampage to end all rampages. Why, the very title is similar to Youth Runs Wild, the 1944 j.d. drama produced by Val Lewton and directed by Mark Robson. I was picturing an episode where village-idiot-in-training Mike Jones (Buddy Foster) had acquired a “sickle” and was spending his after-school hours riding up and down Mayberry’s tiny streets, terrorizing the populace. Next thing he’d be telling R.F.D. writer-producer Bob Ross: “I’ll grow my !@#$ing hair any !@#$ing length I !@#$ing well please!”

Why else would we see this in the opening credits?

It’s a sign—Mayberry’s going to become “the town too tough to tame,” and Sheriff Andy is going to have to ride herd. “What are you rebelling against, son?” he’d ask Mike. “Whaddya got…sir?” would be the kid’s smart-assed reply.

Well, “Youth Takes Over” doesn’t swing that way. I know that it’s a wee bit early in this stage of the Mayberry Mondays feature (less than two months in) but this segment is a prime candidate for a Top Ten list of "Most Boring Mayberry R.F.D. Episodes." Honest to my grandma.

Oh, well…might as well get started. As our stirring saga unfolds, a Mayberry city council meeting comes to a standstill because the assembled members—including head councilman Sam Jones (Ken Berry), Sheriff Andy “Only two more guest shots and I am so out of here” Taylor (Andy Griffith), Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) and Cyrus Tankersley (George Cisar)—are waiting for Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) to arrive. Yes, you read that correctly…apparently Goober is a member of the council. (God help us all.) But fear not…Goober makes his entrance, ice cream cone in hand:

GOOBER: I’m sorry I’m late, but there was a long line at the ice cream store…
SAM: That’s okay, Goob…sit down and we’ll get started…now…
GOOBER (as he sits): I wanted chocolate but they was out of it, so I had to take strawberry
SAM: As I was saying…Andy and I have been giving some thought to the youth program…
GOOBER (interrupting): They had pistachio but that makes my mouth turn wrong side out…
ANDY: Goob…
GOOBER: You reckon that’s because “pistachio” sounds a lot like “persimmon”?
ANDY: Goob…we’re trying to get on with the meeting…
GOOBER: Well, yeah—let’s go…

Never a taser when you need one. Sam forges on by explaining the concept behind “Youth Day,” a high-minded civic scheme he and Andy have hatched that will allow “three or four” elementary school kids “to take over the operation of Mayberry city government.” One kid will assume Sam’s responsibilities (which means he’ll spend a lot of time hanging out at Emmett’s), another will take on Andy’s job (he’ll disappear and never be heard from again) and still another will tackle the overwhelming responsibilities involved in being a city clerk (that job will go to the most boring kid in class).

Howard thinks it’s a wonderful idea, and Cyrus—being the toadying lickspittle we’ve come to know and ridicule—signs on to the plan, too. “Hey—you gonna have a boy to take over the job of Special Emergency Sheriff’s Deputy?” asks Goober eagerly.

ANDY: Well, we hadn’t planned to, Goob…
GOOBER: Well, I’ll teach him everything I know…

No…I won’t do it…it’s too easy…

GOOBER (to Andy): I was Special Emergency Sheriff’s Deputy when you went on your honeymoon, remember?
ANDY: Yeah…
HOWARD: Goober, we just can’t have a boy taking over every little unimportant job in town…
GOOBER: Unimportant? Why, I was responsible for the safety of this town for one whole week…
CYRUS: Goober…your ice cream cone is dripping

“Well, that’s none of your business,” Goober retorts snippily. (Ooooh, snap!!!) Fortunately, Sam has again taken control before this turns into a real slap fest, and with the consent of all assembled he agrees to contact the principal to explain how the deal will go down…there is then a dissolve, and we find schoolteacher Miss Evans (Julie McCarthy) addressing the three boys (notice there were no girls chosen…a bit sexist, don’t you think?): “You three were selected because of the high grades you’ve gotten in civics…which is, after all, the study of government,” she informs the all-male choir. (Girls don’t like civics…they’re just too dumb…and they’re icky and have cooties.)

Hang on just a minute…did I just…no, it couldn’t be…could it? A black kid in Mayberry?

Using public domain footage from 1962 and 1963 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, filmmaker David Bright created Why Come They’re Ain’t No Black People in Mayberry (2008), a Twilight Zone-ish parody that examines what would result if an African-American paid America’s favorite small town a visit. Now, technically the title of this short is a misnomer; black actor Rockne Tarkington has a prominent role as football coach Flip Conroy in The Andy Griffith Show episode “Opie’s Piano Lesson” (03/13/67), which aired in the program’s seventh season. But at the risk of firing up a controversy about the social and political climate of the South in the 1960s, I have to admit that the presence of a “student of color” is a bit off-putting, considering the region’s lily-white sensibilities at the time (after all, it wasn’t Greensboro, New Jersey that turned away black people from lunch counters in Woolworth’s stores). Mayberry’s more progressive than I gave it credit for…

Anyway, Mike asks his teacher if he’s going to be taking his father’s place on the city council—and Miss Lewis informs him instead that he’ll be appointed acting sheriff. Mike’s classmate Arnold Bailey (Sheldon Collins) will be stepping into Sam’s shoes…which leaves Martin Barton (Calvin Peeler)—Martin Barton? Didn’t somebody test-drive that moniker to see how it would sound?—with the county clerk position.

