Monday, July 8, 2013

Doris Day(s) #5: “The Songwriter” (10/29/68, prod. no #8516)

I have to tell you, cartooners…this week’s Doris Day(s) was a real chore to do—because of all the episodes of The Doris Day Show I’ve watched so far, this is one of the worst.  As Leonard Pinth-Garnell (Dan Aykroyd) might say on Bad Playhouse: “Stunningly bad!”

The episode opens with Webb Farms handyman Leroy B. Semple Simpson (James Hampton) seated at the family’s kitchen table, scarfing down on a piece of pie (ever present glass of milk at the ready) and intently reading a magazine.  We hear Doris talking to Leroy, but we don’t see her…and at first, my heart skipped a beat because I thought her character had achieved invisibility, thereby increasing my interest in this sitcom tenfold.  (As usual…I’m simply not that lucky—she’s merely underneath the table, cleaning.)  Leroy appears to be neglecting his chores, which is why the Widow Martin is chastising him; he says he will attend to “hay baling” after lunch, prompting Doris to point out: “Right after lunch was two pieces of pie ago.”

LEROY: Wow!  Pee-Wee Harwood made over 250,000 dollars last year…
DORIS: What are you reading?  The Wall Street Journal?
LEROY: Country Music Jubilee…listen to this…”Country songwriters, attention…we need your lyrics!  Last year, Pee-Wee Harwood made more than $250,000 with his country-and-western hits… (Whistles)

Sure indication that you’re talking to an old person: anyone who refers to the music as “country-and-western.”  Case in point: my parents, who continue to call it that despite the fact that it ceased being “western” eons ago.

DORIS: Pee-Wee Harwood? I haven’t even heard of him…

Sure you do!  His biggest hit was “She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Neck.”

LEROY: He’s only been one of the biggest country-and-western songwriters for the last ten years…you must have heard his biggest hit…

“You Used to Be the Cream in My Coffee—But Now You’re Just Grounds for Divorce.”

LEROY: “I’m Just a Caboose in Your Train of Thought”…
DORIS: What?

Leroy sings a snatch of Harwood’s multi-platinum selling song, and puts enough twang into it so the audience realizes it’s country-and-western.  When he finishes the part about “travelin’ through the tunnel of despair” Doris adds a “Woo woo!” train effect, indicating she may have come across the tune at one time.  “Well, it was on every jukebox in town anyway,” offers Leroy.

The two of them then do a little comedy bit where Doris attempts to talk to Leroy but the two of them keep “missing” each other as they poke their heads under and above the table.  This isn’t funny, but Leroy bumping his fool head on the underside of the table when Buck (Denver Pyle) walks in, calling his name, did make me snicker.

LEROY (rubbing his head): Good mornin’, Mr. Webb…
BUCK: Good afternoon, Mr. Simpson…haven’t you got some unfinished business out there in the field?
LEROY: Unfinished business?
BUCK: With the hay-baler!
LEROY: Oh…yes, sir…I’ll get right to it… (He downs the rest of his milk and gets up from the table)
DORIS: Toodle-oo!
BUCK (walking over to the table): Sometimes that boy don’t make sense
DORIS: He’s got a lot on his mind…
BUCK (sitting down): Yeah…like what?
DORIS: Oh…like $250,000…and that ain’t hay!

Jesus, Mary and Joseph—that coffee cup is huge.  No wonder Buck’s always a crankypants, what with his caffeine intake and all.  “That was a little joke,” Doris explains.

“It sure was,” acknowledges Buck.  Okay, I did laugh at this only because my Mom and I do a similar routine where, after making a joke, I say in a ridiculous accent: “I make leetle joke.”

“Very leetle,” is usually her response.  But back to Doris—the scene fades out with her singing “I’m Just a Caboose in Your Train of Thought” with Buck smiling in approval.  The scene shifts to the barn, where Leroy sits up in the hayloft with a pad of paper and pencil, working on becoming a country-and-western songwriter.  “They buried her under the silo/White the cows and horses cried,” he says to himself.  (Don’t quit that day job, Dobbs.)