His enthusiasm is a bit…shall we say…dampened. “What does a county clerk do?” he asks Evans.

“Oh…all sorts of things,” she replies—or in other words, “I haven’t the slightest idea.” (Let me fill you in, Martin—you basically tell boring, pointless anecdotes and use a lot of big words until your friends literally bolt at the sight of you strolling down one of Mayberry’s sidewalks.) “That’s why we’re going to be having this class for the next two weeks,” she alibis. When asked what they’ll be expected to do as honorary city officials, Evans can shed no further light on this, either—“I imagine our city officers will have that all planned.” (Yeah, over a pinochle game in the back of Emmett’s…)

We then dissolve to several of Mayberry’s leading lights putting up banners and setting up tables in preparation of the upcoming Youth Day festivities—Martin’s father, Ralph, enters the scene…thereby upping the town’s black population by one. (Well, it stands to reason that there's an African-American dad involved—after all, this is Mayberry R.F.D. we’re talking about…not Diff’rent Strokes. As to where Mrs. Barton is…well, we’re not privy to that information.) Ralph (who’ll become a semi-regular on the show) is played by the great character actor Charles Lampkin, who is revered at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear for his portrayal of bartender Tiger Shepin on the late, lamented Frank’s Place.

HOWARD: Hey, Ralph—I’ll bet Martin’s all excited about taking over the county clerk’s job tomorrow, huh?
RALPH: Oh, yes, Howard…I’m sure he is…yeah…
HOWARD: What did he say?
RALPH (after a nine-month pregnant pause): Uh…well…uh…of course, you know he holds things in pretty good, you know…
HOWARD (a little disappointed): Oh…yeah…well, I guess that’s the way most kids are…they’re always kind of reluctant to reveal their true feelings…
RALPH: Oh, that’s what it is, all right…yeah…yeah…

Goober—still obsessed with this Special Emergency Sheriff’s Deputy crapola—then approaches Ralph and informs that he’d only be too happy to teach Martin the ropes if the kid’s interested. Insisting that it’s probably the most important function in Mayberry government, Goob editorializes that “County clerk can’t save you from no robbers.”

Arnold’s father, Frank Bailey (Stuart Nisbet), soon joins the group as Sam outlines the program for tomorrow—emphasizing that the boys participating need to be gussied up because they’ll be taking pictures (Ralph remarks that the attire will be “a blue suit and a sincere tie”). This meeting doesn’t last too long before Bailey announces that he has to mosey—which is kind of curious in light of the fact that his son Arnold appears to be…well, here’s the deal. Arnold was Opie’s sidekick on the old Andy Griffith Show, appearing in (again, using the IMDb) nine episodes from 1966-68. Now, in the eighth season TAGS episode, “Opie and Mike” (03/18/68), it’s established that Mike is younger than the sheriff’s son—and since there’s very little evidence to support that Mike is some sort of whiz kid prodigy it’s safe to assume that he’s a school grade or two in back of Opie. So why is Arnold in the same class as Mike? Well, it’s obvious—Arnold is Goober-like slow, and has been held back in school as a result. So you’d think his old man would be a bit more concerned about Arnold’s scholastic progress…but this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Ralph exits along with Frank, leaving Sam, Andy, Howard and Goober to continue discussing tomorrow’s festivities—with Sam and Andy placing emphasis on the fact that they don’t want things to be too regimented…otherwise the kids will think it too much like schoolwork. “It may be interesting to see how they react, you know,” Howard starts in, and you can see the eyes of the rest of the people in attendance start to close. “Might make a deep impression on them—who knows, by tomorrow morning Martin might comes up to me and say, ‘Mr. Sprague…when I grow up I want to be the county clerk.’ Now that oughta make the day worthwhile, huh?” (I get the impression that shortly after making this pronouncement, Martin would throw himself under the first Greyhound that pulled up at the Mayberry bus stop.)

Back in the classroom, Mike is reciting by rote the duties involved in the sheriff’s office. He gets an “attaboy” from Miss Evans, who tells Mike, Arnold and Martin: “Well, boys—I certainly want to compliment you on the way you’ve learned the functions of these offices. I think the two weeks we’ve spent on this have been very worthwhile…I think tomorrow can be a very meaningful day for all three of you.” (Hey, they get out of going through the usual classroom grind—that’s meaningful enough for anybody.)

The big day has arrived! Goober is explaining to Cyrus (who’s in charge of setting out the banquet place cards) that as “Special Emergency Sheriff’s Deputy” he should sit next to Andy. (Ferchrissake, Goober…let. It. Go.) As the “program” gets underway, you can see in the picture below that there is another black man standing next to Sam...and that sound in the background is the shrieking of Mayberry’s resident bluenose Clara Edwards (Hope Summers) upon discovering that property values in that town are beginning to plummet.

Mike, Arnold and Martin are discussing how nervous they are about assuming their duties—and Martin relates to his chums how Howard remarked that this might be the turning point of young Martin’s life. (Hoo boy.) Since Goober has nothing to do, he volunteers to instruct the youngsters on the finer points of…yes, you’ve guessed it—being a "Special Emergency Sheriff’s Deputy." The three kids humor Goober because they’ve been instructed not to make any sudden moves around him…until Sam calls them up to announce that they need to get with their adult chaperones and commence with the officiating. They’ll meet back at the banquet room at noon for lunch and “we’ll be anxious to hear what you’ve learned,” Sam remarks.

This is the best screen grab I could get of this encounter—but that little tow-headed moppet (the one being pestered by Goober as to whether she’s familiar with the concept of "Special Emergency Sheriff’s Deputy") is addressed as “Jodie,” marking one of the first television appearances of the woman who would go on to win Best Actress Oscars for The Accused (1988) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). It’s not Alicia C. Foster’s first television gig—she was appearing in Coppertone ads at the age of three—but it may very well be one of the first (if not the first) showcases on an actual TV series (she’s not credited in the closing credits, however). (The IMDb reports that next week’s Mayberry Mondays episode, “The Church Play,” is her first "official" television credit.) Since show business is a breeding ground for rampant nepotism, it can be assumed that Ms. Foster got the work because Buddy Foster is her brudder—and in 1998, commented on the Budster’s unauthorized “biography” of her (Foster Child) by noting: “A cheap cry for attention and money filled with hazy recollections, fantasies and borrowed press releases. Buddy has done nothing but break our mother's heart his whole life.” (I’ll bet Thanksgiving dinners were a real prize in that household.)

Exiting the building, Howard takes a few moments to reflect on the momentous nature of this grand experiment in the teaching of civics to Mayberry’s future leaders:

Oh, wait…just…just a minute…I…I…before the boys actually assume office, I…I’d like them to take just a moment now to look up and down this street…this is your town…one of these days you’ll be picking up the torch and carrying it forward… (Pause) That’s all, boys…

Okay…so he’s not exactly General George S. Patton…but let’s go to the videotape to get reactions from those in attendance:

All righty then. At this point, nothing really happens that's worth mentioning in rigorous detail; Mike, Arnold and Martin essentially make their adult handlers (Andy, Sam and Howard) look even more idiotic with their knowledge of the duties required for each office holder. (Martin, in particular, pretends to humor Howard when the county clerk bloviates about the obvious bureaucratic uselessness of his position—I just wish the child actor playing this part were…well, a better actor—according to the IMDb, this was Peeler’s only acting gig...and it shows.) Mike lectures Andy on the inappropriateness of suggesting they take some humorous pictures of the youngster locking up the sheriff in his own jail (where was this kid when Barney did this all the time…and got big laughs in the process?) and Arnold reminds Sam that Mayberry’s zoning map needs to be updated every year (the last time this was done was in 1964).

So we now arrive at the most important part of the day: the eats. Cyrus glances over at the three would-be city government drones and remarks: “Looks like our junior city officials are ready to make their speeches.” The boys, on the other hand, think otherwise:

MIKE: They’re almost finished eating…
MARTIN: What are we going to say?
ARNOLD: They’re going to want to know what we learned…
MIKE: We can’t lie…
MARTIN: I don’t think I learned anything
MIKE: Me either…
ARNOLD: We’re going to have to say something when they ask us to speak…
MIKE: Yeah, but what?

Well, they could take a tip from Cyrus “Shecky” Tankersley, who addresses the crowd as “fellow residents of Mayberry…and when I say ‘fellow residents’ I mean the ladies, too.” Over the ensuing laughter, Goober nudges Andy and comments that Cyrus is “sharp.” (Yeah…as a marble.) Tankersley introduces the boys to the crowd, beginning with Martin—who remarks that spending three long, excruciatingly boring hours with Howard was “the turning point of my life.” (He then sits down.)

“Well…there’s a boy who doesn’t waste any words…comes right to the point,” Cyrus observes with a chuckle. He then brings on Mike, who sums up his experience as acting sheriff with “It was nice.” Mike starts to sit back down but then remembers his P’s and Q’s: “Oh…thank you.” “We could all learn from these youngsters…how to make a short speech,” Cyrus responds—and I’m almost positive he wasn’t looking at Howard when he prefaced this remark. Arnold is the last to speak, and he can’t really add anything to what Martin and Mike have already observed—that civil service is a pointless, soul-sucking existence 95% of the time. So it’s up to good ol’ Sam—or Andy Taylor-lite, as I’ve come to refer to him—to sum up this noble experiment in government:

I think I know why the boys are having a little trouble expressing themselves…it’s because they didn’t learn too much this morning…but that’s not their fault—it’s ours…I think we underestimated the young boys we have here in Mayberry…you see, we all just assumed that this morning was going to be kind of a lark for them, that…that we’d all just go through the motions and that’d be it…but what Andy and Howard and I soon found out was that…these boys were generally and sincerely interested in how our Mayberry government works…I…I congratulate them for that interest…and I promise them that next year when we have Youth Day we’ll all be a lot better prepared to give them a…a true understanding of the workings of our government.

Sam sits down to a rousing bit of Mayberry applause…and then Andy rises to say a few words—which, in light of Sam’s speech is woefully anti-climactic…and serves as an apt metaphor for the fact that he’s no longer relevant in that town having in essence turned the reins over to “Bland Sam.” In the episode’s coda, Sam is hanging up the new zoning map that Arnold was being such a pain in the ass about while Andy is continuing his struggle to remain relevant and faithful, loyal Goober licks an ice cream cone.