A scene outside the barn finds Buck walking around and bellowing “Leroy!” in an homage to The Great Gildersleeve as he tries to figure out where that nincompoop could have disappeared to.  “You girls better get out,” he grumbles to the chickens…they have enough experience to know not to get in the way of a man hopped up on java.  The scene then dissolves back to the interior of the barn, where Leroy is suddenly struck by inspiration.  The scene then shifts to indicate a passage of time, and Leroy runs up to the house, calling up to Doris who can be seen from the upstairs window.

LEROY: Did the mail come yet?
DORIS: Well, I don’t think so…did you look in the box?
LEROY: Yes, ma’am…it’s empty…
DORIS: Henry should be coming any minute now… (Looking off into the distance) Hey—he’s making the turn now, Leroy!
LEROY: Thank you!

This next bit with the postman made me misty with nostalgia…for two reasons.  First, “Henry the Mailman” is played by OTR veteran Jerry Hausner.  He appeared on scads of radio programs such as Suspense and The Adventures of Sam Spade, and he also supplied the voice of Waldo, nephew of Mr. Magoo.  You’ll recognize him as the café owner at the end of Paths of Glory, and as “Jerry the Agent” in the early years of I Love Lucy.

But what also made me sentimental about this was…well, contrary to what you may think—I was not always a dazzling urbanite; I grew up in a rural part of West Virginia (at that time 98% of the Mountain State was rural) where we got our mail in the same fashion—a guy delivered it from a station wagon.  I don’t remember when I saw my first actual mail truck—it might have been the same time I saw someone actually delivering the mail by walking, which was on my first trip to Savannah, GA.

In this screen cap, you can see the family’s mailbox and just make out the zip code: 91405.  That’s a California zip, corresponding to both Van Nuys and Valley Glen according to  So my initial guess that Cotina was located in The Granola State appears to have been correct.

HENRY: Nice day, isn’t it?
BUCK: Sure is...say—you didn’t happen to notice somethin’ in here for Leroy, did you?
HENRY: No…no…nothing for Leroy…
BUCK: If that boy don’t get somethin’ pretty soon he’s gonna go to pieces on me…

Leroy arrives at the wagon, and is disappointed to find no mail for him.  He even badgers Henry if he “looked in the back seat real good” and offers that something might have fallen out of the sack.  Or it’s possible that it got mixed up in another bag, because personal experience has proven that the USPS never makes a mistake, he said, choking on his orange juice.

LEROY: Henry…would you mind if I looked for myself?
HENRY: Well, I don’t mind, Leroy…but Uncle Sam would…

A dejected Leroy walks away, and the only words of consolation that the coffee-crazed Buck can offer him are “Maybe tomorrow, Leroy…”

HENRY: You know—I ain’t seen so much fuss over the mail since Armand Turner lost that chain letter…
BUCK: If this letter don’t come by tomorrow…I’m gonna write him one myself…

Aw…you’re, like, a real human being, big guy.  So a dissolve finds Doris—and I know you’re going to be positively gobsmacked by this—in the kitchen, finishing frosting a cake…and offering her hopped-up-on-sugar kids Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke) a chance to sample said frosting.  “Here…just a lick,” she tells Billy…and then she admonishes him with “finger,” indicating that he’s to take some of the frosting on his finger in case he and his brother have typhoid or something.  When Toby asks if he can have a piece now, his mom tells him “That’s for supper, honey”—and this made me laugh out loud because with the frequency of sugar-laced treats baked on this show I can actually believe that’s the only item on the menu.  (Well, there’d also be milk.)

Incidentally, although Fran Ryan—who plays housekeeper Aggie Thompson—is seen in the credits of this week’s episode, she does not actually appear in “The Songwriter.”  I say this in case you Aggie fans were concerned that Doris already gave Ag her walking papers…that’s still a few episodes off.