Andy and Sam discuss how things will be different come Youth Day 1969—but Goober warns them not to go overboard because, after all, they’re just kids. “We as adults gotta remember that they ain’t as intelligent as we are.”

“What’re you talking about?” asks Andy, though it’s obvious he doesn’t give a flying frog’s butt.

“Well, for instance, all them three boys…whenever I loan ‘em my comic books they don’t take care of ‘em like an adult would,” Goober points out helpfully. “They come by the gas station for a bottle of pop…get pop all over the books, dog-ear the pages, mark ‘em up…they still ain’t learned no respect for private property. They’re still just kids—we adults gotta remember that.”

Andy and Sam exchange knowing glances as if to say: “I know we’ve discussed this in the past…but it’s time to face facts. Goober must be put to sleep.”

Once again, “Aunt Bee” Taylor (Francis Bavier) sits this one out, so Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s patented Mayberry R.F.D. Bee-o-Meter™ remains clocked at four episodes. The real surprise in “Youth Takes Over,” however, is that it’s credited to “Jim Brooks”…aka James L. Brooks—better known in the show bidness world as the Oscar-winning director of Terms of Endearment (1983) and the creator of such television landmarks as Room 222, Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Lou Grant and Taxi. So how is it that the individual who was also present at the birth of The Simpsons managed to churn out such a boring episode (it plays, oddly enough, like a discarded 222 script)? It has been observed by many media historians that writers often need an outlet to hone their craft and separate the wheat from the chaff—and Brooks did just that by penning episodes of sitcoms like My Mother the Car, Accidental Family (where he served as story editor), That Girl, My Three Sons and The Doris Day Show in his early years. “Youth” would be Brooks’ only contribution to R.F.D., despite having previously donated two scripts to The Andy Griffith Show: “Emmett’s Brother-in-Law” (01/08/68) and one of my particular eighth season favorites, “The Mayberry Chef” (01/01/68).

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Mayberry Mondays #6: “The Panel Show” (10/28/68, prod. no. 0112)

In the past two installments of our weekly Mayberry Mondays feature, we as viewers have been “Goober-less”—that is to say, Mayberry’s favorite idiot grease monkey, Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), has been nowhere to be found. Well, Goob fans can rejoice— as this episode gets underway, he’s returned from exile, driving up in his truck and hurriedly racing over to town council head/farmer Sam Jones (Ken Berry)…who appears to be working on some sort of farm-type equipment:

GOOBER: Guess what…you’ll never guess…
SAM: If I’ll never guess, there’s not much point in trying, is there?
GOOBER: Oh, come on, Sam—one guess…please
SAM: Uh…uh, you brought out an air mail special registered letter for me from New York… (Goober looks positively crestfallen as Sam has got it in one—Sam laughs) No, the post office called and said you were bringing it out…

“Some folks can’t keep their mouth shut,” whines Goober as he hands over the letter to Sam. He then peers over Sam’s shoulder as Sam looks over the envelope, prompting Sam to remark: “Uh, this…just might be personal, Goob…”

“We’ll never know if we don’t open it,” Goober replies stupidly, grinning and clapping Sam on the back. Sam then opens up the envelope and begins to pore over its contents:

SAM: Huh…from Jackson Television Productions…
GOOBER: Well, I never heard of them…
SAM: They…they put on a program called Talk It Up—it’s sort of a panel show, I guess…
GOOBER: Oh… (Sudden realization kicks in) Hey, yeah! Yeah, I seen that once when I couldn’t get Rudolph Rabbit…they spent a whole hour talkin’ about corruption in government…they was against it…
SAM (continuing to read): Well, what do you know? They want to put Mayberry on television!
GOOBER: They think we’re corrupt?
SAM: No…no, no, no—they want to have a debate on which is better…life in a small town or life in the big city…listen…listen to this…”We’d appreciate your appointing two of your most articulate citizens as panel members for the debate…all expenses to New York will be paid, of course…”
GOOBER (clearing his throat): Um…what’s “articulate”?
SAM: Oh, somebody who can talk—somebody who can put their thoughts into words…
GOOBER: Oh… (Laughing idiotically) What d’ya know—I’ve been articulate all my life and didn’t know it…

There’s my argument—let’s keep kids in school the entire year round. Naturally, such an event will require a special meeting of the Mayberry town council…

Cyrus Tankersley (George Cisar), Mayberry’s resident capitalist banker swine, asks: “What points do you think they’ll bring up in the debate, Sam?” “Well, they’re bound to touch on young people…and why so many of them are leaving the small towns for the big cities,” is Sam’s reply.

“I know why Elmer Dawes left town,” pipes up Goober. “He got caught cheating at cards.” (Apparently they’ll let anybody attend these council meetings.)

Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman), Mayberry’s own fix-it savant, wants to know who’ll be representing New York—and Sam replies that the distinguished author, Harding Capehart (Byron Webster), and none other than social doyenne Pamela Mason herownself will be on the pro-NYC side. “Pamela Mason—the jet-setter…oh my!” gushes Clara Edwatds (Hope Summers), Mayberry’s resident blue-blooded snob. So it looks like the town is going to have to bring forth its big guns. Cyrus suggests that Sam be on the panel but he begs off, explaining that he has too much to do on the farm. (Though not too busy that he can’t piss away most of an afternoon at Emmett’s.)

Tankersley then throws Clara’s hat into the ring: “You’ve always been able to hold your own when the subject of Mayberry comes up.” (Usually around “last call.”) “Because I believe in it,” is Clara’s reply…but she, too, will have to sit this one out—she’s entertaining a Mrs. Chambers…”of the Grand Rapids Chambers,” she adds, looking to score a few brownie points.

In a demonstration of how Mayberry is going to have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find a couple of representatives for the program, it’s then suggested by Sam that Emmett sign on to Team Mayberry…since he’s actually been to the Big Apple…for the 1939 World’s Fair. The council seems amenable to Emmett making the trip…as long as he’s not licking the plug of some electrical appliance doodad he’s trying to repair while the show is on the air. But suggestions on someone to accompany the distinguished Mr. Clark seemed to have dried up.

“Hey, I know the right fella,” Sam interjects suddenly. “Of course! Howard Sprague…” (I guess Sam is thinking: “This clambake is going to be the most boring program in the history of television—so Howard will fit right in.”)

Everyone at the table is all for Howard’s inclusion—with the exception of Clara, who declares: “I have some reservations about Howard.” Sam can’t figure out why, in light of a poem Howard once wrote entitled “Mayberry the Beautiful.” “It’s the best poem ever written about this town,” argues Emmett, with Goober agreeing. (It’s also the only poem ever written about the town…but that’s not quite the point.)

Pressed further, Clara continues to trash Howard—particularly since he’s running late for the meeting and isn't there to defend himself. “He’s not a fighter,” she says firmly, and Cyrus is in agreement despite stating seconds earlier that Howard is “a real town booster.” (He’s a fence-sitter…what are you going to do?) “We’re facing a scrap in New York,” Tankersley further points out. (Um…you do realize that New York is home to the Jets and the Sharks, don’t you? You people don’t stand a chance.)

Clara brings up the uncomfortable but incontrovertible fact that it was Howard who “lost the reservoir rights to Mt. Pilot.” “He’s…too easily swayed,” she disputes. But Sam disagrees, and is convinced that Howard is the man for the moment—and he gets an “Amen” from Emmett and Goober, who observes, “Yeah, he’s tall,” thereby demolishing the carefully constructed arguments of a slightly ticked-off Clara.

As if it were scripted, Howard (Jack Dodson) enters the room and apologizes for being late, noting that “Sara,” Mayberry’s somewhat snoopy phone operator has briefed him on the developments regarding the New York matter. What he doesn’t know—and what Sam is only too eager to tell him—is that he’s been tabbed for the NYC jaunt to represent Mayberry on the TV show. “I’m floored!” he exclaims jubilantly. “Absolutely knocked off my pin, gang.” As Goober vigorously shakes his hand, Howard is told by Goob: “They asked me but I had to turn ‘em down.” (In your dreams, carburetor boy.)

Of course, Clara is still smarting from the selection of Howard: “It’s not to be taken lightly,” she grouses when Goober points out that Howard and Emmett are getting a free trip to New York. “Oh, I’m well aware of that, Clara,” Howard returns. “And in the words of the Spartan warrior going off to battle—I’ll return with my shield or upon it.”

“Articulate,” gushes Goober. (And to think, three minutes ago he had no idea what that word meant.) “New York, here we come!” exclaims Howard, as he extends his hand towards Emmett for a shake. (I’m surprised Emmett didn’t lick it.)

Ah, New York, New York—it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. The people ride in a hole in the ground. And stepping out of a cab, looking like the proverbial fish out of water, are Howard and Emmett, rubes on the loose. The cab driver (Joseph V. Perry) informs Emmett that the fare is $1.90.

“One dollar and ninety cents?” asks Emmett incredulously. “Just from the Empire State Building to here? We can get a round trip ride from Mayberry to Mt. Pilot for that.”

Now, if this were really New York, the driver would be telling Emmett that he personally doesn’t give a f**k, while grabbing a certain part of his anatomy in the process. But since that sort of thing was frowned upon in TV shows in the late 1960s, he simply restates his request for $1.90. Howard, on the other hand, gets distracted at the sight of a skyscraper, musing: “Boy, would I like to have the window-washing concession in this town.”

Emmett coughs up the money and hands it to the driver, and Howard asks the cabbie if he wouldn’t mind taking a snapshot of the two of them with his camera. The cabbie glares at him and grumbles, “You’re out of your tree, Mac.” (Again, a real-life NYC hack would have responded with more profanity and crotch-grabbing. No wonder CBS would cancel this show in another three years—if the language had been a bit earthier it might have settled in for a longer spell.)