Leroy comes charging into the house, with Lord Nelson—formerly of the Nash family in Larchmont, NY—barking at his heels.  The letter he has been waiting for has finally arrived.

BILLY: Ain’t you gonna open it?
TOBY: Yeah, Leroy…open it!
DORIS: Now listen…that’s Leroy’s letter…
BUCK: Well now…after all he’s put us through, we deserve to know!  Go ahead, open it!

There’s a bit of additional business in which Leroy admits that he’s too nervous to open the letter…but he finally does, and then cries out “I did it!”  This prompts the family to join in the chorus (“Leroy did it!”)…

DORIS: What did you do?
LEROY: I sold my song!
DORIS: Your song…?
LEROY (holding it up): See?
BILLY: “Weeds in the Garden of My Heart?”
BUCK: You mean that’s what you was doin’ all those times I couldn’t find you…writin’ a song?
LEROY: Well…yes, sir…

“Get the hell off my property, you dipstick!  You’re fired!”

LEROY: Well, not the whole song…just the words…the company I sold it to put the tune to it…don’t it look real professional?  Yeah… (Pointing to the music sheet) What’s that one there?
DORIS: That note?  I think it’s an E-flat…
LEROY: An E-flat…how about that!  I got an E-flat in my song!

Leroy asks the family if they want to hear what the company had to say, so he starts to read the letter…humorously, Buck puts his reading glasses on (which have been hanging off one ear the whole time) I guess in order to hear better.

LEROY (reading): “Dear Leroy…”  How ‘bout that—startin’ off real friendly-like…”Congratulations on the start of a new and profitable career…our panel of judges considers your lyrics the finest they’ve read since Ernest Tubb…” Ernest Tubb?

And somewhere out in The Great Beyond, The Texas Troubadour is weeping.

LEROY (still reading): “If you could compose four or five more songs in the style of ‘Weeds in the Garden of My Heart,’ we would like to put out a Leroy B. Simpson country album…which we intend to enter in the National Country Music Contest in Nashville!”
DORIS: Leroy!
LEROY (again with the reading): “We are sure such an album stands an excellent chance of winning…which would rocket you to stardom…however, since time is of the essence, don’t procras…procras…”

Leroy has trouble making out the word “procrastinate” (a word with which I am all too familiar) and even Buck doesn’t offer much help.  Finally Doris asks him if “procrastinate” is the word he’s looking for.

LEROY (finishing the letter): “Get those country gems to us in a hurry…sincerely…” (Slightly flustered) Country gems…hey, Mrs. Martin—do you think you could sing it from that?
DORIS: Oh…I don’t know…I can try…

So everyone gathers around the piano (even Nelson!) to hear Doris sing that Leroy B. Simpson standard, “Weeds in the Garden of My Heart.”

There are weeds in the garden of my heart
But they’re watered with tears from my eyes
You planted those weeds in my heart
When you said those words “You I despise”

I’ll say this for Doris…her reactions tickle me sometimes.

You choked out the flowers
With hardly no thought
You stomped on my garden
Which you shouldn’t have done

There are weeds in the garden in my heart
But there’s one thought I got consoling me
Though I got weeds in the garden of my heart
I’m still living in the land of the free

Cut to The Great Beyond, and E.T. is laughing his ass off…joined by Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran and a few others.

BUCK: Land of the free?
DORIS: That’s what it says here…is that right, Leroy?  Land of the free?
LEROY: Oh, yeah—that patriotic stuff is good…and you know, it gives a song a happy ending…
BILLY: That’s great, Leroy!
TOBY: Yeah…that’s great, Leroy!

Oh, what do you know, you little turd—you couldn’t even get into the school choir.  Leroy asks Doris what she thinks of the song and she replies: “Well, Leroy—I don’t know what to say” then repeats the phrase, changing the emphasis to the word “say” in order to spare his feelings.