Emmett tells Howard in the politest way possible to stop acting like such a rube, and Howard counters that all he wants is a few mementos of their “knickerbocker holiday.” Howard doesn’t need any steenkin’ photos—he purchased a small replica of the Empire State Building while on the tour:

EMMETT: Hey, we’ve still got a little time before our meeting up at that TV place…maybe we’ll grab a bite and then wander around here a little…
HOWARD: Okay…I wonder where there’s a good place to eat…
EMMETT: We’ll ask somebody… (Emmett turns around and confronts the first person walking toward him—in his hand is his Empire State Building statue) Hey neighbor…
PASSERBY: Oh, uh…forget it, pal…I already got one…
(He continues to walk past Howard and Emmett)
EMMETT: They sure don’t bend over backwards around here…
HOWARD: Well, Emmett…these folks here march to a different drummer…you just gotta get used to the tempo, that’s all…

“Baghdad on the Hudson—that’s what O. Henry called it,” Howard continues to pontificate. Of course, Emmett, having been around Howard for longer than he would care to remember, has learned to walk away once the county clerk starts a love affair with the sound of his own voice—and has strolled over to an individual hawking newspapers and magazines in a newsstand on the corner. Emmett is trying to get recommendations for a place to nosh, and the newsman is telling him there’s a million places to choose from, “twenty-three on this block alone.”

“We just want some clean, wholesome food,” explains Howard. “This is our first time in New York.”

“I won’t tell a soul,” the man responds, clearly not impressed with Howard’s charming small-town manner. Emmett asks the man if he carries The Mayberry Gazette, and when he’s told no he responds: “Well, it says you sell out-of-town papers.” “Not that far out of town,” the newsman replies, continuing to make Emmett to look stupider…if indeed such a thing is possible. By this time, shutterbug Howard has been distracted by the sight of a woman walking an unusual-looking dog. He snaps a photo and then tells the woman, “I’ll be glad to send you a copy.” When she walks away without saying word one, Howard alibis: “She’s probably loaded with pictures.” (I was expecting her to knee Howard in the Mayberrys, to be honest.)

I’m sort of ashamed to admit this, but when I saw this guy in the next scene I said out loud: “It’s Christopher Reeve…and he can walk!” “He’s probably from the U.N.,” observes Emmett—but Howard tells him that the man’s attire is “the vogue now.” Turning back toward their newsstand pal, Howard bids him a fond farewell: “So long now—we’ll see you again.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” is the man’s sarcastic reply, free from profanity and crotch grabbing. “See? Just folks,” Howard assures Emmett, as they toddle off in search of foodage.

Back in Mayberry, Sam and Goober are in Sam’s office, with Sam stamping addresses on envelopes and Goober licking and attaching the stamps. Sam mentions that he’s going to bring his TV set by the office so that the town council can watch the show, and Goober reiterates that despite what Clara says, “Howard’s a man who can hold his own.” The ringing of the telephone interrupts their work, and Sam picks up the receiver to find Emmett on the other end.

Sam and Emmett talk for a bit, with Emmett reassuring him that he and Howard have the talking points down and that they won’t do anything to embarrass Mayberry. “We’re all primed, Sam—don’t you worry about a thing” he tells him. Well, there’s just one other thing—revealed when Sam asks Emmett to put Howard on the phone…

Hokey smoke. What a hell of a time to find out that Howard’s gay. “Hi, Sam—what’s shakin’, baby?” Howard emotes over the phone. (In retrospect, I don’t see how Sam or anybody in that town couldn’t have possibly seen this development over the horizon.) Okay, I’m kidding (slightly)—it’s just that Howard has adopted the age-old “when in Rome” method of tourism…which is not going to put him in good standing come the telecast.

“Well, this could be a big night for Mayberry,” observes banker Cyrus as Sam sets up the TV set for those in attendance. But Clara is still pissing and moaning about Howard’s participation as she arrives for the screening. “I still feel Howard is our weak link,” she states firmly (wait until she finds out about Howard’s new “lifestyle”—the suspense is killing me). “I can’t help it, but I do.”

“Clara…right here,” Cyrus motions for her to sit down beside him—and the way he says it would seem to suggest that he’s been spending time in the bank after hours with Mayberry’s resident spinster…and the discussion hasn’t been the return rate on certificates of deposit, if you know what I mean. “Clara…I don’t see no reason to keep bad-mouthin’ Howard,” Goober rises to defend his pal. “He’s the best speaker in town, and he knows more words than anybody, too.” “That is not the issue,” Clara returns snippily…but Goober just turns his back and takes a swig of his root beer.

In the television studio, preparations are being made to go on the air (the call signs on that camera are a bit hard to read but the station is apparently KSOK—which seems to suggest that it’s about as close to New York as I am to the moon)—and it soon gets underway, hosted by a Mr. Jackson (Oliver McGowan), who not only doesn’t introduce himself in his opening statement but apparently has no first name:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen…welcome to Talk It Up, the program which openly debates the controversial problems of the day…tonight, our subject is the small town versus the big city, and we’re here to examine carefully the advantages and disadvantages of each…our panelists are all well qualified to shed some light on this subject…on my right—representing the big cities—are the noted writer, Mr. Harding Capehart…

…and the well-known and very beautiful Miss Pamela Mason…who has probably graced more social functions than anybody in this city…

“I’ll bet that’s a wig,” snaps Clara upon seeing Ms. Mason on the tube. (Meowwwr!)

And on my left are two gentlemen from Mayberry, North Carolina who are here to defend the advantages of the small town…Mr. Emmett Clark…

…and Mr. Howard Sprague…

Howard gives the camera a great big wink as if to say “I’m out of the closet and there’s nothing anybody can do about it!” “Look at the way Howard’s dressed,” Cyrus points out.