BUCK: Well, I know what to say…
DORIS (cutting him off): It’s very nice, Leroy…it really is…congratulations again…
LEROY: Everybody come on in here now and sit down…

Leroy reveals that he has another surprise—which prompts a laugh-out-loud reaction from Buck: “Isn’t this one here enough?”  No, Leroy tells the family that when the royalty checks start a-pourin’ in, he’s going to lavish them with expensive gifts: a mink coat for Doris (“Where would I wear it?”); a new hay-baler for Buck (“Where would I wear it?”); a canoe for Billy and Toby.  Doris admonishes him that he really doesn’t have to do this…but Leroy counters that they’re the only family he’s got, and he wants to do something nice.

LEROY: Anyway, I’d better get to work on my songs…it ain’t gonna be easy to measure up to “Weeds in the Garden of My Heart,” you know…
BUCK: Hey, Leroy…what do they pay you for a thing like that?
DORIS: Well…now if you aren’t the nosiest…
BUCK: Well…we’re friends…
LEROY: Well…they don’t pay me anything…I pay them fifty dollars for puttin’ my words to music…

Say what?

DORIS: You what?!!
LEROY: I pay them fifty dollars to put music to my words…
DORIS: Fifty dollars?
BUCK: Fifty?  Fifty…well, five songs would come to $250…where are you gonna get money like that?

“It can’t be from what I’m payin’ you…”

LEROY: Oh…I’ve been savin’ for a long time…of course, it’ll take all I got…but this is somethin’ really worthwhile…I got to go now… (He heads out the door)
BUCK: Fifty dollars a song?
DORIS: Oh!  They’re crooks!
BUCK: That boy’s gonna have weeds in the bottom of his purse

This just in…the music industry is populated with unscrupulous dirtbags.  And in other news…sugar is sweet!  Back with more of The Doris Day Show after this message from her sponsor…

The news that the family’s beloved (if unbelievably stupid) handyman Leroy has been swindled by a fly-by-night music publishing company has given Doris a major sad…so much so that the next scene finds her scarfing down bacon, while Buck pours coffee into his tremendous mug.  Buck is all for telling Leroy the truth: that those songs of his are purely awful, but Doris is hesitant.  “What makes you think he’d believe it?” she asks her father.  “It’s like telling a mother her child is ugly.”  (While we’re on the subject…Doris, that Toby…)

Leroy comes into the kitchen, wishing all a good morning and lamenting that he was up all night practicing his songwriting craft—he was stuck for a word to rhyme with “meander.”  Doris suggests “oleander,” and a pleased Leroy recommends that she take up songwriting, too—she might have a knack for it.  And thus…a fiendishly clever idea takes root in the Widow Martin’s brain.

The scene then shifts to the living room; it is night, and Leroy rushes in to tell the family he’s finished his last song.  He asks Buck if he’d like to hear it, and Buck responds: “Well…as a matter of fact, Leroy, I was…”  Before he can complete this with “thinking about walking the parapet,” Doris appears on the upstairs landing to announce that she, too, has been inspired by the muse Euterpe and has penned a toe-tapper entitled “Your Love Is Like Butter Gone Rancid.”  (Sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”)

Your love is like butter gone rancid
It’s no good now; it’s started to turn
I pray that it’s just like the man said
You can’t put it back in the churn

Can’t put
Can’t put
Can’t put it back in the churn
Oh, durn!

BILLY: Durn?
DORIS: That’s a word…isn’t that a word, Leroy, durn?  Sure, d-u-r-n…
LEROY: Oh, yeah…durn…it rhymes with churn…
DORIS: Oh, durn!

You watch your phraseology, young lady.

DORIS (finishing the song): “You can’t put it back…in the churn…”
BILLY: Hey—that’s great, Mom!

The kids clap their approval, and the audience starts to think that maybe the dropping of art and music classes from school curriculums isn’t such a hot idea after all.  But Doris wants the opinion of the real songwriter in the household.