“That’s a dentist’s jacket,” offers up Goober, “though I didn’t know they made ‘em in colors…”

JACKSON: Historically, the small town predates the big city by several centuries…the…small town is, and always has been, the center of an agricultural community…this, however, would hardly explain the exodus which is now taking place…uh, Mr. Capehart…have you an explanation for this…flight…to the large urban centers such as New York here?
CAPEHART: Well, it’s very simple…this is where it’s at…
EMMETT: Where what’s at?
CAPEHART: Everything…whatever it is you want…the arts, commerce, entertainment…it’s all right here, this is the now scene

It’s my happening, baby…and it freaks me out!

HOWARD: Oh, I question that…I mean, I question the fact that these are the exclusive property of the big cities…after all, we have our own cultural riches in the smaller towns…
CAPEHART (chuckling): Such as?

Howard fumbles for an answer to this…but fortunately Emmett is there in the clinch. “The high school has put on The Student Prince every year for fourteen consecutive years…it’s always a smash.” Well, there you have it—I mean, once you’ve treated yourself to Prince, Hair and The Boys in the Band pale in comparison.

Of course, it’s Pamela—the former Mrs. James Mason—who initiates the successful line of attack by addressing the issue of Howard’s wardrobe…she politely avoids the fact that’s decked out like a hairdresser and instead comments that he purchased his fag threads in the Big Apple (“Cy Sandler’s, I think the name was,” Howard puts in helpfully) rather than the remainder racks at Weaver’s Department Store in beautiful downtown Mayberry. Howard concedes that the societal doyenne has a point, much to Emmett’s mounting irritation:

EMMETT: I’d like to ask Mr. Capehart something…have you ever spent any time in a small town?
CAPEHART (disdainfully): No, not really…
EMMETT: Well…we’ve got some advantages there that don’t necessarily come under the heading of culture…what about peacefulness…friendship…being able to say “Howdy” to everybody who walks down Main Street…
CAPEHART: But is this sufficient to give a person a full, well-rounded, zestful life? I think not

I should point out that the only other person on that panel gayer than Howard is the effete Mr. Capehart, who exhibits his stereotypical homo behavior by smoking a cigarette with—gasp!—a cigarette holder. Nevertheless, Howard again concedes that Capehart has a point…which doesn’t sit too well with the Mayberry folks watching back home.

“He’s arguing with his own teammate!” exclaims Clara in disgust. “All he’s done up to now is concede—he ain’t said one good thing yet,” Goober kicks in…apparently having been won over to Clara’s point-of-view. Pamela then administers the coup de Gracie by rhapsodizing over the heady social life available in the Big Apple, with a hypnotized Howard hanging on to her every word. “Turn it off,” a dejected Clara orders Goober, who dutifully complies with her request.

“Well, maybe they slipped somethin’ in his coffee…or…or he’s been brainwashed,” Goober chimes in. “I wouldn’t put nothin’ past them New Yorkers.” (And lo and behold, a Tea Partier is born.) “Mayberry…for the first time in her glorious history now knows the meaning of defeat,” wails Cyrus. (Oh…I’ll bet it’s not the only time.) The writing is on the wall—this crowd has turned ugly…and that’s really not much of a turn…

GOOBER: You was the one who pushed Howard, Sam…
SAM: Now look, Goob…
CLARA: And his poem…”Mayberry the Beautiful”…a sham, a shallow offering…it certainly never came from the heart
(The others murmur agreement)
SAM: All right, all right, all right everybody—just hold it a minute…now what happened to Howard could have happened to any one of us here…yeah, any one of us…a person can’t just go to New York for the first time and say it’s nothing…it’s got to be an exciting city with all those things going on all over the place…I’m sure it’s not for me or for any one of us here but that doesn’t mean it can’t get a grip on you…which is exactly what happened to Howard—now what do you want me to do, shoot him?

You know, I was joking about Howard being gay—but after this outburst, I’m not so certain I wasn’t right to begin with. This episode gives us a clear picture of the tolerance to be found in small-town communities…

“He had a mission…and he failed,” trumpets Clara.

“And it was a nationwide broadcast,” adds Cyrus.

“In color,” interjects Goober…for no other reason except that…well, he’s Goober, ferchrissake…

The scene shifts to the cultural hub of Mayberry, Emmett’s Fix-It Shop, where Howard bemoans his new pariah status in the sleepy little town. Emmett reassures him that this will all blow over soon, but Howard remains unconvinced. “I did a terrible thing, I know, but…well, I just got carried away with the glamour, and Pamela, and…uh, I mean, Miss Mason…and all the things that go on up there.” “You were like a kid with a lollipop,” observes Emmett, once again displaying that odd oral fixation of his.

“Sounds crazy, but…looks like I’m through in this town,” a dejected Howard decides…as if he’d ever actually “made it” in the first place. And with that, Goober enters Emmett’s with a decidedly icy wind blowing in after him. Goob asks Emmett if he’s planning on going bowling that evening, and when Howard points out that he bowls, too, his once vociferous defender gets a bit snippy: “Oh, you do, do you? Well, I didn’t know you folks from the Gay White Way went in for bowlin’…you’re all so busy with openin’ nights and El Morocca and all that stuff…”

“Goober,” Howard calls after him…but Goob’s got one more shiv for Howard’s back: “I thought bowlin’ was just for us hicks,” he says pissily, as he turns to go out the door. (Well, he said it…I didn’t.)