DORIS: What did you think, Leroy?
LEROY: Ah…uh…well…it’s… (Clears his throat) It’s different
DORIS: It is, isn’t it?  I think so, too…what do you think, Buck?
BUCK: Well…it won’t sell a lot of albums…but…uh…it will sell a lot of bicarbonate of soda

Doris asks Leroy if he’d hold off on sending the rest of his songs until she sends hers in first—she thinks it would be unseemly if two submissions came from the same address, and Leroy agrees to the condition.  Dodo then announces that she’s going back to work on her song—“I think I can improve it a little bit.”  Leroy asks Buck for a word outside.

LEROY: This is awful!
BUCK: Oh, I know…I heard it!
LEROY: Did you ever want to tell somebody something for their own good…and you just couldn’t?
BUCK: Yeah…I wanted to do that…
LEROY: When she asked me how I liked her song I just couldn’t tell her!  I hate to say this, but…when it comes to songwriting…your daughter just don’t have no talent!
BUCK: Well…uh…a lot of that goin’ around…

The scene shifts to Doris out by the mailbox…where the mail delivered includes the same sort of manila envelope Leroy received from the publishing company.  Doris opens it up and reads the enclosed contents…and starts to get another sad.  The scene then shifts to the barn, where we find Leroy and Buck putting up hay.

LEROY: I hope she don’t take it too hard when they turn her song down…
BUCK: Maybe they won’t turn it down…
LEROY: Well…I’m afraid she just don’t have it…but how do you tell somebody they don’t know how to write songs?
BUCK (looking Leroy in the eye): You just look them right in the eye and say…”Friend…your song is for the birds…”

Leroy is certain the company is going to turn down Doris’ “rotten song”: “It’s all full of rancid butter and wormy apples.”  So when Doris is turned down and Leroy’s money starts rolling in, he’s going to get her a “silver fox with a tail in its mouth to go around her neck” along with the fur coat…”just to make up for it.”

Doris enters the barn with the envelope.

LEROY: Now…Mrs. Martin…you got to understand…they can’t take every song that comes along…
DORIS: Oh, I know that, Leroy…golly, I…to tell you the truth…I didn’t think my song was very good anyway…
LEROY: That’s it!  I mean…you being an amateur and all, you might have to keep on trying for a while before they’ll take one of your songs…
DORIS: You mean that you think that they turned me down?
LEROY: Well…what if they did?  Songwriting ain’t everything!  You’re a good mother and a good friend…and we all love you…

It’s true, Dodo.  We do all love you.  Doris asks Leroy if he’ll read the company’s response…and in doing so, he learns that they’ve not only accepted her song—it’s the exact same letter he received, right down to the Ernest Tubb comparison.

LEROY: It’s the same letter they sent me…
DORIS (quietly): I know…
LEROY: And your song was…
BUCK: It’s a racket, boy…they’re just a bunch of crooks
DORIS: They must send that same letter to everybody, Leroy…
BUCK: But you’re luckier than most…you found out before it cost you a lot of money…

Now it’s Leroy’s turn to have a sad.  He shuffles out of the barn, depressed…Doris goes after him, and finds him in the miserable room he calls home, crumpling up pieces of paper he’s torn off his pad.

Well, let’s cut to the quick on this one.  Doris is sorry that she resorted to such chicanery, but there was no other way to demonstrate to Leroy that he’s an idiot.  Leroy confesses that it’s not so much him being taken that disturbs him…it’s the fact that he won’t be ale to buy gifts for anyone after “all the big talk I done.”  Doris tells him that all they want is for him to be happy and that they don’t need any stinkin’ gifts…oh, and not to be disappointed in the songwriting thing because the music business eats people up and spits them out and it’s a lot of hard work and argle bargle argle bargle.  Unfortunately, Leroy had planned to quit his songwriting dreams but Doris has inspired him to carry on…much to her chagrin.  (That’ll learn you, you do-gooding hussy.)

Coda time!

Doris, her kids, her pop and Leroy are gathered around the piano, singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in round fashion.  The song ends in a tremendous flourish, and even Nelson punctuates it with a bark (which I found cute). Doris then asks if they want to do another song, and little Toby requests “the rancid butter song,” because that kid knows which side of his cake is frosted.

You think I’m kidding about this?  Well, after Leroy conveniently finds an excuse to be anywhere but there, Doris and the kids strike up a chorus of “Your Love is Like Butter Gone Rancid”…and suddenly Buck has a reason to mosey, too.  Doris then improvises another chorus of lyrics:

You’re gonna be sorry you’re leaving
‘Cause we’re having cake and ice cream
You’re gonna be sorry dear Grandpa
Now that you’re splitting the scene

Cake and
Ice cream
We’re having cake and ice cream
Oh, boy!

And fade out…as once again, Doris shamelessly bribes the kids.  Ye gods, that was painful.  (Cut to Gob: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”)  If you’re wondering why that was painful, it’s because it sprang from the prolific pen of Joseph Bonaduce (Danny’s pop), who wrote “Miss Farmerette” for Mayberry R.F.D.  (In Joe’s defense, he also wrote “The Panel Show”—proving that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.)  Joe will return later this season with another horrible contribution in “The Clock.”

As for next week’s episode…well, it should lift our spirits some—it’s actually a fairly amusing outing with a pair of first-rate guest stars…one of whom was an institution in the theater and lived to the ripe old age of 101.  Be here next week for—I swear, this is not a commentary on the guest star—“The Antique.”


Andrew Leal said...

>“You Used to Be the Cream in My Coffee—But Now You’re Just Grounds for Divorce.”

That's downright Falstaff Openshaw-esque.

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoying your dissection of "The Doris Day Show". I have great memories of watching it when it first aired and the cover of my book, "Was That a Name I Dropped?" is me and Miss Day. As the biggest female film star of that era, she certainly deserved better writing for her show but she is always watchable and, like you, I laugh out loud at some of her reactions.

Paul E. Brogan
Concord, NH

R.A.M.'67 said...

This plot might've worked better with Goober or Howard as the prospective songwriter on Mayberry RFD. Here, it's comedy "by the numbers", and how painful it can be at times.

Another authoritative analysis of this underwhelming show! :)

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Mr. Leal turned my head with shameless flattery:

>That's downright Falstaff Openshaw-esque.

It does have an OTR connection: Jack Benny was a guest on Bob Hope's show one time and they did a sketch in which the two of them pretended to be disc jockeys. That was the title of one of the records they were playing.

The "She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Neck" comes from my longtime WV paisan Jeff Lane.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I have great memories of watching it when it first aired and the cover of my book, "Was That a Name I Dropped?" is me and Miss Day.

So, Paul...I have to know: why did Doris give Fran Ryan the sack?

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

R.A.M. theorized:

This plot might've worked better with Goober or Howard as the prospective songwriter on Mayberry RFD.

Oh, don't I wish Howard had been in this episode.

this underwhelming show

The perfect description of the Doris Day sitcom.

Anonymous said...

The first few months of filming were very difficult as Doris had just lost her husband in April, 1968. They started filming in June. During those first months Doris and her son Terry were discovering the mess her husband, Marty, had left her finances in. (Eventually she would sue the attorney and win more than 22 million in 1974). It was a difficult time on the set and Fran was running her mouth to the Press about the strain the show's star was under.

Unknown said...

I stumbled upon this site just to get the words to Doris's Rancid Butter song. But you have left me puzzled. Why are you bothering to write page after page after page of details lavishly illustrated with pictures and dialogue. For what? A 25-minute TV show which you are clearly not impressed with.

Anyway, I enjoyed the series (especially this episode). It gave me an insight into the everyday story of countryfolk in the USA. (If you are interested in the everyday story of countryfolk in England, there is BBC Radio-4, weekday evenings at around 7pm.)