The scene then shifts to Howard doodling on a legal pad inside the county clerk’s office, with Sam coming in to interrupt Howard’s leisure activity. Howard thanks Sam for at least acknowledging his presence with a “Hi, Howard.” Sam gives him the same bullpuckey that Emmett was trying to peddle…and Howard seems uncomfortable that Sam is looking idly at his legal pad scratchings, to the point where he tears off the top sheet from the pad in Sam’s hands and hurriedly tosses it into a wastebasket. He then makes a lame excuse about having to mail out some reports…and once Howard departs, Sam finds the wadded-up document and begins to read what’s written on the paper…

Sam has called for another meeting at the council office, and the attendees are curious as to the reason why. “If it has anything to do with Howard Sprague, I’m not interested,” Clara sniffs haughtily. Howard then enters, and finds himself as popular as an outbreak of anthrax. Sam insists that Howard have a seat, which he does at the other end of the table. Sam then reveals that he has in his hands an edition of The Manhattan Times, which contains a column in the television section concerning an item that Sam passed along to its editor:

SAM: “We received a letter from Mr. Sam Jones, head of the city council in Mayberry, North Carolina, who felt that we’d be interested in a poem recently written by a visitor to our city, Howard Sprague…Mr. Sprague was the Mayberry representative who came off sounding like the New York Chamber of Commerce when he appeared on the Talk It Up show…apparently Mr. Sprague’s had a change of heart…he’s written a poem about Mayberry, which Mr. Jones has kindly sent along to us…”
HOWARD: Sam, how did you…
SAM (raising his hand to interrupt Howard): “I’m sure the verses will strike a chord with anyone whoever left a small town for the big city…Paradise Lost…by Howard Sprague…”

Um…it’s been a while since I sat inside a classroom…but I’m pretty certain that was written by John Milton, Sam…

I think I know how Adam felt
When paradise he left behind
For I, too, tossed an Eden away
That many others would like to find
O golden town of Mayberry
Your every vista I recall
I cherish every sight and sound
Especially since I’ve lost them all
I’m lost; forlorn; a homeless ghost
I seem to walk in endless rain
I find no smiles to meet my gaze
It’s true; you can’t go home again
I’d shout it from the rooftop
Friends, although my sin was black
I am repentant; all I ask is
One day—you will take me back

No one says a word…because if that isn’t proof that Howard is a flamer, nothing more will convince you. Finally, Goober breaks the tension by clapping enthusiastically and shouting, “Author! Author!” as though he knew what it meant.

“Gee…I don’t know what to say,” replies Howard, on the verge of tears. “I think we’re the ones who probably should be saying something, Howard,” Clara observes ruefully. “My deepest apologies…we were just…unthinking…”

Naturally, Cyrus has to kick in his pair of copper pennies, too. “It’s like Sam was always sayin’…it could have happened to any one of us…”

Goober announces that he’s buying root beers for everybody—so I guess that means someone needs to alert Sheriff Andy (who’s not mentioned in this episode, by the way) to call in the state militia in case this party gets out of hand. Doing everything but lifting him on their shoulders, Howard is escorted out of the town council office by the assembled throng to the strains of that ol’ familiar “Mayberry March”…but he stops at the doorway to confront Sam. “Diggin’ into my wastebasket, huh?” he asks.

“Can I help it if I’m nosy?” Sam responds with a smile.

There’s not much of a coda to this one—Sam (and I know this will come as a shock) is once again at Emmett’s, observing that things are back to normal and that the Mayberry community has finally accepted Howard for what he is. However, another problem appears to be looming over the horizon…

I’m beginning to think these religious right-wing types may be right about homosexuality being contagious. No, all seriousness aside, Goober’s borrowed Howard’s outfit (“These coats are good…you don’t have to wear a shirt under ‘em”) because he wants to impress a date (is Dorothy still dating this moron?) …and he also asks Emmett if he can borrow Emmett’s Empire State Building souvenir so that he’ll be able to show her that he “knows a lot of what’s going on outside of Mayberry.” (Oh, I’ll bet the hours will just whiz on by,)

Aunt Bee is absent from this episode, so Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s patented Mayberry R.F.D. Bee-o-Meter™ is stalled at four show-ups this week. Actor George Cisar makes what is his second of four appearances as town banker Cyrus Tankersley on the series—he racked up an equal number of showcases on The Andy Griffith Show (according to the oh-so-accurate IMDb) with “The Lodge” (09/19/66), “Floyd’s Barbershop” (02/13/67), “The Statue” (02/2067) and “Goober the Executive” (12/25/67). The IMDb also states that Cisar played Tankersley in last week’s R.F.D., “The Copy Machine”—I didn’t see him in it, but that doesn’t mean that the IMDb is necessarily wrong…it’s pretty obvious from the running times on these shows that they were edited for syndication (“Panel” runs 21:54, and most of the R.F.D.’s had a running time of 25-26 minutes) and it’s possible Cyrus ended up on the cutting room floor (if I had to hazard a guess, he was probably approached by Sam’s idiot son Mike and his boxing sidekick Harold about purchasing some copies.) Anyway, Cyrus will be back in next week’s Mayberry Mondays installment…as well as a certain town sheriff whose identity I’ll protect as a surprise.

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